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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

432                Tfie Loam of Language
stars In Chinese, the possible maximum is reduced by two character-
istics of the spoken language One is that the Chinese syllable never
tolerated initial consonant clusters other than TS, DS, and CH, i e no
Chinese words have the same form as our spree., day^ plea The second
is that the monosyllable ends either in a vowel or in one of a small
range of consonants Even in ancient times the terminal consonants
were not more than six in number (p, t, &, m, n, ng\ and in the northern
dialect to-day, only the last two (w, ng) occur That is to say, nearly all
words are monosyllables of the open type like our words fry, me, so
Within the framework of these limitations, the number of pronounce-
able syllables which can be made up is very small compared with the
size of our vocabulary Indeed, it is a tiny fraction of what the vocabu-
lary of a monosyllabic language would be if it admitted closed syllables,
like stamps or clubs^ with double or treble consonants at each end
The reader will not be slow to draw one inference At an early date
Chinese was encumbered with a large number of homophones, i e.
words with the same sound and different meanings When further
reduction of final sounds took place, the number multiplied At one
time the language of North China distinguished between KA (song),
KAP (frog), KAT (cut), and KAK (each) Now the four different
words have merged in the single open monosyllable KO This loss of
word-substance, together with limitations set upon the character of the
syllable, means that less than five hundred monosyllables are now
available for all the things and ideas the Chinese may wish to express
by single or compound words Professor Karlgren describes what this
entails as follows.
"A small dictionary, including only the very commonest words of the
language, gives about 4,200 simple words, which gives an average of ten
different words for each syllable But it is not to be expected that the
words should be evenly distributed among the syllables, the number of
homophones in a series is therefore sometimes smaller, sometimes larger
Of the common 4,200 words there are only two that are pronounced juny
but 69 that have the pronunciation z, 59 shi, 29 ku> and so forth "
Homophones exist in modern European languages though we often
overlook their presence because of spelling differences (to-too-two), of
gender, as in the German words der Ktefer (the jaw) and die Kiefer (the
fir), or of both, as in the French words le pore (the pork) and la pore
(the pore). They are particularly frequent in English. Even if we limit
ourselves to those homophones which are made up of an initial con-
sonant and a vowel, like a typical Chinese word, we find such familiar