BabelStone Blog

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Untangling the Web of Characters

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

2.1 The Sea of Characters

𘝞𗗚 ·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 𘤊

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 𗊌 *nju "sweat"

Left side of 𗊻 *śjo "sweat"

Right side of 𘔳 *lwew "steam, smoke"

P 8.252 0399 𘃷 *nju [a surname]

Middle of 𗨛 *rjɨr "to go out, to give birth"

Right side of 𗍊 *sju "as, like"

P 9.222 3808 𗾶 *xju "empty"

Left side of 𗾙 *lew "little bird"

Right side of 𗥪 *rjɨj "to teach"

P 9.223 3673 𗿉 *ɣju "smoke, mist"

Right side of 𘔳 *lwew "steam, smoke"

Right side of 𗞦 *kjur "to smoke sth."

P 9.231 3600 𗾤 *ɣju "to ask, to call"

Left side of 𗿄 *khju "to request, to ask"

Right side of 𗄼 *lja "to come"

P 10.222 2267 𗿻 *ku "phoenix"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𘜶 *ljịj "big"

Right side of 𘎃 *·we "bird"

P 10.253 3435 𗼍 *ɣu "god, supernatural being"

Left side of 𗼙 *ɣu "emperor"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 11.162 5083 𘛲 *gu̱ "to patrol"

Whole of 𘛯 *gu̱ [a surname]

Right side of 𘕂 *dźjij "to go"

P 11.172 5551 𘛯 *gu̱ [a surname]

Left side of 𘛴 *gu̱ "a spirit"

Middle of 𘛲 *gu̱ "to patrol"

P 12.151 2288 𗿺 *nju̱ "smoke"

Whole of 𗿉 *ɣju "smoke, mist"

Right side of 𘃠 *du̱ "to store"

P 12.272 3242 𗾇 *be "mad"

Left side of 𗾷 *dzjị "owlet"

Right side of 𗕶 *ɣạ "crazy"

P 13.111 2868 𗾸 *be "illness"

Whole of 𗾇 *be "mad"

Right side of 𗥓 *ŋo "disease"

P 15.153 3170 𗿜 *tśhji "shame, disgrace"

Left side of 𗾹 *tshwu "shame, disgrace"

Middle of 𗏣 *ljijr "direction"

Right side of 𗼊 *sew "shy, bashful"

P 17.212 3278 𗣣 *tshji "food"

Left side of 𗢯 *lhjwa "tongue"

Right side of 𗮘 *śjwi "food"

P 18.172 3243 𗾎 *kjwi "turtledove"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left side of 𗰰 *kjir [a surname]

P 18.252 1566 𘇭 *sjwi "to tie"

Left side of 𗝊 *sjwi "roof beam"

Right side of 𘌤 *djɨ̣ "ribbon"

P 19.242 1327 𘝀 *phji̱ "to fly"

Left side of 𘝋 *dzjwɨ "wing"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 20.113 5840 𗗪 *kji̱ "commerce, trade"

Left side of 𗗥 *źjị "to buy and sell"

Middle of 𘒨 *phjij "to express oneself"

Right side of 𗍋 *khjɨ̱ "to gather"

P 20.142 5985 𗈹 *sji̱ "to inspect"

Left side of 𗈲 *khwa "far"

Left side of 𘕨 *sji̱ "to cry, to wail, to lament"

P 20.253 2873 𗿡 *·wẽ [a place name]

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗩇 *·wẽ [a surname]

P 22.172 5966 𘂕 *ta "swallow"

Right side of 𗾙 *lew "little bird"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 23.262 2767 𗿵 *ɣa [a surname]

Middle of 𗍃 *·jiw [a place name]

Right side of 𗪙 *mur "vulgar"

P 24.122 2322 𘓠 *ɣa "sorrow"

Right side of 𗤶 *nji̱j "heart, mind"

Right side of 𗪆 *sjwɨ̱ "to think"

P 24.231 5911 𗈲 *khwa "far"

Left side of 𗈱 *rjar [a participle]

Middle of 𗈹 *sji̱ "to inspect"

Right side of 𗎘 *bju "border, side"

P 25.122 5969 𘖁 *tsha "empty bag"

Right side of 𗻍 *bu "reed-mace, cattail"

Middle (?) of 𗮺 *tsə̣ "lungs"

Middle of 𗍊 *sju "as, like"

P 26.151 2718 𗹼 *khiwa "kidney"

Whole of 𗹭 *bjij "high"

Right side of 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

P 27.241 0538 𗍘 *pja "butterfly"

