Graphic variation in early Chinese writing

Imre Galambos, “Graphic variation in early Chinese writing.” In Gábor Kósa, ed., China Across the Centuries: Papers from a Lecture Series in Budapest. Budapest: Department of East Asian Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, 2017, 33–59.

Reading Warring States manuscripts we are confronted with a number of graphs that are not only structurally different from modern characters and the small seal forms of the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 but show variation even among themselves. While some of these graphs may be characters that have since disappeared, the majority of them are variants of known ones and represent words in much the same way as seen in transmitted sources. In early manuscripts we often see character structure varying within the same corpus or, at times, even within the same document. In most cases, the context provides enough information for deciphering the meaning of graphs, yet it is always a question whether we can link structural discrepancies with grammatical differences or shades of meaning. In other words, do graphic differences have any relevance to how the word is to be interpreted? Or are they inconsequential errors committed by scribes working in a hurry or perhaps possessing lower literacy skills?

(Some of the discussion in this chapter relies on my book on the orthography of the early Chinese script [Galambos 2006], although most things have been re-thought and emphases have shifted. My analysis of graphs is also different and geared towards providing a more balanced and comprehensive representation of the corpus.)

This entry was posted in archaeology, Character variants, Chinese manuscript, Chinese writing, Corrections, Mistakes, Orthography, Scribal habits and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply