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Chinese Language Forums - Chinese Etymology Institute • View topic - WW (029) --- Summary one, views of the Western sinologists

WW (029) --- Summary one, views of the Western sinologists

WW (029) --- Summary one, views of the Western sinologists

Postby Tienzen » Sat Apr 21, 2012 9:54 am

I have discussed 六 書 (six ways of constructing Chinese words) and the way that Chinese character system merged with the Chinese verbal universe. Now, it is the time to make a summary.


For native Chinese, they learn the Chinese language as a living habit, without truly knowing its linguistic issues which are the concerns of Chinese philologists. On the contrary, for the Western sinologists, they must learn Chinese language as a linguistic subject and must investigate its linguistic principles. Thus, I will summarize the views of the Western sinologists first. In general, there are two opposing schools.


A. School one --- Chinese characters are ideographs. The key members of this school are,
1. Portuguese Dominican Friar Gaspar da Cruz (in 1560s)
2. Juan Gonzales de Mendoza (in 1600s)
3. Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)
4. Father J. J. M. Amiot (in 1700s)
5. Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignani (in 1600s)
6. Herrlee Glessner Creel [(January 19, 1905-June 1, 1994), note 1.
7. Paul Mulligan Thompson (10 February 1931 – 12 June 2007), note 2.
8. Joseph Needham ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Needham )


The above scholars are the most reputable sinologists in the history and of our time. In their views, the Chinese characters are ideographs, and the key features of the ideograph are,
a. It is a symbol or an image. Thus, Chinese character set consists of innumberable multitude of exceedingly intricate unique symbols.

b. It is an ideal algebra, which conveys thoughts by analogy, by relation, by convention, and so on. It, without the intervention of words, conveys ideas through the sense of vision directly to the mind.

c. It is not tied to any sound and can be read in all languages.
Creel wrote, “The course the Chinese have chosen has also been to conventionalize and reduce, but they then use the evolved element for the most part not phonetically, but to stand for the original object or to enter with other such elements into combinations of ideographic rather than phonetic value.”
Paul Thompson ‘s view, “Chinese writing as ‘semantically, rather than phonologically grounded’ and consider that a character ‘does not convey phonological information’ except in certain composite logographs where the pronunciation of the composite is similar to one of its component logographs.”


These views led to the conclusion of Dr. Northrop (Filmer Stuart Cuckow Northrop: Nov 27, 1893 in Janesville, Wisconsin – Jul 21, 1992, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._S._C._Northrop ) that Chinese character system is denotative and solitary -- no logical ordering or connection the one with the other. And, the consequence of these views was the despising Chinese word system movement that began in the 1920s in China. Finally, it led to the introduction of simplified word system in 1960s in China.



B. School two --- Chinese characters are mainly phonological in nature. And, the Ideographic idea is a Myth. The key members of this school are,
1. Peter Alexis Boodberg (April 8, 1903 - June 29, 1972), note 3.

2. Peter S. DuPonceau [(in 1930s), http://www.jstor.org/pss/2718025 ]

3. French sinologist J. M. Callery (in 1880)

4. John DeFrancis (August 31, 1911 – January 2, 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_DeFrancis ) was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

5. J. Marshall Unger (linguistics professor of Ohio State University, http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/ung ... eogram.htm )


DuPonceau wrote, “The idea of ideographs which is entertained in China, and may justly be ascribed to the vanity of the Chinese literati. The Catholic at first, and afterwards the Protestant missionaries, have received it from them without much examination. “


Their key points are,
a. That the Chinese system of writing is not, as has been supposed, ideographic; that its characters do not represent ideas, but words, and therefore I [DeFrancis] have called it lexigraphic,

b. That ideographic writing is a creature of the imagination, and cannot exist, but for very limited purposes, which do not entitle it to the name of writing,

c. That among men endowed with the gift of speech, all writing must be a direct representation of the spoken language, and cannot present ideas to the mind abstracted from it,

d. That all writing, as far as we know, represents language in some of its elements, which are words, syllables, and simple sounds.


These points led to a conclusion that Chinese word system is the most difficult language to learn, as each phonetic value of the language is represented with a unique symbol which cannot be reduced to a small set of alphabets. This view is summarized with the article “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard?” (by David Moser, University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies).


In fact, the conclusion of the both schools is that “the Chinese written language is too Damn Hard.” This is completely opposite of this new Chinese etymology which makes the Chinese written language the easiest one in the world.
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Re: WW (029) --- Summary one, views of the Western sinologis

Postby Ling » Thu Apr 26, 2012 1:30 pm

If Dr. Northrop means, by denotative, that characters have explicit meaning as opposed to connotative or associated meaning, then any first-year student of Chinese can prove him wrong. Many characters may function as nouns or verbs and have extended meanings, depending on their context in a sentence. Further, I cannot see how he can deduce his position from statement a or c, since they clearly define the characters as symbols and images that convey thoughts by analogy, relation and convention.

The DeFrancis view limits its criticism to ideographs, rather than attempting to define the role of characters, and statement a is meaningless since ideographs and words both express ideas. Statement b overlooks early writing, such as Mayan, Aztec, N.American Indian, in which ideographs were the only written form of language for centuries. Statement c is therefore false. Here, it may be intended to limit the meaning of 'writing' to 'words. syllables and simple sounds', as listed in statement d. In that case, statement c would be expressing, "All writing must be writing", a useless repetition.

Thus, the scholastic genius of western sinology is naked.

I endorse the concept of characters as symbols and images that convey thoughts by analogy, relation and convention. One key element that should be included somewhere in that definition, however, is the role of roots. It is and has always been a fundamental part of the structure of a character, as you have made clear. Also, a feature of Chinese which is not nearly as significant in western languages, is the need for an intuitive grasp of the writer's purpose. This is the element that makes the language so 'D -- hard' for westerners, even after years of study. It is, after all, a cultural thing and dominates the language, because Chinese is written in the language of thought.
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Re: WW (029) --- Summary one, views of the Western sinologis

Postby Tienzen » Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:48 pm

Ling wrote: Also, a feature of Chinese which is not nearly as significant in western languages, is the need for an intuitive grasp of the writer's purpose. This is the element that makes the language so 'D -- hard' for westerners, even after years of study. It is, after all, a cultural thing and dominates the language, because Chinese is written in the language of thought.



Hello, Ling. It is nice to see you working on this.

After you have learned Chinese grammar, this issue will become easy to you. Yet, you cannot find any useful Chinese grammar book in the market. What is available in the market is not about the true Chinese grammar but is trying to adapt the English grammar in Chinese sentences.
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