Surrounding part of 𗍎 *pja "dark green"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 27.242 1272 𗍜 *pja "broad, shallow"

Left side of 𗍘 *pja "butterfly"

Right side of 𗼗 *djɨj "shallow"

P 28.121 3334 𗿦 *mja "female [of human or animal]"

Left side of 𗿽 *mja "a type of bird"

Right side of 𘓱 *me̱ "swallow" or *ŋwə "heaven, emperor"

P 28.122 2270 𗿽 *mja "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗿦 *mja "female"

Right side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 28.253 0618 𗉅 *tsja "hot"

Bottom of 𗜐 *mə̱ "fire"

Whole of 𗾔 *be "sun"

P 29.222 3698 𗿍 *śja̱ "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left or right side of 𗉋 *tśiow "to assemble"

Right side of 𗰛 *dzjịj "to cross, to pass"

P 30.141 3436 𗼍 *sa̱ "close relative"

Bottom of 𗒂 *njạ "marriage"

Left side of 𗿅 *·jɨ "marriage"

P 31.111 3672 𗿛 *bã "goose"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗞢 *bã "tray"

P 32.111 3330 𗦌 *swã [a surname]

Left side of 𗤳 * [a surname]

Middle of 𗪆 *sjwɨ̱ "to think"

P 32.272 3311 𗿮 * "elder, senior"

Left side of 𗿒 *khwej "big"

Right side of 𗲟 * "ore"

P 35.111 1107 𘓱 *ŋwə "heaven, emperor"

Left side of 𘓺 *ŋwər "heaven"

Left side of 𗾈 *me̱ "virtuous person"

P 36.271 2811 𘚷 *ljɨ "round bone (?)"

Left side of 𘚶 *ljɨ "wind"

Right side of 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

P 36.273 2079 𗾓 *ljɨ "noon"

Left side of 𗿳 *dzjɨj "time"

Right side of 𘆂 *ljij "noon"

P 37.213 2454 𗿁 *phjɨ "to hear"

Left side of 𗾤 *ɣju "to ask, to call"

Right side of 𗣦 *śjwiw "to follow"

Bottom of 𗓁 *mji "to listen, to hear"

P 38.122 0826 𗱁 *thjɨ "to call, to speak"

Left side of 𗱌 *thu "to release"

Right side of 𗱃 *thjɨ "east, end"

P 39.112 2209 𗾲 *tshjɨ "name of a star"

Left side of 𗿘 *tshjɨ "a type of bird"

Right side of 𘛶 *tśjɨ̱r "star, constellation"

P 39.121 3127 𗿘 *tshjɨ "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗅻 *tshjɨ "lamb"

P 39.152 3657 𗿅 *·jɨ "marriage"

Right side of 𗼍 *sa̱ "close relative"

Left side of 𗒂 *njạ "marriage"

P 39.251 3694 𗿬 *kjwɨ "turtledove"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Whole of 𗯢 *gjwɨ "to cut, to break"

P 42.131 3171 𗿭 *mjɨ̱ "pheasant"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗩫 *mjɨ̱ "woman"

P 42.251 2164 𗪆 *sjwɨ̱ "to think"

Left side of 𗤶 *nji̱j "heart, mind"

Middle of 𗾫 *sji̱j "thought"

Right side of 𗍊 *sju "as, like"

P 45.171 3297 𗿌 *tśjij "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𘓫 *tśjij [a surname]

P 50.262 3421 𗬴 *ləj "equal, even"

Middle of 𗅋 *mji "not"

Right side of 𗣫 *tsəj "small, little, young"

Left side of 𗿒 *khwej "big"

P 51.142 3647 𗿨 *kiwəj "cuckoo"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left side of 𗔤 *kiwe "dark"

P 53.242 3299 𘔳 *lwew "steam, smoke"

Left side of 𘔺 *khji "gas, steam"

Left side of 𗿉 *ɣju "smoke, mist"

P 54.271 3960 𘀉 *źjiw "bird"

Left side of 𘀐 *źjiw "six, sixth"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 55.142 2086 𗾝 *zji̱w "to hang"

Whole of 𗾆 *dzjiw "waist"

Right side of 𗭍 *dźjịj "to go, to send"

P 57.172 3906 𘀚 *tśhio "origin, source"

Left side of 𘀗 *tshjwu "sky, heaven"

Right side of 𘏨 *ljɨ̣ "treasure"

Middle of 𗿀 *tser "land, soil"

P 57.251 2759 𗾦 *tśjo "chaotic"

Right side of 𗊌 *nju "sweat"

