RE: Ideograph?!?

From: Allen Haaheim (
Date: Mon Nov 29 2004 - 18:13:52 CST

  • Next message: Allen Haaheim: "RE: Ideograph?!?"

    Note that Han characters are logographic, not ideographic. That is, they are graphemes that represent words (or at least morphemes), not ideas. In the west, Peter du Ponceau first argued this in the nineteenth century, and the likes of Bernhard Karlgren, Peter A. Boodberg, Y.R. Chao and Edward H. Schafer established it in the twentieth. But somehow "ideograph" has become the standard term in use outside the field of experts in Chinese linguistics (because of Ezra Pound et al., perhaps?).

    I hope this doesn't confuse matters.

    In the early stages of the development of the written language, selected characters were added to homophonous characters to distinguish them graphically. A semantically significant character was used. Hsü Shen (died ca. AD 149) arranged his dictionary under 540 of these "graphic classifiers" now called "radicals," in the Han dynasty. The K'ang Hsi dictionary codifies a list of 214. This was reduced to 189 for mainland China's simplified characters.

    Thus, the radical is commonly referred to as the "signific" and can provide a reminder of the meaning of the character. The character's second component (commonly above or to the right of the radical) is called the "phonetic," as it can provide a clue to one (or more) likely pronunciation(s). (This is by no means foolproof.) In Clark's example the radical 女 (U+5973) is the signific, and the phonetic is 壬 (U + 58EC), which is pronounced "jen" (Pinyin "ren"). Indeed, the character has something to do with "woman" semantically, and is pronounced "jen" in modern Mandarin.

    Allen Haaheim

    -----Original Message-----
    From: [] On Behalf Of Clark Cox
    Sent: November 29, 2004 1:09 PM
    To: Flarn
    Subject: Re: Ideograph?!?

    On Mon, 29 Nov 2004 16:06:42 -0500, Clark Cox <> wrote
    > and contains, as a radical the character女(U+5973), which means
    > "woman".

    That, of course, should have been ⼥(U+2F25)

    Clark S. Cox III

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