mə wəəi niəə bɛɛ reʳ 'happy birthday'

ʃɨõ gi 'defense wife'

I apologize to Guard Wife for my late wish and for my inability to find a Tangut character corresponding to 'guard' with better components.

ʃɨõ 'defense' is a combination of the left side of niõ 'evil' and the center and right side of phie 'evade' (hardly my idea of defense - why not 'fight'?):


gi 'wife' consists of dzwio 'person' (semantic) plus the phonetic/semantic element gị 'support' (which in turn consists of a rare element [meaning unknown] plus 'person'):


i.e., 'a person who supports'. I wonder if gi 'wife' and gị ̣̣(< earlier s-gi?) 'support' are cognate. DEFRANCIS MEMORIAL II: DEMOLISHING THE MONOSYLLABIC MYTH

John DeFrancis' book The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy debunked six big myths about Chinese.

My previous entry dealt with the ideographic myth: the notion that Chinese characters represent ideas rather than sounds. If Chinese really were 'ideographic', 蝗 huáng 'locust' wouldn't contain a phonetic element 皇 huáng 'emperor'. What do emperors have to do with locusts? The two ideas are unrelated, but the sounds associated with them in Mandarin are identical.

I'm not comfortable with glossing 蝗 huáng as 'locust' since it implies that huáng is a monosyllabic word for locust. But in modern Mandarin, the word for locust is disyllabic 蝗蟲 huángchóng.huáng cannot stand by itself; it has to be combined with another syllable to form a word.

There is no entry for 蝗 huáng in DeFrancis' ABC Chinese-English Dictionary, a rare Chinese dictionary organized by words instead of characters. Most Chinese dictionaries have entries for individual characters which may only represent parts of words. Looking at those works, one might come to believe the monosyllabic myth. If a dictionary lists a definition for every character, one might expect every character to stand for a word. Yet that is not the case with 蝗 huáng 'locust', or with 垃 and 圾 which only occur together in the word 垃圾 lājī 'garbage'. 垃 and 圾 by themselves are as meaningless as English gar and bage. Neither gar nor bage mean 'garbage' in isolation.

Modern Tangut dictionaries also have definitions for each Tangut character. Yet the monosyllabic myth is as false for Tangut as it is for Chinese. There are Tangut characters that can only occur in combination with other characters: e.g.,

tʃhɨə riaʳ 'suddenly'

(last mentioned in my post on the enthronement)

The syllables tʃhɨə and riaʳ are no more meaningful than sud and den. (1.24.0:59: The word den has nothing to do with sudden.)

Next: What is the logic underlying the Tangut characters for 'suddenly'? A VIRTUOUS MODEL OVERCOMES: JOHN DEFRANCIS (1911-2009)

My friend Mark Alves forwarded me the URL for a memorial site dedicated to John DeFrancis (a.k.a.


Dé Fànkè 'Virtue Model-overcome'). I had no idea that he had passed away on January 2nd.

DeFrancis lived an amazing life. I've known parts of it for a long time, but the memorial site filled in a lot of holes. Born to a laborer and an illiterate mother in Connecticut, DeFrancis became a great scholar of Chinese whose works will remain influential long after his death.

One of his books changed my life. I first read The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy in high school. It remains the best book I've ever seen about Chinese characters. All other books on the subject that I had encountered from elementary school onward emphasized the pictorial and symbolic aspects of Chinese characters such as

'one', 'two', 'three', tree' (a drawing of a tree)

etc. But only a minority of Chinese characters are so simple and very few are self-evident. The majority are complex and don't look like the words they represent. Are they random line patterns to be blindly memorized? No. DeFrancis focused on a fact that others only mentioned in passing, if at all: most Chinese characters have phonetic elements. Take


for example. It is pronounced huáng in Mandarin. Can you guess how the following characters are pronounced in Mandarin?

徨惶蝗煌凰湟遑隍篁huáng 'emperor')


They're all pronounced huáng like 'emperor'. Each of them consists of a phonetic element (皇 huáng 'emperor') plus a semantic element: e.g., 蝗 huáng 'locust' has 虫 'insect' on the right:

虫 + 皇

'insect' + huáng 'emperor' = huáng 'locust' (the insect that sounds like 'emperor')

If English were written using similar principles, 'sea' would be written as

'water' (semantic) + see (semantic)

DeFrancis taught me how to look at a writing system I had known my entire life in a new light. For the past 22 years, I have been studying the phonetics of Chinese characters over the millennia. And over the past 13 years, I have been trying to analyze Tangut characters from a DeFranciscan perspective. Given that the Tangut character from the past two blog entries


was pronounced ləu, can you guess how

were pronounced? (The shape of the top stroke is irrelevant. The font is not consistent.)

