A sociolinguistic analysis of the logographic writing system of Chinese
Benjamin K.Y. T'sou 邹嘉彦
Logographic script offers a striking contrast to the common alphabetic scripts in the world, and the use of radicals in the logographic script is a unique feature. The 214 radicals used in modern Chinese are derived from the 540 radicals found in Xushen’s Shuowen Jiezi of the Han Dynasty, and a high degree of continuity is maintained in the modern system. In this paper an attempt is made to offer a sociolinguistic analysis of the logographic radical system and to study its constituents on the basis of natural and hierarchical classification. This analysis leads to an exploration of the social and cultural scene associated with the inceptional phase of logographic radicals. One preliminary finding reported here is that this inceptional phase may be placed at the time of transition from nomadic hunting communities to the more sedentary agricultural communities. Furthermore, an imbalance between masculine and feminine categories is also shown. Matrilineal society has often been postulated for prehistorical Chinese society. In recent years supporting evidence has been revealed in archaeological investigations. The study of the logographic radical system offers the only other independent proof thus far.
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Journal of Chinese Linguistics volume 9 (ISSN 0091-3723)
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