Re: nushu?

From: Thomas Chan (
Date: Thu Dec 21 2000 - 14:18:19 EST

On Thu, 21 Dec 2000, Rick McGowan wrote:

> > it's the "woman's writing" used in Jiangyong country, Hunan province,
> > China, of some ~1000-1500 glyphs
> Ah, yes... This has been proposed and debated before. It certainly is
> a candidate for encoding, if a thorough enough description of it is
> available. Last time I went looking for information on this script,
> there was not enough detailed information available to produce an
> encoding proposal... at least not enough that I could get my hands on at
> that time.
> I haven't seen William Wei CHIANG's book. How much detail does it have
> on the precise character repertoire of the script?

One chapter in Chiang's book is a glossary, which gives brief English
glosses (one or two words) and transcription in Han characters. There
seems to be a many-to-one mapping between Nushu and Han characters (and in
some cases, many-to-many), but Chiang includes variant forms that might be
unifiable. He arranges variant forms in descending order of similarity to
their Han character equivalents (some of which are just Han characters
rotated 45 degrees counterclockwise and squished into a "half-width"-sized
space), and I believe somewhere in the book is an anecdote that one user
considered the forms most similar to Han characters to be the preferred
form. I don't know if Chiang's glossary can be considered comprehensive,
or if the Nushu shown are written are in his hand (they look a bit
different in the illustrations). Elsewhere, I think he said that there
was lack of standardization and divergence in the script, because of
broken communication lines between users. And of course there's the
problem of the nature of an open-ended set of characters. He does say
that the script is not a complete one, since not all syllables or
morphemes spoken in the local dialect are written down, since the kinds of
things written down are limited to formulaic topics, such as

The latter half of Chiang's book are texts re-transcribed into Han
characters (unfortunately!), with English translations.

At the very least, Chiang 1995 is information on Nushu in a Western
language that doesn't confuse it as a separate language, dialect, or
jargon, as some informants and researchers are local men. What I don't
understand is how it's supposed to be "hidden" from the local men, since
some characters in Nushu are rotated Han characters, and he gives an
anecdote of a user who turned a page around and around when puzzling out
unfamiliar characters.

I hope I have not misrepresented Chiang, as I'm writing this from memory.
(I might have confused some of it with information from Endo's website.)

Thomas Chan

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