Unfortunately, not all phonetic elements in Chinese and Tangut writing are as straightforward as the above examples might imply. The Chinese character 皇 huáng 'emperor' itself contains a phonetic 王 'king', pronounced wáng, not huáng. And the Tangut phonetic element

is also phonetic in

which were pronounced tʃɨə, not ləu. Moreover, there are other Tangut characters with the same Г-shaped component and entirely different pronunciations.

viẹ, nie, ɣɨəw, kwə

A lot of mysteries remain, and you can watch me try to solve them here. I'M A LITTLE LESS C-LƏU-ELESS

... thanks to Guillaume Jacques, who sent me three Tangut equivalents of 卽位 'ascending the throne'. All three have ləu 'seat; throne' as a direct object before a verb:

ləu zõ

'take the throne' (lit. 'throne take')

(which occurs many times in Forest of Categories, a text that I don't have access to anymore - I last had it almost a decade ago)

ləu ɣwɛ

'receive the throne' (lit. 'throne receive'; note how 'take' and 'receive' have similar graphs)

(from Cixiaozhuan 33.7)

ləu twə̣i

'inherit the throne' (lit. 'throne inherit')

(from Cixiaozhuan 19.7)

I'm embarrassed because I searched Guillaume's Tangut-French bilingual edition of Cixiaozhuan for 'ascend the throne' and missed the last two expressions. I could have found them easily if only I had looked up 'throne' in Guillaume's index. C-LƏU-ELESS ABOUT THE SUDDEN SEAT

'Sudden seat' is a deliberate mistranslation of 卽位 'ascending the throne'. (Need I say who did that today?). 卽 can mean 'go to' or 'thereupon'. 位 is '(place of) rank'.

I've been trying to figure out a Tangut translation of 卽位. I can't find any in Nevsky 1960, Li 1997, or Sofronov 2006. Surely such an expression existed because the Tangut had emperors.

I know of no Tangut verb equivalent to 卽 in the sense of 'go to'. (There is a Tangut word tʃhɨə riaʳ 'suddenly' roughly equivalent to 卽 in the sense of 'thereupon'.)

At least I know that ləu is the Tangut translation of 'seat'.

The closest Tangut equivalent of 卽位 that I can come up with is

ləu tʃhɨaa to

lit. 'throne upon climb'

cf. French monter sur le trône

(Tangut word order is the reverse of English and French in this instance)

a calque of 登位, lit. 'climbing the throne'.

to 'climb' can also mean 'generate; be born; appear; go out; leave'. All its meanings involve upward or outward motion.

1.21.0:33: Kychanov (2006: 156) glossed ləu tʃhɨaa as 'сидеть на сидении; быть на троне; seat; be on the throne'. Can 'throne upon' also be a disyllabic verb? Are there any other verbs ending in tʃhɨaa 'on; upon'? WHAT HAVE FRIENDS ON THE RIGHT BEEN SAYING FOR A LONG TIME?

The fanqie for 有 'have' and its homophones 友 'friend' and 右 'right' in the Guangyun rhyme dictionary

云 'say' + 久 'long time'

is still valid in most modern Chinese languages and varieties of Sinoxenic:

Mandarin: y(un) + (j)iu [tɕhjow] = you [jow]

Sino-Korean: Ø(un) + (k)u = u (Ø- = zero initial)

Sino-Japanese: Ø(un) + (k)yuu = yuu (Ø- = zero initial)

However, it generates the wrong readings in Cantonese and Sino-Vietnamese:

Cantonese: w(ɐn) + (k)ɐw = wɐw instead of jɐw

Sino-Vietnamese: v(ân) [vən] + (c)ửu [kɨw] = vửu [vɨw] instead of hữu [hɨw]

(The difference in SV tones is expected.)

The Cantonese and SV forms alone imply a southern Late Middle Chinese *wən 'say'. Its initial *w- does not match the initial *ɦ- I reconstructed for 'have' and its homophones. However, other southern Chinese languages have a glottal or velar fricative initial for 'say' (but usually not in 'have'):

云 'say' 有 'have' 友 'friend'
Wenzhou ɦyoŋ ɦiau
Xiamen hun iu
Chaozhou huŋ u iu
Fuzhou xuŋ ieu

(Xiamen and Chaozhou iu are probably borrowed; Chaozhou u 'have' looks native and a similar form might have existed in earlier Xiamen. Cf. early Sino-Japanese u 'have' and later Sino-Japanese yuu < iu 'have'.)

