BabelStone


Untangling the Web of Characters

2010-04-27

[Mirrored from http://babelstone.blogspot.com/2010/04/untangling-web-of-characters.html]


Notes for an introductory talk on the Tangut script given at SOAS on 21st May 2009



2.1 The Sea of Characters

L4797L0661 ·jwɨr ŋjow
文海 wén hǎi



The four characters under the large head character give the character's structural composition, using the following terms (and sometimes others) to indicate what part of the source character is being referred to (as no more than four characters are ever used to describe a character's structural composition, often one or more of these terms are elided) :

The description of a character's composition does not always make sense.


Questions :



2.2 A Case Study : The "Sun" Radical Nishida Radical 211

This component is Nishida Tatsuo's Radical No. 211, which he calls the "sun radical" 日部 (see Seikago no kenkyū 西夏語の研究 [A Study of the Hsi-Hsia Language] page 244). However, very few characters with this component are in any way related to the sun, and so Nishida's radical name is a misnomer (by far the largest semantic group of characters with this component is the "Bird-related" group, but Nishida already has a "bird" radical). As we shall see below, unlike most Chinese radicals, Tangut radicals do not have a single fixed meaning, and so giving names to them (as Nishida and others have done) is at best not very useful, and at worst misleading.


The Sea of Characters dictionary has head entries for 102 of these characters :


