The tangraph for 'sage, holy'

from my last post has no known analysis. Although it looks like it could be a compound of two elements, the left-hand element never occurs without the right-hand element. Hence I regard the character as an indivisible radical.

I wondered if it could be from a variant of its Chinese equivalent 聖. Here is a list of 56 variants of 聖.

The standard version of 聖 looks like 耳 'ear' plus 口 'mouth' over 王 'king'. The latter two elements comprise a phonetic 呈 'manifest' which in turn has a phonetic 𡈼 'good' on the bottom (distorted into 王 'king').

The variants of 聖 contain different combinations of elements. For example, 圣, the official PRC simplified form consists of 又 'again' atop 土 'earth' (neither of which sound like 圣/聖; the former is arbitrary and the latter is a reduction of 王)

Since many of the 56 variants consist of the same pieces assembled in different ways, I'll simply list the pieces not already glossed instead of their combinations:

耳 or 耳口 substitutes:

日 'sun'

明 'bright'

白 'white'

百 'hundred'

目 'eye'


身 'body'

镸 'long'

髟 'hair'

亚 'second'

Right-hand elements:

井 'well'

禾 'grain'

王 substitute:

玉 'jade'

A few combinations appear to be semantically motivated:

知 'know' atop 王 'king'

大 'big' atop 賢 'wise'

The only variants that remotely even come close to the tangraph are those with 井 'well' on the right: e.g., 耳 'ear' plus 井 'well'. Subtract the top horizontal line, left vertical line and most of the right verrtical line from 'ear', reduce 'well' to a vertical line, and the result is the tangraph for 'sage'. But I do not know whether the variant 耳 + 井 was used in northwestern China prior to the invention of tangraphy.

Perhaps the tangraph for 'sage' is wholly original, consisting of an altered version of


plus a vertical line representing uprightness. ʃIẼ MƏ WƏƏI: HOLY BIRTH

I tried to come up with a Tangut translation of 'Christmas'. Since Tangut contains so many translations from Chinese, I based my Tangutization on Chinese 聖誕 'holy birth':

ʃiẽ mə wəəi

ʃiẽ 'sage' is borrowed from Chinese 聖 'sage, holy'.

mə wəəi means 'birth'. Although Li Fanwen (1997: 1173) lists as a one-character Tangut translation of Chinese 誕 'birth', all but one of his examples of 'birth' have the second syllable wəəi. I do not know if the sole example of 'birth' without wəəi is exceptional. So although I would like to maintain the two-syllable structure of the Chinese original, I chose the disyllabic Tangut word for 'birth' to be safe.

I wish you

ʃiẽ mə wəəi bɛɛ reʳ!

which is a translation of Chinese


'holy birth happy' = 'Merry Christmas'

I'll analyze the Tangut characters for 'happy' in future posts. WHY YULETIDE

.... instead of, say, Yuletime? Google has 2,030,000 hits for Yuletide but only 48,200 hits for Yuletime.

Compound words may preserve elements that are obsolete in isolation: e.g., the were- of werewolf meaning 'man' (and cognate to virile - i.e., 'manly'). The tide of Yuletide means 'time'. Its cognates Swedish tid, Dutch tijd (roughly pronounced like tide), and German Zeit* still mean 'time', but that meaning is now outdated in English.

What was Yule?

Yule or Yule-tide is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic peoples as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas.

In German, earlier t became z (pronounced 'ts') and earlier d became t. I've known the word Zeit for 25 years but didn't know about sound changes in German until long after my last German course. Knowing those changes might have helped me to learn German vocabulary. If you know that German z < t, then if you see an unfamiliar word with z, you might be able to guess its meaning if it has an English cognate with t. Dutch did not undergo these changes, so it is closer to English, though it has changes of its own (e.g., Dutch g sounds like h to English speakers). PENETRATING BUDDHA'S BUILDING

The Tangraphic Sea analysis of


lhia 'open wide' =

(top of?) swia 'time' +

(center of) thew 'penetrate' +

(left of) məi a trigram name +

(one side of) khie 'open'

from my last post implies that the left-hand element 'right heart' consists of a stroke plus 丰:


The element 丰 occurs in the left-hand, center, and right-hand positions: e.g.,

tha 'Buddha' (loan from northwestern Late Middle Chinese *fu tha 'id.')

thew 'penetrate'

riẽ 'storied building'

Why would 'Buddha', 'penetrate', and 'building' have the same elements in spite of the lack of any semantic or phonetic resemblance between the three?

In 'Buddha', 丰 is probably a distortion of 弗, the phonetic of the Chinese character 佛 'Buddha'.

The Tangut element for 'person' is a distortion of a four-stroke version of 人, the independent version of the Chinese element 亻 'person' in 佛. Hence the Tangut character for 'Buddha' is a combination of an elaboration of the left side of 佛 plus a simplification of the right side of 佛.

In 'penetrate', 丰 may represent a vertical line丨 penetrating through three horizontal lines 三. tha 'Buddha' and thew 'penetrate' do share an initial consonant, but only one other 丰-graph has it plus a third rhyme (thiõʳ 'move'). Hence I doubt that 丰 is not a phonetic.

