1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great book - does NOT violate Linguistics 101,
By A Customer
This review is from: Chinese Characters: A Genaelogy and Dictionary (Paperback)
If you want to know the Chinese script better, this is where to go! This book has been immensely useful and just plain fun. If you want to test-drive it, the entire content is on the web (Amazon doesn't allow URLs here, but search for the title at Yahoo).
I'm not an expert linguist, but I've studied enough of it to refute "A reader from New England , November 23, 1998." He calls Harbaugh's etymologies "cute graphic stories" -- well, I've studied Chinese calligraphy since the age of 9, and there's proof for these "stories" in the older scripts like Zhuan and Li. In these millenium-old scripts, the pictographic elements have hardly mutated at all, so identifying parts is a far more certain thing.
The reader from New England thinks that Harbaugh aims to provide the etymology of oral speech, which is what most linguists would do with most languages. But he's not doing that. Lots of us take it for granted that scripts are phonetic, so that there wouldn't really be any etymology of the written language as opposed to the oral speech. But the Chinese writing system is pictographic. The script has a phonetic component, but that's only a part of the thought processes that went into creating ideographs. Does anyone really think that the people who invented the written character "to steal" -- "salivate" (over) "vases" -- got a chance to talk to their ancestors who invented the spoken word "dao4"? Nope -- what this book does is to identify the "salivate" and "vases" parts of the character, and tell us why they combine into "to steal".