Wén Hǎi LFW2008 Glyph Reconstruction and Gloss Structural Composition
P 8.243 3040 L3040 *nju "sweat" Left side of L3772 *śjo "sweat"
Right side of L3299 *lwew "steam, smoke"
P 8.252 0399 L0399 *nju [a surname] Middle of L2511 *rjɨr "to go out, to give birth"
Right side of L0290 *sju "as, like"
P 9.222 3808 L3808 *xju "empty" Left side of L3800 *lew "little bird"
Right side of L3796 *rjɨj "to teach"
P 9.223 3673 L3673 *ɣju "smoke, mist" Right side of L3299 *lwew "steam, smoke"
Right side of L4323 *kjur "to smoke sth."
P 9.231 3600 L3600 *ɣju "to ask, to call" Left side of L2791 *khju "to request, to ask"
Right side of L3456 *lja "to come"
P 10.222 2267 L2267 *ku "phoenix" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L4457 *ljịj "big"
Right side of L5134 *·we "bird"
P 10.253 3435 L3435 *ɣu "god, supernatural being" Left side of L2813 *ɣu "emperor"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 11.162 5083 L5083 *gu̱ "to patrol" Whole of L5551 *gu̱ [a surname]
Right side of L3852 *dźjij "to go"
P 11.172 5551 L5551 *gu̱ [a surname] Left side of L5138 *gu̱ "a spirit"
Middle of L5083 *gu̱ "to patrol"
P 12.151 2288 L2288 *nju̱ "smoke" Whole of L3673 *ɣju "smoke, mist"
Right side of L5149 *du̱ "to store"
P 12.272 3242 L3242 *be "mad" Left side of L3110 *dzjị "owlet"
Right side of L1504 *ɣạ "crazy"
P 13.111 2868 L2868 *be "illness" Whole of L3242 *be "mad"
Right side of L2857 *ŋo "disease"
P 15.153 3170 L3170 *tśhji "shame, disgrace" Left side of L2175 *tshwu "shame, disgrace"
Middle of L3349 *ljijr "direction"
Right side of L3429 *sew "shy, bashful"
P 17.212 3278 L3278 *tshji "food" Left side of L3190 *lhjwa "tongue"
Right side of L5546 *śjwi "food"
P 18.172 3243 L3243 *kjwi "turtledove" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Left side of L1264 *kjir [a surname]
P 18.252 1566 L1566 *sjwi "to tie" Left side of L4427 *sjwi "roof beam"
Right side of L5941 *djɨ̣ "ribbon"
P 19.242 1327 L1327 *phji̱ "to fly" Left side of L1242 *dzjwɨ "wing"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 20.113 5840 L5840 *kji̱ "commerce, trade" Left side of L5875 *źjị "to buy and sell"
Middle of L0771 *phjij "to express oneself"
Right side of L0269 *khjɨ̱ "to gather"
P 20.142 5985 L5985 *sji̱ "to inspect" Left side of L5911 *khwa "far"
Left side of L5348 *sji̱ "to cry, to wail, to lament"
P 20.253 2873 L2873 *·wẽ [a place name] Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L2872 *·wẽ [a surname]
P 22.172 5966 L5966 *ta "swallow" Right side of L3800 *lew "little bird"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 23.262 2767 L2767 *ɣa [a surname] Middle of L0805 *·jiw [a place name]
Right side of L2764 *mur "vulgar"
P 24.122 2322 L2322 *ɣa "sorrow" Right side of L2518 *nji̱j "heart, mind"
Right side of L2164 *sjwɨ̱ "to think"
P 24.231 5911 L5911 *khwa "far" Left side of L5913 *rjar [a participle]
Middle of L5985 *sji̱ "to inspect"
Right side of L0785 *bju "border, side"
P 25.122 5969 L5969 *tsha "empty bag" Right side of L3806 *bu "reed-mace, cattail"
Middle (?) of L5105 *tsə̣ "lungs"
Middle of L0290 *sju "as, like"
P 26.151 2718 L2718 *khiwa "kidney" Whole of L1890 *bjij "high"
Right side of L2778 *rjɨr "bone"
P 27.241 0538 L0538 *pja "butterfly" Surrounding part of L0537 *pja "dark green"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 27.242 1272 L1272 *pja "broad, shallow" Left side of L0538 *pja "butterfly"
Right side of L3433 *djɨj "shallow"
P 28.121 3334 L3334 *mja "female [of human or animal]" Left side of L2270 *mja "a type of bird"
Right side of L1106/L1107 *me̱ "swallow" or *ŋwə "heaven, emperor"
P 28.122 2270 L2270 *mja "a type of bird" Left side of L3334 *mja "female"
Right side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 28.253 0618 L0618 *tsja "hot" Bottom of L4408 *mə̱ "fire"
Whole of L2449 *be "sun"
P 29.222 3698 L3698 *śja̱ "a type of bird" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Left or right side of L1259 *tśiow "to assemble"
Right side of L1640 *dzjịj "to cross, to pass"
P 30.141 3436 L3436 *sa̱ "close relative" Bottom of L5051 *njạ "marriage"