In 'building', 丰 may represent a simplification of 婁, the phonetic of the Chinese character 樓 storied building'.

I don't know why 'building' has one 'person' on the left and why 'penetrate' has two. The high frequency of the 'person' element in tangraphy still puzzles me.

丰 has no common phonetic or semantic denominator. The following lists exclude the characters I have already mentioned:

丰 on the left (Li Fanwen 1997):

diuu 'stab; prick' (丰 representing a thorn?)

miuu 'move, stir'

khi 'butcher'

丰 on the right (Kychanov 2006):


tʃhiõ 'hut'

tʃõ 'roof'


khə̣ 'stumble'

kha 'box, chest, casket'

kạ 'trunk; rod; chronicle; thread; stalk'


dạ 'wave'

dạ 'pierce; gap'


dʒɛ̃, first half of dʒɛ̃ diə 'horse's shoulder' RIGHT HEART

The Tangut character 'heart' can be split into three elements:


According to Tangraphic Sea, the first two can also be abbreviations for 'heart' in other characters. The first two together can also be an abbreviation for 'heart': e.g., in 'hate':


'hate' = left 2/3 of 'heart' + right of 'evil'

And there are many characters with the second and third elements together as an abbreviation for 'heart': e.g., in 'person' (why?):

= +

'person' = right 2/3 of 'heart' + 'person'

So given that heart consists of ABC, and A, B, AB, and BC can all stand for 'heart', I would expect C by itself to also stand for 'heart'. But I know of only one tangraph in which C

a.k.a. 'right heart' is not accompanied by B:

lhia 'open wide'

Moreover, this tangraph has a surprising analysis in Tangraphic Sea. 'Right heart' is broken into two parts, the top stroke from one character (that doesn't even have that stroke!) and the remaining 丰 four strokes from another character:


lhia 'open wide' =

(top of?) swia 'time' +

(center of) thew 'penetrate' +

(left of) məi a trigram name +

(one side of) khie 'open'

Why not derive 'right heart' from 'heart'? What do 'heart', 'time', 'penetrate', or a trigram name have to do with 'open wide'? None of those characters have readings like 'open wide', so none can be phonetic. LEFT HEART

The Tangut element 'heart' consists of two elements that can occur independently:

= +

I'll call these elements 'left heart' and 'right heart'.

'Left heart' never appears on the right and has no obvious phonetic value.

According to Tangraphic Sea, 'left heart' can be an abbreviation for 'heart':


One might be tempted to gloss 'left heart' as simply 'heart', but the problem is that 'left heart' also appears in characters have that have nothing to do with hearts or mental states: e.g.,


pǐụ 'crown' (cf. 'palace' below)

pu 'palace' (cf. 'crown' above)


mbǐuɦ 'descendants' ̣(homophonous with 'wave' below)

mbǐuɦ 'wave' (homophonous with 'descendants' above; semantically similar to 'ocean' below)

'ocean' (loan from Chinese; semanticallly similar to 'wave' above)


mʷɪɦ 'send'

mɪɦ 'dispense'

r-r set

rɑr 'to age'

rir 'fertile land'


khʉɦ 'puppy'

(Nishida has no reconstruction; dʒɛ̃ in my reconstruction) 'action'

wɑɦ 'take on'

ɢoɦ 'skylight'

(Examples and reconstructions from Nishida 1966: 410-412; more added and categorized 12.22.0:29).

These characters have no single common phonetic or semantic denominator, though some comprise small phonetic or semantic sets. Converting Nishida's reconstructions into any other reconstruction would not change that fact. What is 'left heart' doing in those characters? And what determines whether 'left heart' or the full 'heart' element is used in characters which do have cardiac semantics?

According to Tangraphic Sea the 'person' element on the left side of the character 'heart' can also be an abbreviation for 'heart' as well as 'person':


Should Tangraphic Sea's claims be taken at face value?

Next: Can 'right heart' can represent 'heart' and/or 'person'? HEADLESS HERMIT

In my last entry, I asked,

If [the] elements [of 'heart'] are reversed, what does the resulting character mean?


'heart' <> ?

The answer is 'person' consisting of the element (but not independent character) 'heart' plus 'person' (!):

= +

'person' = 'heart' + 'person'

I don't understand

- why 'heart' contains 'person' and vice versa - not all hearts belong to people, and hearts are hardly unique to humans

- why the element for 'heart' cannot stand alone, unlike the element for 'person' which can

- why 'person' has two characters, one more elaborate than the other

According to Tangraphic Sea, the simple graph for 'person' represents 'a hermit who seeks long life in the mountains' and is derived from 'hermit' minus its 'head' (top element) meaning 'mountain'*:


'person' = 'hermit' - 'mountain'

Yet I would expect the regular graph for 'person'

to be simpler than the one representing a specific kind of person:

Why write 'hermit' as a 'person' without a 'heart'?


'hermit' = 'person' - 'heart'

Conversely, why write 'person' as 'hermit' with a 'heart'?


'person' = 'heart' + 'hermit'

*12.21.0:10: The Chinese character for 'hermit' is 'person' + 'mountain' (arranged horizontally instead of vertically as in Tangut):

仙=亻 +山

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