Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/50

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36
The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

because she covers the baby in her womb. Su (俗), common, is yü (欲), to want, what the common people want. Such popular etymologies as these gave those for whom they were designed a clue to the sounds of the characters, and at the same time supplied a reason for the use or meaning of the words of daily life. The meaning is generally right, though the reason is wrong. Unscientific derivations of words are not often correct, and some of those in the "Shi-ming" remind us of like ones at home. The origin of the word anchoress, for example, as given by an old writer, would quite suit the author of this book. The anchoress is told — "for thi ancre is icleoped ancre and under chirche i-ancred, ase ancre under schipes borde." The "Shi-ming" does not seem to be indebted to any of its predecessors except perhaps the "Urh-ya," which is mentioned in it by name. It is often quoted by later writers, but apparently in the enlarged edition to be noticed presently.[1]

In addition to those here noticed there were several other scholars of the Han period who made a study of the language. Such were Ma Yung (馬融) and his great disciple Chêng Hsüan (鄭玄) al. Chêng Kang-chêng (康成). These, however, devoted themselves mainly to the old canonical literature, and it was only with a view to the elucidation of the orthodox texts that they studied the language. From the writings of these and the many other scholars who gave its literary glory to this dynasty, the language acquired a considerable degree of exactness and polish. It became a medium of expressing with clearness and precision not only social and political facts and doctrines, but also the nice refinements of literary criticism. The characters already in existence had their meanings defined according to the uses of classical authorities, and many new characters were added.

Long before the time at which we have now arrived, however, Buddhist missionaries had come from India and settled down in China. In order to have their sacred books translated

and their religion propagated in the country, they had to learn

  1. 釋名 (in "Han-Wei-tsung-chu"); "Hou-han-shu," chap. lxxx., 上; 家訓, chap. xviii.