Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/138

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124
Origin and Early History of the Language.

writing known as the " Tadpole characters " was that invented by Fu-hsi, and again that it was the kind communicated by Tsang-chie. Of the other old styles those known as the Great and Small Seal are perhaps the most important.^ The written characters long since ceased to be in any degree pictorial, and they have become chiefly a means of denoting sounds as names of objects, sensations, or ideas. And it has been the opinion of feome that this was their original and proper intention. Writing, we are told, was born of sound, that is, it was instituted to continue and perpetuate spoken language. Again, writing is said to be the woof and speaking the warp into which the former is Woven. Elsewhere the written characters are described as the product of the reciprocal action of sound and visible representation; and another author regards "dots and strokes" as the lodging place of human speech when bodied forth in visible form. Dr. Edkins also has stated that "the phonetic characters appear to belong to the same era as those that are hieroglyphic. They are found together among the earliest remains of Chinese literature. According to the uniform national tradition, they must, therefore, be dated about B.C. 2700." But this can scarcely be set down as the prevailing opinion among native students of the language. It may be true, however, of written characters, strictly so called. The earlier transcript of language, which was called wen (3!^), is defined as the visible representation of objects attslnged according to categories (or classes). It is also stated that wen is the source of object-picturing or delineation. But whatever may have been their primitive function, all characters now merely give visible representation to man's speech. And though the spoken words may be said to have called into being the written characters, yet these latter have exercised a great and lasting influence on the former. The origin and history of Chinese writing are described at great length in the learned treatise of Wuttke on the History of Writing. The sources from which Wuttke derived his information are, of course, all Western, but he has compiled conscientiously and judiciously,

1 "Li-shd," &0'j chap, i.; "Ho (or Wo)-hon.sau.ts'ai," chap. xv.