Left side of L3657 *·jɨ "marriage"
P 31.111 3672 L3672 *bã "goose" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L4322 *bã "tray"
P 32.111 3330 L3330 *swã [a surname] Left side of L2888 * [a surname]
Middle of L2164 *sjwɨ̱ "to think"
P 32.272 3311 L3311 * "elder, senior" Left side of L2893 *khwej "big"
Right side of L1343 * "ore"
P 35.111 1107 L1107 *ŋwə "heaven, emperor" Left side of L0510 *ŋwər "heaven"
Left side of L3294 *me̱ "virtuous person"
P 36.271 2811 L2811 *ljɨ "round bone (?)" Left side of L2302 *ljɨ "wind"
Right side of L2778 *rjɨr "bone"
P 36.273 2079 L2079 *ljɨ "noon" Left side of L3589 *dzjɨj "time"
Right side of L0391 *ljij "noon"
P 37.213 2454 L2454 *phjɨ "to hear" Left side of L3600 *ɣju "to ask, to call"
Right side of L2603 *śjwiw "to follow"
Bottom of L5026 *mji "to listen, to hear"
P 38.122 0826 L0826 *thjɨ "to call, to speak" Left side of L1799 *thu "to release"
Right side of L0827 *thjɨ "east, end"
P 39.112 2209 L2209 *tshjɨ "name of a star" Left side of L3127 *tshjɨ "a type of bird"
Right side of L5223 *tśjɨ̱r "star, constellation"
P 39.121 3127 L3127 *tshjɨ "a type of bird" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L2910 *tshjɨ "lamb"
P 39.152 3657 L3657 *·jɨ "marriage" Right side of L3436 *sa̱ "close relative"
Left side of L5051 *njạ "marriage"
P 39.251 3694 L3694 *kjwɨ "turtledove" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Whole of L5746 *gjwɨ "to cut, to break"
P 42.131 3171 L3171 *mjɨ̱ "pheasant" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L3168 *mjɨ̱ "woman"
P 42.251 2164 L2164 *sjwɨ̱ "to think" Left side of L2518 *nji̱j "heart, mind"
Middle of L2621 *sji̱j "thought"
Right side of L0290 *sju "as, like"
P 45.171 3297 L3297 *tśjij "a type of bird" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L1309 *tśjij [a surname]
P 50.262 3421 L3421 *ləj "equal, even" Middle of L1918 *mji "not"
Right side of L3798 *tsəj "small, little, young"
Left side of L2893 *khwej "big"
P 51.142 3647 L3647 *kiwəj "cuckoo" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Left side of L4899 *kiwe "dark"
P 53.242 3299 L3299 *lwew "steam, smoke" Left side of L2782 *khji "gas, steam"
Left side of L3673 *ɣju "smoke, mist"
P 54.271 3960 L3960 *źjiw "bird" Left side of L3849 *źjiw "six, sixth"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 55.142 2086 L2086 *zji̱w "to hang" Whole of L3087 *dzjiw "waist"
Right side of L3844 *dźjịj "to go, to send"
P 57.172 3906 L3906 *tśhio "origin, source" Left side of L3950 *tshjwu "sky, heaven"
Right side of L5655 *ljɨ̣ "treasure"
Middle of L2107 *tser "land, soil"
P 57.251 2759 L2759 *tśjo "chaotic" Right side of L3040 *nju "sweat"
Right side of L2761 *lew "confused"
P 57.272 2816 L2816 *ljo "round bone" Left side of L2342 *ljo "good fortune"
Right side of L2778 *rjɨr "bone"
P 62.162 5087 L5087 *·jow [a surname] Middle of L3452 *·jij "sheep"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L2107 *tser "land, soil"
P 63.211 1569 L1569 *twụ "loyal" Left side of L1836 *tśjɨj "upright"
Left side of L3294 *me̱ "virtuous person"
P 65.271 2114 L2114 *liẹj "crow" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Whole of L0176 *nja̱ "black"
P 71.212 2742 L2742 *tẹ "[bird] shit" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Middle of L2503 *kụ "behind"
P 72.211 2268 L2268 *·wjị "east, tail end" Left side of L2449 *be "sun"
Whole of L0354 *lhji "to give birth to"
P 73.212 3298 L3298 *djị "to tread" Surrounding part of L3312 *djị "to mate"
Right side of L1567 *gji "son, child"
P 73.221 3312 L3312 *djị "to mate" Surrounding part of L3298 *djị "to tread"
Right side of L1965 *dzjɨj "sexual intercourse"
P 74.231 3633 L3633 *də̣ "beautiful [of a bird?]" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Left side of L5564 *zewr "graceful, elegant"
P 75.121 3348 L3348 *tswə̣ "dung" Left side of L3255 *kji̱ "grass"
Right side of L2964 *gja̱ "to swallow"
P 75.132 3612 L3612 *tsə̣ "medicine" Right side of L3278 *tshji "food"
Right side of L3748 *sju "medicine"
P 75.172 5655 L5655 *ljɨ̣ "treasure" Left side of L5335 *dew "true, real"
