Etymology of Chinese characters, meaning and sound components (2)

Lotti replied to my article, and added a message from Hilary as well. I’ll address both Lotti’s reply and Hilary’s message in this video. I choose to reply by video because that is currently easier for me, and I can tell and show more with a visual presentation.

Recommended reading: John DeFrancis, The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, especially chapter 6, ‘How do Chinese characters represent sounds’, and chapter 7, ‘How do Chinese characters convey meaning’.

Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Etymology of Chinese characters, meaning and sound components (2)

  1. Hi Harmen! I really appreciate your excursus into the (absent) elephants. (I wonder if people would have brought them to the Shang or Zhou kings as tribute / for offerings? That should keep the ancestors happy and well-fed for a while… apart from the elephants’ ancestors, of course, who might have been quite miffed…)

    Question about Qian, Hexagram 15. Two components: semantic, ‘words’, and phonetic, ‘joined’, ‘held-together’. (As in ‘joined mountains’ in the Image of 52, doubled mountain, which certainly could be just a coincidence.) Translation: ‘authenticity’ (Bradford) or ‘Modesty’.

    However… Rutt, for instance, tells us that this means not modesty/authenticity but the famous giant hamster, while Field follows LiSe and opts for the ‘wedwing’ bird. Don’t these different translations come about because it’s thought that, originally, there was no radical?

    So if originally the hexagram was only called 兼, how can we understand it now without asking what 兼 means?

    • Don’t these different translations come about because it’s thought that, originally, there was no radical?

      No, that is not the reason why Field, Rutt and others chose to translate 謙 different from the traditional meaning. Rutt says, “Kunst reads it as a loan for the homonym meaning some kind of rodent, which makes better sense of the line sentences.” So Rutt is following Richard Kunst, who reads 謙 as 鼸 (see Kunst’s notes at http://research.humancomp.org/ftp/yijing/yi_hex15.pdf). Field says, “the context of the lines require that the hexagram designate an animal of some kind, especially lines 2 and 6, which depict a “calling” or “crying” animal. (…) Kunst interprets qian as a type of rodent, based on the Mawangdui manuscript whose qian graph has the “mouth” 口 radical rather than the “speech” element. The more likely possibility is the graph with the “bird” radical, which is the name of a mythical bird called the jian 鶼, or biyi’niao 比翼鳥 “wedwing bird””. As you can see, they don’t say that “there was no radical”, or that “the hexagram was only called 兼” (we also have no sources that say this was ever the case). They chose to read 謙 as a loan for a different character.
      The Mawangdui text uses 嗛, but this is a well-known variant of 謙.

Leave a Reply to Harmen Mesker Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.