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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

434               The Loom of Language
In the first tone FU means husband, in the second fortune., in the third
government office, and in the fourth nch
Nobody knows how this elaborate system arose It would be naive
to believe that the Chinese ever became aware of the dangerous turn
their language was taking, and deliberately started to differentiate
homophones by tone It is more likely that some tones represent the
pronunciation of old monosyllables, while other tones are survivals of
words which were once disyllabic and as such had an intonation
different from that of monosyllabic words Though the existence of
distinct tones greatly reduces the number of genuine homophones,
many words spoken in one tone cover a bewildering variety of different
notions For instance, / in the first tone means one, dress, rely on, cure,
in the second barbarian, soap, doubt, move, in the third chau, ant,
tail, and in the fourth sense, wing, city, translate, discuss Evidently
therefore Chinese must possess other devices beside tone to make
effective speech possible The most important is the juxtaposition of
synonyms or near-synonyms An example will make this clear Our
words expire and die would both be liable to misunderstanding if listed
as such in a vocabulary Die may mean (a) cease to live, (b) a metallic
mould or stamp, (c) a small toy of culical shape Expire may mean*
(a) breathe outwards, (J) cease to live We can make the first meaning of
die explicit in our word list, if we wnte die—expire The second
meaning of expire conies to life in the same way, when we wntc expire-
di<s. This is what the Chinese do when they combine KCAN (see or
investigate) with CHIEN (see or build) to make K'AN-CHIEN which
means see alone We might clarify the second meaning of die as given
above by writing die-mould or die-stamp in which the second element
is a generic term This is vihat the Chinese do when they make up
FU-CITIN from FU which in one tone means father, oppose, split, or
belly and CH'IN (a kinsman). The trick of sorting out homophones by
making such couplets pervades Chinese speech and asserts itself when
the labourer speaks Pidgin, e g look-see for see
If we rank alehouse and housemaid as disyllabic words, colloquial
Chinese is nch in disyllables It is a monosyllable language in the sense
that it contains scarcely any trace of syllables which have no inde-
pendent mobility, e g the syllables -dom in wisdom or -e$ in houses In
nearly all such compounds as those illustrated above, one part like the
syllable man in postman may carry a weaker stress, but like man still
has a verbal life of its own Daily speech accommodates a few syllables
which have as little autonomy as the -ship in friendship We have