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Shir Shishi shells shea shells on the shea shore

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Postby anders » Sun Apr 24, 2005 10:49 am

Ordinary dictionaries, like Spahn-Hadamitzky, are of no help at all. They are just dictionaries.

So far, I use mainly Karlgren: Grammata Serica Recensa (GSR; written in English) and my lecture notes. Karlgren copied bronze and bone inscriptions in handwriting, so you often get a fair glimpse of the evolutions of the characters. There are probably Far East pirate editions to be had. Unfortunately, it is arranged by rhyme, and the index is a pain to use. Some clever and industrious people created an index by pinyin, but they give "only" pronunciations during three time periods, the meaning and a number referring to GSR, not the ancient characters or explanations. It's Tor Ulving: Dictionary of Old and Middle Chinese..., ISBN 91-7346-294-2.

If you want a beautiful, cleverly and scholarly written book with rich illustrations, on a selected 100+ of the most common characters, that's Cecilia Lindqvist: China: Empire of Living Symbols. In Swedish, it's Tecknens Rike, ISBN 91-34-50857-0. Her theories on origins generally appear more credible to me than for example a book by an Italian, the title of which I have forgotten. This guy (and probably a host of other authors) mainly echoes old opinions from times before the oracle bone inscription finds, so they had less material for their conclusions. Great fun, though.

There are books on the writing published all the time, the majority of them probably in Chinese and Japanese. I'll ask my teacher tomorrow if he has any current favourite in English.
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Postby Brazilian dude » Sun Apr 24, 2005 10:52 am

Thank you very much for your thorough reply, Anders. I'd appreciate comment on books that deal with "Japanese" kanji primarily, because I'm not familiar with the Chinese pronunciation and so on.

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Postby anders » Mon Apr 25, 2005 12:21 pm

And I know next to nothing about Japanese. So far, at least.

My teacher (co-worker on the alphabetic Karlgren) could recommend no book on kanji. He agreed with me that Fazzioloi, Understanding Chinese characters can be entertaining, but the explanations are not necessarily always correct. Professor Lindqvist's ideas seem, however, to be generally understood as state of the art. She is currently a guest professor at the Beijing University.

L. Weiger:Chinese Characters is old, and like Fazzioli, not perfectly reliable. I can't recommend it to a person who hasn't studied Chinese for at least a year and has learned the basics of character analysis. With those caveats, it's very interesting, with lots of older varieties illustrated (but of course not from oracle bones), and many quotations from Xu Shen: Shuowen jiezi (Explanations of the simple characters and analysis of the compound ones), first published in 121 C.E.

Weiger's first edition is 1915 in 2 vols.; recent reprints in one vol. can be had for some USD 10; the two 1915 vols. for a mere USD 550.

You could also start at http://zhongwen.com/. But like it says, no guarantees.

For a view of some Japanese dictionary pages and comments on several dictionaries of different kinds, including one page of the favourite of the local Japanese dept., the Morohashi: Daikanwajiten (Great Chinese Dictionary?), there's a link at the bottom of http://member.newsguy.com/~sakusha/dict/main.html
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Postby Brazilian dude » Mon Apr 25, 2005 1:36 pm

Anders, if I may, you're a jewel.

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