On Sep 22, 2005, at 8:09 PM, suzmccarth wrote:

> Not to mention the everlasting suggestion that 'ideographic' is a
> term that is 'widely understood', rather than 'widely
> misunderstood'. If 'ideographic' is a legacy term that could be
> explicitly explained and one could learn to live with it.

"Widely understood" by non-specialists. Most educated people would
know what is meant by "Chinese ideograph," whereas "Chinese logogram"
would be less understood.

In any event, Unicode is stuck with the term "ideograph" now and
can't get rid of it.

> I realize DeFrancis is considered obscure for some reason unknown to
> me, since I think his books are great.

No, he's not obscure. Everybody thinks his books are great. I do
need to re-read them to see how he handles the use of kanji in
Japanese and hanja in Korean, but his books are IMHO a sine qua non
for anyone interested in East Asian writing.

> One can even read many selections of his books online - it doesn't
> cost a penny.
> http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/ideographic_myth.html

FWIW, the ideograph myth is also discussed in the latest version of
my paper, "The Dao of Unihan," at <http://homepage.mac.com/jhjenkins/

> However, I take it 'morphosyllabic' is not 'satisfactory'. I can
> only assume that this is because it does not sufficiently befuddle
> the reader.

Something like that. :-)

Part of the problem of naming these beasts is that they come close to
being ideographic (their base meanings are relatively stable across
languages, e.g., Chinese dialects, Chinese/Japanese/Korean), but some
are words in their own right, some are morphemes, some are purely
phonetic. Really the only truly sensible approach is to do what East
Asians do, call them "Chinese characters," and have done with it.
Naming them by function always runs afoul of the exceptions.

> Is it true that for Chinese, "the units of the writing system are
> used primarily to write words and/or morphemes of words" - surely
> there is a primary relationship between the graphs and the sound
> patterns at the syllable level - no?

I'm not sure what you mean here. The *primary* quality of the
Chinese characters is their semantics -- at least, for most of them.
In Chinese -- but not in Japanese -- each graph represents a single
syllable, but not necessarily the same syllable, depending on
context. In Mandarin, roughly 25% of the characters have multiple
pronunciations. If you take into account their function in Japanese,
you more frequently encounter cases where there are multiple
syllables in the reading for a character and multiple, very different

John H. Jenkins