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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet              63
it is easy to break up most words they use into bncks with roughly
the same sounds as whole words in the language equipped with the
parent logographic script
Our most precise information about this lock and key relationship
is based on adaptation of Chinese script by the Japanese In order
to understand it the first thing to be clear about is the range of possible
combinations of elementary sounds In round numbers, a language
such as ours requires twenty distinct consonants and twenty vowels
including diphthongs This means that if our language were made up
entirely of monosyllabic words of the same open type as mey or exclu-
sively of the same open type as at, we could have a vocabulary of
20 x 20, or four hundred words, without using any compound con-
sonants such as sty tr> or kw. To a large extent Chinese vernaculars
(p. 423) consist of open syllables like my and so The Chinese have to
do everything with about four hundied and twenty basic words
The small size of its vocabulary is not a necessary consequence of
the fact that Chinese is monosyllabic If a language consisted exclu-
sively of monosyllabic words belonging to the closed type such as
bcdy more common m English, we could make roughly 20 x 20 x 20,
or eight thousand words,, without using double consonants A language
such as English can therefore be immensely rich m monosyllables
without being exclusively made up of them. Chinese is able to express
so much with about four hundred and twenty monosyllables, partly
because it makes combinations like the under-graduate slang god-box
for churchy partly because it is extremely rich in homophones like our
words flea-flee or right-write^ and partly because it is able to dis-
tinguish some homophones by nuances of tone such as we make when
we say "yes" as a symbol of deliberate assent, interrogation, suspense
or excitement, ironical agreement or boredom The number of homo-
phones m the Chinese language is enormous, and this is inevitable
because of the small number of available vocables A Chinese dic-
tionary lists no less than ninety-eight different meanings for the
sound group, represented by CHI Of these ninety eight, no less than
forty eight have the same rising tone corresponding roughly to our
questioning "yc-cs?**.
The Chinese way of representing a grove or forest by combining
die picture symbols for tree illustrates one device by which a com-
paratively nch equipment of written words is built up by pairing
a relatively small battery—i e 214 in all—of elementary logograms
called radicals (see Fig 42) Mere juxtaposition of the picture symbol