for tongxuemen to comment

To express an idea or to name a thing the Chinese uttered a sound in one breath. But they had more ideas than sounds to represent them. It is improbable that there was at any time a special sound for every idea or thing. 
At any rate, when we first meet with the spoken language, one of the characteristics which strikes us is the relative paucity of sounds compared with the ideas to be conveyed. The natural difficulty arising out of the comparatively limited play of the organs of speech in the Chinese race is one cause of this, and we shall note another later on. 
The result is that the same sounds have to do duty not only twice, but thrice or oftener, and each to represent more than one idea. If there are a dozen men and only three names, Tom, Dick, and Harry, the least confusing arrangement is to call four men by each name. But how are we to convey to anyone which of the four Toms, for example, is meant?
Not being able to invent any more names or sounds, the Chinese particularized the idea or thing from others having the same name or sound by adding to that sound a distinguishing intonation. This intonation is known by tone but the Chinese did not at first, nor for a very long time, recognize that he was making these distinctions in this way. Every intoned sound was to him though not in reality, a new monosyllable. Carpenters often use a tool composed of a handle into which differently shaped points are fitted for different kinds of work. The handle was the monosyllable, the points the tones. But where did he get these tones? The answer to this question has proved a stumbling-block to an enormous number of scholars, and for the reason that, as is often the case, the obvious explanation is not the right one. The obvious explanation is that, when two words, through phonetic decay, had become so alike as to be homonyms, a tone was invented to keep the meanings distinct, and that, as the decay went on, more and more tones were required to prevent confusion becoming worse confounded. But that is not what took place. It was the natural development of the tone distinctions through the inability to invent new sounds that led to the carelessness of articulation and the multiplication of what without the tones would be homonyms. 
a continuar (com mais mimos desta vez sobre a escrita por sinogramas)


  1. Só para alunos? E os colegas? A mim interessava-me aprofundar o papel pouco importante desempenhado pelos órgãos da fala na "raça" chinesa...

  2. ora essa, mas os meus alunos são colegas!
    além disso, não são os que estudam a "raça" chinesa, e/ou o estudo da "raça" chinesa, todos tong na nobre actividade de xue?


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