Article published in:History of Linguistics 2005: Selected papers from the Tenth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHOLS X), 1–5 September 2005, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
Edited by Douglas A. Kibbee
[Studies in the History of the Language Sciences 112] 2007
► pp. 252–261
Steinthal and the limits of etymology: The special case of Chinese
Chinese character writing, based only partially on phonetic considerations, presents a challenge to the seemingly straightforward relationship between the written record and etymology, where graphemic recordings of phonetic forms (words) in a number of languages are compared to determine whether they share a common ancestor. The very concept of ‘word’, vis-à-vis ‘character’ is a complicated category in Chinese. Steinthal investigates Chinese character writing and ‘character etymology’, taking note of its etymologically baseless homographs and graphemic ‘synonyms’, and the problems these create for reconstructing earlier stages of the language. A writing system which in effect inverts the writing-etymology relationship by offering character etymologies in place of word etymologies clearly demands that the very premises of etymology be interrogated to achieve a more accurate assessment of its intrinsic limitations.
Published online: 28 November 2007
Cited by 1 other publications
Christy, T. Craig
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