A Study of Characters in Chinese and Japanese, including Semantic Shift [article]

Jiageng Fan, University Of Canterbury
This thesis examines characters in Chinese and Japanese, including semantic shift. The writing system in China, Japan and a number of other nations whose script relates to characters, notably Korea, will also be discussed. By examining this "Character Cultural Sphere" in East Asia along with the historical and modern character standardizations and reformations, the role of Chinese characters proves to be essential. Furthermore, the thesis investigates semantic shifts of characters as windows on
more » ... socio-cultural change in two given areas, namely "disorder" to "order" and "natural" to "artificial, manmade". One major aim is to explore shifts of meanings (semantic shifts), that can provide a commentary on the changes in societal and cultural values. The results reveal that the pattern of semantic shifts between China and Japan is considerably similar. Regarding "natural vs manmade" the overall trend shows that in both China and Japan, more characters acquired the meaning of "artificial, manmade" as time goes by, reflecting the changes in society. Regarding "disorder vs order", while the percentage of characters relating to "disorder" remained relatively stable in these two countries, the percentage of characters relating to "order" saw an undeniable increase - more than double in both Chinese and Japanese - showing that in both countries, the overall societal trend was obviously towards more "order" while "disorder" continues to exist. These results give quantitative data regarding the pattern of evolution of Chinese and Japanese societies, particularly Chinese, and provided an insight through written scripts into the evolution of human beings and civilizations. Also, because of its length, the main database of the research, the table of 2,500 common-use characters with commentary, is attached after the bibliography as an appendix.
doi:10.26021/5174 fatcat:k35b6pl6rrcaxmoeurznnowaoq