Re: Camion Code, new phonemic writing system

From: Jon Babcock (
Date: Fri Aug 20 1999 - 16:54:41 EDT

Akerbeltz Alba wrote: >
> John Babcock-ek idatzi du:

> > In the case of the Chinese script too, it is possible to fall back into a grapheme-by-grapheme reading mode for a large majority of individual graphs -- perhaps more than 70% of the more than 50,000 graphs -- where the phonetic hemigram may be distinguished from the other, purely semantic hemigram, and which conveys at least roughly, the sound, and thus the

> Not true on the first account and not quite on the second. I can only speak for Cantonese, but since cantonese has a smaller number of homophones, I doubt that the situation could be any better in Mandarin ...

Less than approximately 500 (probably more like 300) of the
entire repertoire of more than 50,000 Chinese graphs are
'wen', that is non-decomposable 'holograms'. With these, you
either know them or you don't. For these it is indeed not
possible to use any kind of analysis to assist in
understanding their meaning (except, perhaps, an educated
guess as to what the pictogram (zogram) depicts for most of
these, or, for the handful for zhishi graphs, ('dactyliograms'
and the only true 'ideograms' per se, in Chinese) an educated
guess as to what the
symbol means.) So, in the case of the 'wen' it is not possible
to fall back to a a grapheme-by-grapheme analysis because
there is only one 'grapheme', the entire graph itself. On the
other hand, all non-'wen' graphs are 'zi', ('tmetagrams' in
the late Professor Boodberg's hybrid vocabulary), that is,
they can be decomposed into two hemigrams, and the majority of
these 'zi' are phonograms, 'xiesheng' graphs, where one half
of the graph is a phonetic hemigram, conveying _phonetic_
information. How you read that phonetic hemigram together
with its adjacent semantic signal, the semantic hemigram which
helps point to the underlying word, will depend on the time
and place and etymological consciousness of the reader. As a
reader of Cantonese, you would be in a better position to
exact some, _rough_ idea as what the word behind the graph is
than a Mandarin reader, as you imply.

This basic analysis of the Chinese script was presented
already quite well in about 90 AD by Xu Shen in the famous
_Shuo wen jie zi_ dictionary which may be rather literally
translated as: 'Pronouncing the wen and and disecting the zi'
in which he analyses about 9000 graphs.

The 'fan-qie' system of indicating the reading (pronunciation)
is, like the transliteration systems you also mention, one way
of indicating more precisely the reading of a graph and as
such, they serve as one of several main sources for the
reconstruction of ancient and archaic Chinese words. They are
a good example of an application of the results of a 'fall
back' method of close reading of individual graphs.

> On the second point, I doubt that the number of characters
> whose pronounciation (at least in cantonese) can be derived
> from the phonetic component is anywhere near 70% ...

I still maintain that the 'xiesheng' graphs compose 70% or
more of the entire repertoire of Chinese graphs and that the
pronunciation can be derived primarily from their phonetic
hemigrams. But I will check my sources for a more exact

I have just today been made aware of the Ideographic
Description Characters coming out in Unicode 3.0 and I am
going to study that.



Jon Babcock <>

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Tue Jul 10 2001 - 17:20:51 EDT