Re: “This dang [simplified], if we just look at the orthography, would give us hot water under plant, or whatever, instead of water over pan. Should we change our explantion if we use the alternate graph? That would be grotesque.”
Well, the original manuscript was written prior to the imposition of simplified characters, and frankly, simplified graphs are frequently grotesque and misleading. In this case, one character was appropriated to serve for what were once two separate cognates. There are hundreds of cases like this.
I’m completely in agreement with you about avoiding pat etymological explanations. Regarding Xu Shen’s Shuowen jiezi (121 C.E.), I mentioned it because it is the earliest dictionary *definition* of the graph. It shows the basin element as the classifier, and the tang element as the phonetic. The definition, (the sole definition) is for “a wash basin,” and this definition is among those in the Ci Hai, the Hanyu da cidian, and other more modern dictionaries. So there is some historical ground for saying that dang refers to a basin filled with water (or, evidently, a large body of water like the sea or a lake). It’s not “wrong” to assert this.
According to Benjamin Elman’s monograph, _From Philosophy to Philology: Intellectual and Social Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China_, "The Shuowen became the definitive statement of the six formation types (liu-shu) governing Chinese characters." (pp. 212-213) As you know, the types of characters are: zhi shi [simple ideograph], xiang xing [pictograph], xie sheng [phonetic compound], hui yi [compound ideograph], zhuan zhu [extant character used by extension of meaning], and jia jie [borrowed character]. This classification scheme still holds up pretty well for philological work, but the pitfalls lie in making the wrong assumptions about which category a particular graph falls into, or holding an inaccurate view of the distribution of graphs in this analytical scheme. Elman recounts the Song scholarship that paved the way toward a better understanding of the categories: "Zheng Qiao (1104-1162), for example, in a monograph on the six rules of character formation, analyzed 24,235 graphs, of which 90 percent were phonetic compounds, 7 percent ideographs, and only 3 percent pictographs." (p. 215)
I have cited this in the past to people who held flawed views of Chinese orthography as “pictographic.” I know something about this. I think you may have misread my intent, or I may have done a poor job in presenting my ideas in some of the remarks I’ve written.
Do you have any thoughts on the meaning of “qi yi gudang,” and on some of the commentaries I’ve mentioned?
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 06-05-2006).]