Pulleyblank (1984: 17, 64) reconstructed the above words with initial *ʜ-, his symbol for "smooth voiced onset" (written as zero in his 1991 Lexicon). This consonant seems to correspond nicely to Wenzhou ɦ-, but its reflexes are complex and unpredictable in other languages. Offhand, it corresponds to SV v- with a handful of exceptions according to Mineya (1972) who reconstructed a *ɣ- corresponding to Pulleyblank's *ʜ-:

hữu 'have' and its homophones

cf. 鮪 uỷ [ʔwi] ~ hữu 'sturgeon' with the same phonetic; the latter reading is by analogy with 有 hữu

hựu 'also' and its homophones

hùng 'male' and 熊 hùng 'bear'

(cf. Cantonese huŋ for both; most Chinese languages other than Suzhou and Shanghai have a fricative initial for these words even if they normally have a nonfricative reflex of Pulleyblank's *ʜ-)

hĩ 'perfective marker'

duy [zwi] < *jwi 'only'; 帷 'curtain' is both duy and vi

duật [zwət] < *jwət 'water flowing' (Guangyun)

uỷ [ʔwi] 'open' (rare); 'a surname' (also rare)

one would expect such a rare character to be read by analogy with its phonetic 爲 vi 'be; do' / vị 'because'

quắc [kwək] 'fine net for catching fish' (rare)

one would expect such a rare character to be read by analogy with its phonetic 或 hoặc 'or'

'Open' and 'fine net' may involve *ʔ- and *k-prefixes added to *w-roots.

As for the others, it would be arbitrary to state that *ʜ- or *ɦ- or *ɣ- became SV h- or d- only before certain seemingly random rhymes. Perhaps this complexity is not entirely the result of regular sound changes. Variation or confusion between *w- and *ɦw- (cf. variation in English between [w] and voiceless [ʍ] in wh-words) may have been involved. *ɦ- could have been lost in the source of SV before *w- except in some high-frequency words like 'have', 'also', and the perfective marker. Wenzhou at the other extreme may have consistently preserved *ɦ-. Although a voiced glottal or velar fricative existed in Middle Chinese, I am hesitant to project it back into Old Chinese (which has no voiced fricatives in Sagart's reconstruction).

1.20.0:59: Pulleyblank's Late Middle Chinese *ʜ- goes back to his Early Middle Chinese *w- in nearly all cases. The sole exceptions are the enclitic particles

矣 LMC *ʜí < EMC *ʜɨʔ 'perfective particle' (cf. SV hĩ)

焉 LMC *ʜian < EMC *ʜian 'in it'

(theoretically should be SV hiên, but no such reading exists)

with an alternate reading LMC *ʔian 'preverbal question particle' that was the source of its only SV reading yên [ʔiən]

焉 is also used to write the second syllable of the native Vietnamese word chờn vờn 'flutter about', implying an earlier, now extinct SV reading with v-.

Pulleyblank (1984: 166-167) proposed that "[t]he smooth voiced onset in these words was probably a sandhi phenomenon which could only occur with enclitics." SEEKING FEATHERS LOST IN THE MAIL (what?*)

If I were right about the initial that Cantonese friends have lost, I would expect the level and departing tone counterparts of rising tone to also have initial h- in Sino-Vietnamese. SV departing tone syllables match my expectation, so only one example is sufficient. However, level tone syllables have two or three different initials - and none of them is h-!

Tone Sinograph Gloss Southern Late Middle Chinese Cantonese (ignoring tones) Sino-Vietnamese
level especially *ɦɨ̄w jɐw vưu
wart; goiter vưu (nomfoundation.org, Wiktionary, etc.); also du < *j- (Mineya 1972)?
postal bưu < *p-
rising right *ɦɨ́w hữu
departing also *ɦɨ̀w hựu

I could try to account for three of the four SV initials (v-, d- < *j-, h-) by reconstructing some complex SLMC initial like *ɦwj- or *ɦɥ- without any early Vietnamese equivalent. Those three SV initials could be descended from attempts to imitate some part of such clusters:

SV v- < SLMC *-w- or the labial aspect of *-ɥ-

SV d- < *j- < SLMC *-j- or the palatal aspect of *-ɥ-

SV h- < SLMC -

but such oddities are implausible sources for SV b- < *p-. I wonder if SV bưu 'postal' contains a southern Chinese or Vietnamese prefix *p- that fused with the root in the source of SV but was lost (or never added) elsewhere. I know of no Chinese readings of 郵 with an initial p-. All Chinese readings known to me have initial j- with the exception of Suzhou ɦ- (as in my SLMC reconstruction!).

I am not sure whether du is an SV reading of 疣 or not. SV vưu vaguely resembles Vietnamese

bươu < *pɨəw 'lump, bump'

bướu < *pɨəwʔ 'goiter'

Could those Vietnamese words be from a late Old Chinese *p-wɨəw(-ʔ) with an affix or two? SV vưu (and du?), Cantonese jɐw, Mandarin you, etc. would all be descended from an unaffixed late Old Chinese *wɨəw.

*'Seeking feathers' refers to the fanqie spelling

*ɦ(ú) 'feather' + 求 'seek' *(g)ɨ̄w = *ɦɨ̄w

for 郵 'postal' and its homophones in the Guangyun rhyme dictionary.

'Mail' refers to 郵 'postal'.

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