Right side of 𗿎 *lew "confused"

P 57.272 2816 𗼝 *ljo "round bone"

Left side of 𗼕 *ljo "good fortune"

Right side of 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

P 62.162 5087 𗭴 *·jow [a surname]

Middle of 𗂽 *·jij "sheep"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗿀 *tser "land, soil"

P 63.211 1569 𗹐 *twụ "loyal"

Left side of 𗹑 *tśjɨj "upright"

Left side of 𗾈 *me̱ "virtuous person"

P 65.271 2114 𗿶 *liẹj "crow"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Whole of 𗰞 *nja̱ "black"

P 71.212 2742 𗾋 *tẹ "[bird] shit"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Middle of 𗏡 *kụ "behind"

P 72.211 2268 𗿾 *·wjị "east, tail end"

Left side of 𗾔 *be "sun"

Whole of 𘙎 *lhji "to give birth to"

P 73.212 3298 𗿯 *djị "to tread"

Surrounding part of 𗿞 *djị "to mate"

Right side of 𘈷 *gji "son, child"

P 73.221 3312 𗿞 *djị "to mate"

Surrounding part of 𗿯 *djị "to tread"

Right side of 𗄬 *dzjɨj "sexual intercourse"

P 74.231 3633 𗿃 *də̣ "beautiful [of a bird?]"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left side of 𘕡 *zewr "graceful, elegant"

P 75.121 3348 𗻲 *tswə̣ "dung"

Left side of 𗺕 *kji̱ "grass"

Right side of 𗆑 *gja̱ "to swallow"

P 75.132 3612 𗿧 *tsə̣ "medicine"

Right side of 𗣣 *tshji "food"

Right side of 𗼫 *sju "medicine"

P 75.172 5655 𘏨 *ljɨ̣ "treasure"

Left side of 𘐱 *dew "true, real"

Right side of 𗾟 *wạ "vast, wide"

P 75.212 2140 𗿥 *·wjɨ̣ "old, aged"

Left side of 𗿦 *mja "female"

Right side of 𘒺 *nar "old"

P 76.141 1454 𘆃 *bjɨ̣ "gibbon"

Middle of 𘂶 *wjị "monkey"

Right side of 𘜶 *ljịj "big"

P 77.211 2087 𗾮 *zjɨ̣ "what time"

Left side of 𗿳 *dzjɨj "time"

Right side of 𗤄 *·jɨr "to ask, inquire"

P 79.151 3645 𗾌 *wejr "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left side of 𗯿 *wejr "flourishing"

P 81.272 3851 𘀕 *tser "spot"

Middle of 𗿀 *tser "land, soil"

Right side of 𗙾 *kiwəj "golden"

P 82.121 2107 𗿀 *tser "land, soil"

Middle of 𗦴 *me̱ "god, deity"

Right side of 𗼻 *ljɨ̣ "land, soil"

Right side of 𗼱 *dzjiw "land, soil"

P 82.212 3109 𗾏 *·wer "crane"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𘉤 *wer "to meet"

P 83.241 3151 𗪻 *mar "oath"

Left side of 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

Right side of 𗡔 *ŋwụ "to swear an oath"

P 88.122 3571 𗿑 *xwər "crane"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗼄 *tśier "benefit, interest"

Right side of 𗩯 *sjwij "clear"

P 89.231 2778 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

Right side of 𗌄 *low "skeleton"

Right side of 𗧜 *lhu̱ "marrow"

P 90.231 2766 𗿇 *kjiwr "wild duck"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗖬 *kjiwr "urgent"

P 91.162 2383 𗂖 *bowr "bag"

Middle of 𘅌 *bju "to crawl"

Whole of 𗾡 *bowr "bee"

P 91.171 2462 𗾡 *bowr "bee"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Whole of 𘊏 *kjij "insect"

P 91.172 3608 𗿴 *bowr "woman's breast"

Whole of 𗾡 *bowr "bee"

Right side of 𗁮 *tśhji "flesh"

P 92.151 3302 𗩀 *kjwɨr "a type of bird"

Left side of 𗪌 *kjwɨ̱r "Xiongnu"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 92.211 2975 𘉀 *tsji̱r "an official"

Right side of 𘛅 *dzjɨ̣ "official title"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

P 92.241 2628 𗾖 *go̱r "male"

Right side of 𘜶 *ljịj "big"

Middle of 𗸱 *no "son"

P 93.111 3052 𗌜 *njo̱r "water, dew"

Left side of 𗋽 *zjɨ̱r "water"

