2088Re: Dating Chinese writing Re: [ANE-2] Cherubim Origins
- Aug 5 9:01 AM----- Original Message ----
From: E Bruce Brooks <brooks@...>
Sent: Saturday, August 5, 2006 10:45:56 AM
Subject: Re: Dating Chinese writing Re: [ANE-2] Cherubim Origins
In Response To: Peter Daniels
On: Chinese Writing
Peter has previously, but on that occasion privately, chided me on my
suggestion about date nomenclature. I may as well repeat here the gist of my
earlier answer to him:
ME: Chinese chronology is disputed earlier than the year 0841 (this is a
culture-neutral way of writing 841 BC);
PETER: No, it is not. It is an immensely confusing perversion of the
phenomenon of the meaningless leading zero -- precisely because we have
learned from our earliest age to disregard leading zeros!
ME: Non sequitur. It is culture-neutral because the standard conventions in
English, BC or BCE, both *assume* English, that is, they are abbreviations
of English words and thus culturally centered in English. Those conventions
do not adequately represent French (where a different phrase is in use), or
German, or in fact anything other than English. I always recommend that
Like it or not, the international language of scholarship is currently English, and if either French or German has adopted a non-Christian way of referring to the Eras, I haven't heard of it yet: the expressions are still "avant j.-c." and "vorchristlich."
EBRUCE: conventions in any subject should be as widely based, or as widely
acceptable, as is reasonably possible. The other neutral device (that is,
the other device not based on words in a particular language) which one
sometimes encounters is a minus sign prefixed to BC dates.
We certainly don't encounter that in ANE studies, which are quite aware of astronomical practice.
EBRUCE: All in all, then, it seems to me that the leading
zero convention, which raises neither of these practical problems, and also
does not rub Englishness in the faces of other language speakers, has a good
deal going for it. Respectfully suggested, to those capable of entertaining
such suggestions in tranquility.
When I reviewed the 1998 Mair volumes (Sino-Platonic Papers 98 [Jan. 2000]: 4-46), I essentially had to state that your article was unreadable and uninterpretable, because of your bizarre date formulations, your bizsrre citation style; and your idiosyncratic transliteration (or transcription?) of Chinese, referenced only to a (then?) unpublished manuscript.
EBRUCE: As to Peter's substantive objection, minus "perversion" and other somewhat
unscientific lexical items, we, or at least a good many of us, have NOT
"learned to disregard leading zeroes." They are increasingly common, and we
often have to pay attention to them in daily life. Those citing an ISBN
number, to take only one instance, will disregard the leading zero at their
ISBNs begin with "1" for books in English, "3" for books in German, etc. Perhaps "0" is used for books in Chinese?
EBRUCE: and/or Amazon's peril. It is precisely this greater familiarity with leading
zeroes in modern life (including modern banking) which makes a leading zero
convention less strange to the ordinary citizen, and thus more practical as
a general convention, than it would have been 30 years ago. There will
always be people who like what they have, and Peter has signed on as one of
them. His distaste for this specific suggestion may or may not be widely
shared, but his arguments in support of that distaste don't strike me as
having general weight.
Now we come to Chinese writing.
ME: the Jou conquest of Shang was within 50 years or so of 01000, and
writing was introduced to China three or four
centuries before that.
PETER: That's highly unlikely. By the time Chinese writing is first attested
(Oracle Bone Inscriptions, ca. 1250 BCE), it is a (functionally speaking)
fully developed writing system, and in the other known cases of script
invention (Sumerian and Mayan), it took many, many centuries to achieve that
status -- in both cases, moreover, the mediation of writing in other
languages was certainly (Sumerian) or probably (Mayan) involved, which
provided the impetus for full phoneticization. We might then expect the
first experiments with Chinese proto-writing to reach back close to the 3rd
ME: That timescale might fit that hypothesis, but that hypothesis itself
doesn't convince me. It is agreed that Chinese oracle bone writing emerges
rather full-blown. That suggests one of two things: either (1) Chinese
writing went through a long period of local development which, and the
social concomitants of which, are both utterly lost to us, or (2) it arose
and quickly developed, in idiosyncratic local form, but as the result of
stimulus from outside.
The origins of Chinese civilization are vastly off-topic for ANE-2 List, and nothing here is unfamiliar; I would refer you to the article by Michael Puett in the same Mair volume, on the scholarly pendulum regarding "outside influence" on China in the 2nd millennium. He argues for a middle ground, recognizing that some characteristics are imported and some are native. He does _not_ consider writing as a phenomenon influenced by the outside, and with very good reason ...
EBRUCE: It may be objected that Chinese is typologically different from all the
other Asian writing systems which might have suggested it. That, to my mind,
What "all the other Asian writing systems" of the 2nd millennium are those? The graphonomist [I have switched to Hockett's term from Gelb's "grammatologist" because of Derrida] is struck by its typological _similarity_ to Sumerian and Mayan writing.
implies stimulus (knowledge of the *idea* of writing, without any guidance
as to method, and thus a local resort to rebus procedures, much as in
Kipling's story) rather than direct imitation. But the distances involved do
not make that a less likely possibility. As for the missing alphabet, at
least one scholar (Pulleyblank) has suggested that the seemingly meaningless
Pulleyblank abandoned that suggestion decades ago.
He, Mair, and Cyrus Gordon spoke back to back to back at the 33rd ICANAS in Toronto in 1990 on exactly the same topic, and none of them ever provided the slightest hint of convincing evidence.
On the notion of "stimulus" and "rebus procedures," see any number of articles of mine, including, of course, my explanation of why writing came to be independently invented in exactly three locations that we know of: Sumer, China, and Mesoamerica. Bibliography can be provided if requested. In every known instance, "stimulus" results in a syllabary, not a logography.
series of cyclical (calendrological) signs, in two series of 10 and 12,
totaling 22, may be distributed across the phonological system in such a way
as to suggest an original consonantal set. If so, that possibility was not
followed in the further development of the script, and represents a fossil
rather than a fairway. But it might provide evidence of a sort of
[I delete the political comments and the descriptions of various phenomena that plausibly were borrowed into China, as even more irrelevant to ANE-2.]
Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
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