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2094Re: Dating Chinese writing Re: [ANE-2] Cherubim Origins

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  • Robert M Whiting
    Aug 6, 2006
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      On Sat, 5 Aug 2006, E Bruce Brooks wrote:

      > BRUCE: The typical Chinese character is made up of two elements, one
      > conventionally called the "radical" in the belief that it represents the
      > root meaning, and the other conventionally called the "phonetic." Best
      > current thinking is that the "radical" is what at least some Near
      > Easternists call the "determinative" or semantic-area designator, and the
      > "phonetic" carries not only the sound, but [as in all languages] the meaning
      > associated with the sound. It would be nice to know exactly what NE script
      > is closest to this system, given that the "phonetic" part is pictorial
      > rather than alphabetic. Peter implies Sumerian. Does that find general
      > agreement on this list?

      A certain amount of simplification here, since if I remember DeFrancis
      correctly (not having it here in front of me), this covers only one
      category (although perhaps the largest and hence the "typical" group) of
      Chinese signs.

      As I remember it, all the sign types identified by DeFrancis are found in
      the Sumerian script, if not necessarily in the same proportions.

      There are both iconic and indexical pictograms with no overt phonetic
      marker. Iconic examples include UTU 'sun' [a picture of the sun rising]
      and signs like GI 'reed' and $E 'barley' representing plants or MU$EN
      'bird' or KU6 'fish' or SAG 'head' or KUR 'mountain'. Indexical
      pictograms include DUMU (a picture of female breasts to indicate 'child')
      and A (wavy lines to indicate water). Pictograms that represent an object
      pars pro toto fall somewhere between icons and indices and include SAL (a
      picture of the female pubic triangle for 'woman') U$ (NITA) (a picture of
      the male sex organ for 'male', 'man') the head of an animal for the entire
      animal (GUD, 'bull', 'ox'; AB2, 'cow', PIRIG, 'lion'; GIR3 (AN$E) 'equid';
      KA5 'fox'; etc.). Also indexical is the use of a picture of a foot to
      indicate actions associated with the foot (e.g. GIN 'go', 'walk'; TUM3
      'bring'; GUB 'stand'), but not for the word 'foot' itself None of these
      signs have any explicit phonetic content (i.e., the phonetic sequences
      that they represent are supplied by the reader from his knowledge of the

      Iconic and indexical pictograms are also extended indexically to include
      related concepts (e.g. UTU 'sun' --> UD / U4 'day' / 'time'; BABBAR
      'white'; DAG2 'shining', 'bright'; KUM4 'hot'; AH3 'dry'; TAM (DAM2)
      'clean'; etc. or KUR 'mountain' --> '[foreign] country'), still without
      any explicit phonetic indication in the sign itself.

      Another category of sign creation is the combination of two iconic or
      indexical pictograms into a new sign. For example, KUR, 'mountain',
      '(foreign) country' is combined with the signs NITA ('man'), SAL
      ('woman'), and GUD ('bull') to make NITAxKUR (ARAD2, 'slave'), SAL+KUR
      (GEME2, 'slave-woman'), and GUDxKUR (AM, 'wild bull'). Similarly, A
      'water' and AN 'sky' combine into A+AN (AM3 / $EG3, 'rain' / 'storm').
      There is still no explicit phonetic content to the sign but simply the
      combination of two iconic or indexical representations. I tend to think
      of these combinations as "word pictures".

      Another method of sign creation is the specification of a part of an
      existing sign to indicate a new meaning. Thus SAG ('head') with lines
      drawn near the mouth becomes KA ('mouth') and DUG4 ('speak'). Such signs
      can be further combined (e.g., KA 'mouth' and A 'water' become NAG2
      'drink', etc.). Still no explicit indication of phonetic content,
      however; just more word pictures.

