An excerpt from "INTRODUCTION TO ANALYSIS OF CHINESE CHARACTERS" THE author of the great Chinese English dictionary Mr. Giles, has not hesitated to express most trenchantly his contempt of etymology as it has been applied to Chinese Characters. He says that "Much of the etymology of the Shuo Wen is childish in the extreme," and that the phonetic ...
An excerpt from "INTRODUCTION TO ANALYSIS OF CHINESE CHARACTERS" THE author of the great Chinese English dictionary Mr. Giles, has not hesitated to express most trenchantly his contempt of etymology as it has been applied to Chinese Characters. He says that "Much of the etymology of the Shuo Wen is childish in the extreme," and that the phonetic principle of combination is the only one of which we can pretend to know anything. Notwithstanding the ridicule heaped upon it, scholars, like Chalmers, Chalfant, Wieger and others have continued to pursue the fascinating study of the origin of these symbols and have given us most interesting results. These results are so convincing that in the teaching of character writing we have unhesitatingly adopted the principle that the etymology of the earliest Chinese writers on the subject, childish though it may often be and fanciful, is yet superior to the numerous mnemonics that have been invented by foreign students to assist in the difficult task of memorizing the forms of a few thousand characters. The student of these pages may often consider the etymology suggested fanciful and the logic of the combinations farfetched but the following consideration should be borne in mind. They are the products of Chinese fancy and imagination and to some extent show the workings of the Chinese mind. Therefore they interest us who are students of Chinese thought. Moreover they often may only seem to be fanciful because we are ignorant of the ancient customs out of which they arise, or of the forms of the utensils of which they are pictures, or of the variations of pronunciation in the different dialects. If any one of us were entrusted with the task of inventing written symbols for both concrete objects and abstract ideas it is doubtful if we would produce anything much less fanciful and we certainly could produce nothing of such rich historic interest, as certainly invests the 3000 most primitive characters. Writing Chinese characters is a task of memory. Modern pedagogy insists on the value of logical or even fanciful links between ideas for fixing them in mind. Those who try to learn Chinese characters almost invariably grope for some association of ideas, some logic in the formation by which to hold them in memory. We have no doubt that the groupings which have been arrived at already by a study of the ancient inscriptions of the early seal writings and etymologies are more interesting, more logical, and wider in- range than any memory system that has been or can be invented by the superficial study of the characters as written with the modern Chinese pen. These etymological studies enlist the interest of the historic imagination to aid the dry-as-dust task of committing to memory these curious symbols of the thought of three or four millenniums....
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