Sunday, 26 April 2009

Even in the Dongba script, sun+moon = bright!

The Dongba character for bright, bu˧, is another ideogrammic compound, composed of the characters for sun and moon, both emitting light.

This is if course, almost identical to the Chinese 明, with the sun on the left and the moon on the right, only in the Chinese there is no pictorial representation of the rays of light. Here they are together (Dongba on the left!):

You'll notice the positoning of the 'ideogrammic' elements is also near identical. No one really knows how old the Dongba script is, but it's definitely more recent than the Chinese script, and this seems to be another example of the latter's influence on the former.


  1. That is fascinating indeed! So, if the Dongba script is so much newer, and more complicated (number of strokes at least), why did it come to being at all? I mean, why draw your own pictures of a sun and moon to equal bright when you can just draw that hanzi and mean bright? Why borrow the composition and not the actual elements themselves?

  2. The Dongba script was primarily a non-secular script used by Dongba priests, and as such there are loads of characters for religious terminology that Hanzi just can't handle. The script utilises a few Hanzi loan characters, but not many, and as it was originally 'pictographic' (although i use this word with caution) many of the characters are simply drawings - like most of the animals - and number of strokes doesn't really come into it.
    I think the general effect the Dongba were after was an aesthetic one, and not ease of use!

  3. Just a thought on 明 - you might be aware that some calligraphers construct the character slightly differently. It would appear everyone agrees that the right-side component is 月, but the left side can be (or has been) written as 目 or 冏 (jiǒng), as well as 日. I've no idea how old any of these constructions are, whether one of them predates the others significantly or whether different forms were in use at the same time, but I rather doubt that 日+月 was the original form of 明. Whether this would have any bearing on whether the Dongba version might pre-date the its 汉字 counterpart, I've no idea. Perhaps someone a little better informed might enlighten us.

    The whole blog looks very interesting - I'll be back for more.

  4. Sima, thanks for the interesting comment. Having consulted; you're right in that other characters have made up the 'sun' part of the character in both seal and bronze forms - but I'd still assert that whatever was used it was still essentially a pictographic representation of sun, or a variant of one. Looks like most of the oracle forms have moon on the left though; which is interesting.

  5. Many thanks for the etymology link - I might have to lose myself in there for a few hours. Agreed on the oracle forms, but I'm fascinated by the amount of variation generally. There are plenty of individual characters on the 明 page which I might have misread.

    I've just switched browsers from Safari to Firefox and have had trouble leaving a comment - if this displays (using Safari), I'd be interested to know whether you're aware of any problems commenting with Firefox.