1 Matching Annotations
  1. Nov 2019
    1. For example, take the character for east , which in the Beijingdialect has the sound “dong” (pronounced “doong,” as in Mao Ze-dong’s name). Since a Chinese character is read aloud as a single syllableand since spoken Chinese is also rather short of sounds (there are onlyabout four hundred different syllables in the whole language), it hasbeen plagued with homophones, words that sound like other words, like“soul” and “sole” or “all” and “awl” in English. It happened that thespoken word meaning “freeze” had the sound “dong.” So did a spokenword meaning a roof beam. When the Chinese went to write down thecharacter for freeze, they took the character for east and put beside itthe symbol of ice , which makes the character (“dong,” to freeze).To write down the word sounding “dong” which meant roof beam, theywrote the character east and put before it the symbol for wood mak-ing (“dong,” a roof beam).These are simple examples. Indeed, any part of the Chinese languageis simple in itself. It becomes difficult because there is so much of it to beremembered, so many meanings and allusions. When the lexicographersof later times wanted to arrange thousands of Chinese characters in adictionary, for instance, the best they could do in the absence of an al-phabet was to work out a list of 214 classifiers or “radicals,” one ofwhich was sure to be in each character in the language. These 214classifiers, for dictionary purposes, correspond to the 26 letters of our al-phabet, but are more ambiguous and less efficient. Shang writing was al-ready using “radicals” like wood, mouth, heart, hand, that indicatedcategories of meaning. From the start the governmental power of theChinese writing system was at the ruler’s disposal. Writing seems to haveemerged more in the service of lineage organization and governmentthan in the service of trade.