Right side of L3310 *wạ "vast, wide"
P 75.212 2140 L2140 *·wjɨ̣ "old, aged" Left side of L3334 *mja "female"
Right side of L0187 *nar "old"
P 76.141 1454 L1454 *bjɨ̣ "gibbon" Middle of L5303 *wjị "monkey"
Right side of L4457 *ljịj "big"
P 77.211 2087 L2087 *zjɨ̣ "what time" Left side of L3589 *dzjɨj "time"
Right side of L2082 *·jɨr "to ask, inquire"
P 79.151 3645 L3645 *wejr "a type of bird" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Left side of L5659 *wejr "flourishing"
P 81.272 3851 L3851 *tser "spot" Middle of L2107 *tser "land, soil"
Right side of L0283 *kiwəj "golden"
P 82.121 2107 L2107 *tser "land, soil" Middle of L3333 *me̱ "god, deity"
Right side of L2627 *ljɨ̣ "land, soil"
Right side of L2068 *dzjiw "land, soil"
P 82.212 3109 L3109 *·wer "crane" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L4056 *wer "to meet"
P 83.241 3151 L3151 *mar "oath" Left side of L2778 *rjɨr "bone"
Right side of L4600 *ŋwụ "to swear an oath"
P 88.122 3571 L3571 *xwər "crane" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L2341 *tśier "benefit, interest"
Right side of L3576 *sjwij "clear"
P 89.231 2778 L2778 *rjɨr "bone" Right side of L2418 *low "skeleton"
Right side of L2801 *lhu̱ "marrow"
P 90.231 2766 L2766 *kjiwr "wild duck" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L0836 *kjiwr "urgent"
P 91.162 2383 L2383 *bowr "bag" Middle of L0360 *bju "to crawl"
Whole of L2462 *bowr "bee"
P 91.171 2462 L2462 *bowr "bee" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Whole of L1887 *kjij "insect"
P 91.172 3608 L3608 *bowr "woman's breast" Whole of L2462 *bowr "bee"
Right side of L3465 *tśhji "flesh"
P 92.151 3302 L3302 *kjwɨr "a type of bird" Left side of L3674 *kjwɨ̱r "Xiongnu"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 92.211 2975 L2975 *tsji̱r "an official" Right side of L3865 *dzjɨ̣ "official title"
Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
P 92.241 2628 L2628 *go̱r "male" Right side of L4457 *ljịj "big"
Middle of L0276 *no "son"
P 93.111 3052 L3052 *njo̱r "water, dew" Left side of L3058 *zjɨ̱r "water"
Right side of L1018 *lwo "damp"
Right side of L5941 *djɨ̣ "ribbon"
Z 11.112 2801 L2801 *lhu̱ "marrow" Left side of L2518 *nji̱j "heart, mind"
Right side of L2778 *rjɨr "bone"
Z 12.111 2238 L2238 *lhjwị [a surname] Left side of L3322 *low "body"
Middle of L2488 *lju̱ [a surname]
Z 12.132 2240 L2240 *lhə "a type of insect" Right side of L1327 *phji̱ "to fly"
Right side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Z 14.111 2655 L2655 *dzjị "tall, high" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L5395 *wjịj "short, brief"
Z 17.231 3126 L3126 *dźjij "to have, to possess" Right side of L4457 *ljịj "big"
Whole of L0930 *dju "to have, to possesss"
Z 18.242 1324 L1324 *dźju̱ "to forbear" Right side of L1105 *khjow "to give, to bestow"
Left side of L2893 *khwej "big"
Z 2.112 5420 L5420 *n— "eagle" Left side of L5134 *·we "bird"
Bottom of L4701 *n— [a surname]
Z 4.122 2669 L2669 *dze "wild goose" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L2664 *dze "longevity"
Z 4.232 3589 L3589 *dzjɨj "time" Left side of L2440 *njɨ̱ "sun, day"
Right side of L4739 *tsewr "section"
Z 5.251 1935 L1935 *dzjɨj "ditch, moat" Right side of L2285 *ɣew "trench"
Right side of L2975 *tsji̱r "an official"
Right side of L2107 *tser "land, soil"
Z 6.133 1329 L1329 *dźjow "flag, banner" Left side of L1696 *ljɨ̱ "flag"
Right side of L4457 *ljịj "big"
Z 7.242 3087 L3087 *dzjiw "waist" Bottom of L1141 *kjir "waist"
Z 7.251 2262 L2262 *dźjwow "bird" Left side of L2260 *dźjwow "mating"
Left side of L1242 *dzjwɨ "wing"
Z 7.252 2260 L2260 *dźjwow "mating [of birds]" Left side of L2262 *dźjwow "bird"
Right side of L0373 *·we "mating"
Z 8.162 3332 L3332 *dźiwe "to pull, to drag" Left side of L2494 *dź— "oblique, awry"
Right side of L5937 *śiə "to rotate"
Z 9.151 0774 L0774 *·a [used for Sanskrit transcription] Left side of L1586 *ɣiẹ "sound, noise"
Whole of L2806 *zur "edict, order"
Z 20.162 1387 L1387 *lhjij "to sacrifice, to butcher" Left side of L1699 *śji̱ "livestock"
Right side of L3278 *tshji "food"