Right side of 𘚖 *lwo "damp"

Right side of 𘌤 *djɨ̣ "ribbon"

Z 11.112 2801 𗧜 *lhu̱ "marrow"

Left side of 𗤶 *nji̱j "heart, mind"

Right side of 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone"

Z 12.111 2238 𗾐 *lhjwị [a surname]

Left side of 𗿊 *low "body"

Middle of 𗏥 *lju̱ [a surname]

Z 12.132 2240 𗿓 *lhə "a type of insect"

Right side of 𘝀 *phji̱ "to fly"

Right side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Z 14.111 2655 𗾣 *dzjị "tall, high"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𘖎 *wjịj "short, brief"

Z 17.231 3126 𗿷 *dźjij "to have, to possess"

Right side of 𘜶 *ljịj "big"

Whole of 𘟣 *dju "to have, to possesss"

Z 18.242 1324 𗳥 *dźju̱ "to forbear"

Right side of 𘓯 *khjow "to give, to bestow"

Left side of 𗿒 *khwej "big"

Z 2.112 5420 𘍿 *n— "eagle"

Left side of 𘎃 *·we "bird"

Bottom of 𗔟 *n— [a surname]

Z 4.122 2669 𗿝 *dze "wild goose"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𗨜 *dze "longevity"

Z 4.232 3589 𗿳 *dzjɨj "time"

Left side of 𗾞 *njɨ̱ "sun, day"

Right side of 𗑝 *tsewr "section"

Z 5.251 1935 𘉂 *dzjɨj "ditch, moat"

Right side of 𗽂 *ɣew "trench"

Right side of 𘉀 *tsji̱r "an official"

Right side of 𗿀 *tser "land, soil"

Z 6.133 1329 𘞃 *dźjow "flag, banner"

Left side of 𘞄 *ljɨ̱ "flag"

Right side of 𘜶 *ljịj "big"

Z 7.242 3087 𗾆 *dzjiw "waist"

Bottom of 𘗴 *kjir "waist"

Z 7.251 2262 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Left side of 𗿤 *dźjwow "mating"

Left side of 𘝋 *dzjwɨ "wing"

Z 7.252 2260 𗿤 *dźjwow "mating [of birds]"

Left side of 𗿼 *dźjwow "bird"

Right side of 𘟢 *·we "mating"

Z 8.162 3332 𗩳 *dźiwe "to pull, to drag"

Left side of 𗨟 *dź— "oblique, awry"

Right side of 𘆗 *śiə "to rotate"

Z 9.151 0774 𗙫 *·a [used for Sanskrit transcription]

Left side of 𗙏 *ɣiẹ "sound, noise"

Whole of 𗿢 *zur "edict, order"

Z 20.162 1387 𘗾 *lhjij "to sacrifice, to butcher"

Left side of 𘘀 *śji̱ "livestock"

Right side of 𗣣 *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 𘢌 (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 𘤊 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 (𘤊 = 𗿼 *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 (𘤊𘠢 = 𗥛 *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 𗥛 *rjɨr "bone", and so 𘤊𘠢 would form a single natural radical in a hypothetical Sea of Characters radical system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whilst we can classify some of the characters with the 𘤊 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 𘤏 represents *źjiw in the character 𘀉, but represents *tser in the character 𘀕, and so if an unknown character were to include the element 𘤏, 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 𗿍 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 𗿷 *dźjij and 𘟣 *dju is the same (有 = "to have" or "to possess"), but the fact that the left side of 𗿷 is derived from the character 𘜶 *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 𘟣 (this impression is strengthened by the fact that when reduplicated 𗿷 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 𗾆 "waist", which is composed only of the radical 𘤊. 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 𗢨 "person" is stated to derive from the character 𘑘 "celestial being" by the removal of its top component, but 𘑘 "celestial being" is stated to derive from the character 𗢨 "person" plus the top of the character 𘑗 *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 𘂪 *dzjij "single" is stated to derive from the character 𗄴 *twe̱ "pair, couple" with the left side removed, where the left side of 𗄴 is defined as the left side of the character 𗅋 *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 𗄴 *twe̱ "pair, couple" (which does not have a head entry in the Sea of Characters) : 𗄴 *twe̱ "pair, couple" = left side of 𗅋 *mji "not" plus whole of 𘂪 *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 𘌢 *zu "belt, band" and 𘔧 *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, 𘢌 (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 𘠣 occurs in the form 𘠅 on the right hand side of a character, and in the form 𘡍 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]

Last modified: 2017-01-01 (updated with Unicode Tangut characters)

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