Abstract Concept Formation in Archaic Chinese Script Forms: Some Humboldtian Perspectives


Starting from the Humboldtian characterization of Chinese writing as a “script of thoughts,” this article makes an attempt to show that notwithstanding the important role played by phonetic elements, the Chinese script also relies on visual-graphical means in its constitution of meaning. In point of structure, Chinese characters are made up predominantly of components that are sensible or even tangible in nature. Out of these sensible components, not only physical objects or empirical states of affairs can be expressed, but also the most subtle and abstract concepts, such as 萬, 它, 言, 災, 仁, 義, 思, 念, 法, 律, 善, 考, 莫, 睘, and 幾, attesting to what Humboldt says about the Chinese script as having “embraced philosophical work within itself.” Humboldt’s idea of “analogy of script” throws light on the mechanism behind this structure to stimulate new reflections on the traditional theory of the “Six Ways” (六書) of character formation to provide a productive platform for interpretation.