The Chinese Radical model does not seem to apply to Tangut. In Chinese a particular radical has a single semantic determinative function, whereas for Tangut the same radical may have many different semantic functions depending upon the source character from which it is taken. Or, more accurately, a particular "radical" does not have an inherent semantic determinative function, but rather, its semantic function in any given character depends on the source character that the radical is derived from. This helps explain why there are so many characters with the 'person" radical (about 20% of all Tangut characters include this element; see Marc Miyake's How Many People are in the Tangut Script?) — this element does not have an inherent sense of "person" in the same way that the Chinese ⼈ *rén "person" radical has, but can mean almost anything depending upon the character that it is derived from.

It is possible to group characters with the radical into several different categories (as shown below), based on its source character as given in the Sea of Characters. By far the largest category of characters are those related to birds and flying, but as this is only one of several semantic categories covered by this radical, you cannot assume that any character with this radical is related to birds or flying (unlike Chinese, for which you can assume that almost any character with the ⿃ *niǎo "bird" or ⾶ *fēi "flying" radical is related to birds or flying respectively). In fact, of the 102 characters in the above table, only about half of them can be grouped into the semantic categories shown below. The other half are idiosyncratic, and have to be considered one at a time.


A. Characters Related to Birds and Flying ( = L2262 *dźjwow "bird")

Of the 32 characters in this category, 24 have the radical on the left, 6 on the right, and 3 in the middle (one character has the radical on the left and in the middle), so although the left-hand side is the most common position for the radical, it is not fixed, and may occur on the right-hand side or in the middle of the character as well.


B. Characters Related to Bone (the bone radical = L2778 *rjɨr "bone")

As discussed in Part 1, modern Tangut dictionaries use systems of radical indexing that are based in arbitrary, artifical radicals. However, it should be possible to generate a list of natural radicals used in the Sea of Characters. The bone-related characters in this category all use the two right-hand elements of the character L2778 *rjɨr "bone", and so the bone radical would form a single natural radical in a hypothetical Sea of Characters radical system.


C. Characters Related to Smoke and Steam ( = L3673 *ɣju "smoke, mist" or L3299 *lwew "steam, smoke")


D. Characters Related to Food ( = L3278 *tshji "food")


E. Characters Related to Time ( = L3589 *dzjɨj "time")


F. Characters Related to Virtuousness ( = L3294 *me̱ "virtuous person")


G. Characters Related to Marriage ( = L3436 *sa̱ "close relative")


H. Characters Related to the Waist ( = L3087 *dzjiw "waist")


Whilst we can classify some of the characters with the radical according to semantic categories, as shown above, we can more usefully classify characters according to the functions of the component elements that comprise each character.


A. Phonetic plus Semantic Constructions

These constructions are similar to Chinese Radical plus Phonetic constructions, but whereas Chinese phonetic elements usually have a narrow range of phonetic values, and the reading of an unknown character can often be guessed from its phonetic element, Tangut phonetic elements do not have a fixed phonetic value, but represent the phonetic value of the character from which the element is derived. Thus the element represents *źjiw in the character L3960, but represents *tser in the character L3851, and so if an unknown character were to include the element , we could not guess what phonetic value it represented ... or even whether it had a phonetic function or a semantic function.


B. Phonetic plus Phonetic Constructions

In some cases where a character his no intrinsic meaning, for example family or clan names, the character may be constructed from two homophonous phonetic elements.


C. Semantic Constructions

Many characters do not have a phonetic element at all, but comprise two or more elements with a semantic function, which taken together explain the meaning of the character, either directly (e.g. "black" + "bird" = "crow") or indirectly (e.g. "bird" + "wing" = "to fly"). In some cases the semantic elements may help us better understand the meaning of a character. For example, the known meaning of L3698 is only "a type of bird", but as its middle component elements comes from a character that means "to assemble", it is probable that the type of bird is one that is usually found in large flocks. As another example, the Lǐ Fànwén dictionary definition for the two characters L3126 *dźjij and L0930 *dju is the same (有 = "to have" or "to possess"), but the fact that the left side of L3126 is derived from the character L4457 *ljịj "big" suggests that it may mean something more like "to have much" or "to have everything", and so is subtly different in meaning to L0930 (this impression is strengthened by the fact that when reduplicated L3126 means "all, every").


C. Synonym Constructions

Some characters are composed from elements from one or more characters with the same or very similar meaning to itself.


D. Obscure Constructions

Some constructions are difficult to understand, especially family names and place names. Do we lose something in translation ? Or maybe textual corruption in the Sea of Characters has resulted in the correct source character being replaced by a similar but different character ?


Based on this study of a single radical, it seems to me that Tangut does have "radicals", but that they are very different to Chinese radicals. Firstly, each component element of a Tangut character is a radical, so most Tangut characters have two or three radicals. Secondly, Tangut radicals do not have a fixed semantic meaning or phonetic value, but are used to connect one character to another character, so that each character is related through its radicals to two or three other characters, forming a network of interrelated characters. However, as the source character for any given radical is not explicit, but has to be looked up in the Sea of Characters (or some other long lost Tangut reference book), the radicals cannot be used to guess the meaning or pronunciation of an unknown character. At best — and this is perhaps their original intent — radicals can be used as mnemonic devices to help the learner read and write Tangut characters.



