On the Polysemy of the Basic Vocabulary in the Shang Dynasty

By Guo, Lihua; Zhang, Li | Studies in Literature and Language, November 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

On the Polysemy of the Basic Vocabulary in the Shang Dynasty


Guo, Lihua, Zhang, Li, Studies in Literature and Language


Abstract

It is widely believed that the Shang Dynasty vocabulary system is relatively simple, and most words are monosemous. In other words, one word has only one meaning. In fact, in the category of basic vocabulary of the system, it is exactly the opposite. There are 291 basic vocabularies in our statistics, 51% of them are polysemous. And there are 47 polysemous words which have three or more meanings, accounting for 31.3% of all polysemous words. The connections among the extended meanings are very complex. It is not as simple as what it is thought. Both the extended and original meanings have their own special rules.

Key words: Shang dynasty; Basic vocabulary; Rule

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INTRODUCTION

Heretofore, Shang Dynasty oracle inscription is the earliest Chinese literature and Chinese language material for the present academic study, and Shang Dynasty basic vocabulary is believed to be the origin of Chinese basic vocabulary. Therefore, the radical study of Chinese basic vocabulary needs to start from the study of the oracle inscription. Study on the data of the earliest time would be of great help for a comprehensive understanding of its evolving and developing process.

Xu (2003) firstly puts forward the concept of Shang Dynasty basic vocabulary in Shanggu Hanyu Cihuishi ... . Although there is no further research, this book illustrates 297 basic vocabulary of Shang Dynasty for the first time and classifies them into specific categories. When the meanings of basic vocabulary are calculated in this paper, all the discussions are based on the 297 words with minor changes. For instance, a basic word with multiple meanings which belong to different categories, will be listed once only. Take "Ri (...)" for example, it belongs to the basic word class of astronomical phenomena, and also the basic word class of time. When we count, we take it as a polysemous word.

As for the terms which are still unsure of the existence in the oracle inscription, they are not included in this paper. In Jiaguwen Zidian (Xu Zhongshu, 1989), there is a word "wolf" and an example "to get the wolf". However, by comparing with Jiaguwen ... (id (Guo, 1982), the font of "wolf" is very vague, so it is difficult to determine the word is "wolf". Some oracle inscription authoritative dictionaries still do not include the word "wolf". Such as Jiagu Wenzi Gulin ... (Yu, 1996)and Yinxu Jiagu Keci Leizuan (Yao, 2011). Since it is questioned whether there is the word "wolf" in oracle inscription, it is not regarded as the basic vocabulary in this paper. Accordingly, we believe the number of oracle inscription basic vocabulary is 291, which will just be the object of our polysemy study.

It is believed that the so-called vocabulary polysemy, in oracle inscription's semantic system mainly refers to the concept that one word has two meanings, and very few words have more than two meanings, so the semantic system of oracle inscription is comparatively simple (Wang, 1992). Zou et al. (1999) state that the number of univocal words far exceeds polysemous words in Shang Dynasty (The ratio is 77.2%: 22.8%). These ideas are generally true of the entire oracle inscription's semantic system, as proper nouns account for most of the oracle inscription vocabulary, such as names, places, countries and so on, which greatly increases the number of single meaning words. However, the situation is not the same in the range of basic vocabulary.

1. STATISTIC DATA

According to our statistical data, there are 291 basic vocabulary, among which, 141 univocal words, accounting for 48.5%, 150 polysemous words, accounting for 51.5%. And there are 47 polysemous words which have three or more meanings, accounting for 31.3% of all polysemous words.

One tiling needs to be specified here is that to adopt different statistical methods of "polysemy study" will lead to different results. In ancient Chinese language, strictly speaking, a word with several different parts of speech could be used as several different words. …

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