      Then there is the combination of iconic or indexical signs with phonetic
      indicators, in the manner you consider "typical" of Chinese script, to
      make new signs. PIRIG 'lion' is combined with the UD (u4) sign to
      indicate UG 'lion' and with the ZA sign ('bead') to make AZ(A) 'bear'.
      GIR3 ('equid') is combined with A+IGI (= alim) to make ALIM ('bison).
      Similarly, KA ('mouth') + ME is EME 'tongue'. In such cases, the phonetic
      element of the sign indicates part or all of the reading of the sign.
      Note the distinction between the "word picture" 'mouth' + 'water' (KAxA) =
      'drink' (NAG2) and the phonetic indication 'mouth' + /me/ (KAxME) = EME
      where the semantic content of the ME sign is ignored. In the first
      instance there is a fusion of two "radicals" with no phonetic content. In
      the second, there is a fusion of "radical" and "phonetic" to produce a
      sign that contains explicit phonetic information.

      Finally, there are Sumerian signs that are more or less completely
      phonetic. Such signs usually involve a "bearer" sign (which you might
      consider as corresponding to a "radical") which does not enter into the
      equation but merely provides a platform for the "phonetic" which provides
      the entire determination of the semantic content of the sign (although
      sometimes the "bearer" contributes part of the phonetic content). Common
      bearer signs typically have open space where the "phonetic" can be
      inscribed. Signs like KA, GA2, EZEN, URU and LAGAB are frequently
      "bearers". An example is GAZI (= GA2xPA) or GAZI2 (= GA2xSUM) (where PA =
      si29 and SUM = si3). Sumerian gazi corresponds to Akkadian kasû and the
      word is probably a loan in both Sumerian and Akkadian since it refers to a
      kind of condiment or spice. On the other hand, BAD3 ('wall') is simply
      EZENxBAD and the phonetic value is provided solely by the inscribed BAD
      sign and the EZEN part contributes nothing except to carry the BAD sign.

      As far as I know (as I say, I don't have DeFrancis here), Chinese signs
      corresponding to all these types are known, but the fact that the Sumerian
      signs with explicit phonetic content are much rarer than the Chinese may
      be explained by another factor, which brings me to the next point:

      On Sat, 5 Aug 2006, Peter T. Daniels wrote:

      The _only_ typological difference between Chinese and Sumerian is that
      the combination of radical and phonetic was fused into a single item in
      Chinese -- the characters -- while in Sumerian, they remained separate
      (thus the thousands of Chinese characters vs. the several hundred in

      This, of course, is simply false. As can be from the discussion above, or
      from a knowledge of the Sumerian script, there are numerous examples in
      the Sumerian script where "radical" and "phonetic" were fused into a
      single sign. The factor that accounts for the difference is the fact that
      sometime fairly early on the Sumerian signary was closed. This meant that
      after this point no new signs could be added to the inventory and blocked
      the fusion of existing signs into a new sign. In logography, new signs are
      needed for new words. These may be new coinings, but most commonly,
      foreign names and loan words that must be expressed in writing. Since no
      new signs can be added to the signary, such words must be written
      syllabically (phonetically) or with "word pictures". The former really
      needs no example since it is found passim. The latter is illustrated with
      the writing of the Sumerian word for 'horse'. The horse came into
      Mesopotamia long after the cuneiform signary was closed. The Sumerian
      word for 'horse' is sisi (or zizi, since Sumerian did not have a
      voiced/voiceless distinction it's hard to tell). Since no new sign could
      be created for it, it was written either syllabically (AN$E.zi.zi or
      simply zi.zi) or with a "word picture" (AN$E.KUR or AN$E.KUR.RA; "equid of
      the mountains" or "foreign equid). As the examples of NITAxKUR, SAL+KUR,
      and GUDxKUR given above show, had the word for 'horse' come into Sumerian
      before the signary was closed, the most likely development would have been
      *AN$ExKUR --> SISI 'horse'.

      So the thing that sent the development of Sumerian script on a divergent
      path from the development of Chinese script was the closing of the
      Sumerian signary which prevented the fusion of existing signs into new
      ones. Sumerians could coin new words, but not new signs.

      Peter describes the situation in Sumerian after the closing of the
      signary, but not before. If Chinese writing developed by "stimulus" from
      Sumerian, then the closing of the Sumerian signary, whenever that may have
      been precisely, would seem to be a likely terminus ante quem for the

      Bob Whiting
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