LSCHL 08: Phonetic Ambiguity in the Chinese Script

Artikel-Nr.: ISBN 9783895866326
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Phonetic Ambiguity in the Chinese Script

A Palaeographical & Phonological Analysis

Chris Button
SOAS, University of London

Rejections of ideographic Huiyi graphs, whose composition belies membership of the Xingsheng category of phonetic compounds and the Xiangxing category of pictographs that form their phonetic base, may be questioned on the basis that Xiangxing and Huiyi cannot be clearly distinguished in the earliest inscriptions. However, once these original Huiyi graphs have become firmly entrenched as Xiangxing graphs and viable entities for the production of Xingsheng graphs, it does seem unlikely that new graphs would be created irrespective of their pronunciation.

The reasonable premise, that Chinese writing essentially consists of Xiangxing graphs with their Xingsheng derivatives, means that the issue is not whether Huiyi is a viable distinction but rather whether explanations via polyphony are viable alternatives. A role for polyphony in the Chinese script is without doubt, yet any notion that polyphony was a fundamental driving force in the creation and development of the script differs fundamentally from these sporadic cases of graphic convergence or synonymic interchange. More thorough palaeographical analyses, combined with more sophisticated reconstructions of Old Chinese, vindicate suggestions that Huiyi is an artificial distinction without requiring any recourse to polyphony.

ISBN 9783895866326. LINCOM Studies in Chinese Linguistics 08. 111pp. 2010.

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