2.3 Characters with Unitary Composition

The vast majority of Tangut characters are composed of at least two distinct components, and their compositional analysis in the Sea of Characters describes them as the product of two or more other characters. However, there are a few characters with a unitary composition (30-40, depending upon how you count them), for example the character L3087 "waist", which is composed only of the radical . In the Sea of Characters, the composition of this and other unitary characters with head entries is described in subtractive terms as deriving from a more complex element with one part removed :


Most of these characters are described using the formula "[component] X of [character] Y removed", and would seem to imply that the simpler unitary character is derived from the more complex character. However, in most of the cases where the source character also has a head entry in the Sea of Characters, we find that there is a circular derivation, for example the character L1886 "person" is stated to derive from the character L4860 "celestial being" by the removal of its top component, but L4860 "celestial being" is stated to derive from the character L1886 "person" plus the top of the character L4871 *ŋər "mountain". The latter analysis makes a lot of sense as it parallels the construction of the corresponding Chinese character, 仙 xiān "celestial being", which is constructed from the character 人 rén "person" plus the character 山 shān "mountain". On the other hand there is no obvious explanation why the Tangut character for "person" should be derived from "celestial being" minus the "mountain" top. As another example, the character L4855 *dzjij "single" is stated to derive from the character L3488 *twe̱ "pair, couple" with the left side removed, where the left side of L3488 is defined as the left side of the character L1918 *mji "not". This is a very confused definition ("single" = "pair" minus "not"), but from it we can reconstruct a very sensible compositional definition for the character L3488 *twe̱ "pair, couple" (which does not have a head entry in the Sea of Characters) : L3488 *twe̱ "pair, couple" = left side of L1918 *mji "not" plus whole of L4855 *dzjij "single" (i.e. "pair, couple" = "not" + "single"). In at least these two cases, it seems to me that the compositional definition of the unitary character is simply the inverse of the compositional definition of a complex character that is composed from the unitary character. Other compositional descriptions of unitary characters are also very contrived and unbelievable, such as those for the characters L5810 *zu "belt, band" and L0150 *gjụ "seat, post, stick", which in both cases derive the unitary character from two halves of the component corresponding to this unitary character in two different complex characters. Thus, I think that unitary characters are not secondary derivations from complex characters as implied by their analysis in the Sea of Characters, but that the compositional definitions of unitary characters are secondary back-formations from the compositional definitions of other characters, perhaps simply intended as mnemonics rather than as a true analysis of the derivation of such characters.



2.4 Characters with Circular Composition

The compositional analysis in the Sea of Characters often includes pairs of characters with circular derivations, as for example the following two examples :

These circular constructions are disturbing, as they appear to suggest that the Sea of Characters analyses are flawed.



2.5 Mapping the Web of Characters

In conclusion, the compositional analysis of Tangut characters given in the Sea of Characters does help to understand how characters were constructed, and I think that in most cases the analyses are correct, and do reflect the mechanisms by which the characters were created. However, there are problems with the analyses of unitary characters, and for many characters with circular derivations, which suggest that the analyses in the Sea of Characters cannot be relied on uncritically.

To better understand the mechanisms by which Tangut characters were created, it would be necessary to fully map out the structural relationships between all the characters in the Sea of Characters. This would not only allow us to better understand the process by which the Tangut script was created, but it might also enable us to better understand the meanings of individual characters, or in some cases even to reconstruct or correct the pronunciations of characters.



Appendix I: Note on the Positional Forms of Components

Many or most Tangut components are not positionally fixed, but can occur at the left, middle, right, top or bottom of a character. For example the most common Tangut component, Nishida Radical 204 (Nishida's 'person' radical) occurs in all these positions :

The 'person' component takes basically the same form in whatever position it occurs, but some components have slightly different forms for the left hand side (or middle) and for the right hand side, with the right hand form often having a bent vertical stroke and sometimes with an additional short slanting stroke at the end :

In some cases it is difficult to see that different components are actually different positional forms of the same basic component, and it is only by studying the compositional analysis in the Sea of Characters that we are able equate seemingly different components. For example, Nishida's 'water' radical Nishida Radical 181 occurs in the form Right hand form of Nishida Radical 181 on the right hand side of a character, and in the form Top form of Nishida Radical 181 on top of a character (see Marc Miyake's Which Way Water?), as demonstrated by the Sea of Characters analyses of L2931 and L5809 :


[Revised: 2010-05-03 and 2010-05-21]



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