Hi, this four character inscription is on an ancestral altar which contains two spirit tablets. I am unsure of the more modern equivalents of these characters and would be grateful for any assistance.
as @drooze revealed, it's "孝思維則"
reading from right to left:
the verse is original from 詩經 大雅 文王之什 下武:
the ctext.org has a translation:
He secured the confidence due to a king,
And became a pattern of all below him.
Ever thinking how to be filial,
His filial mind was the model [which he supplied].
The characters are 孝思維則, which comes from a line in a poem called 《下武》 in the anthology Classic of Poetry - Major Court Hymns.
As an idiomatic expression removed from the context of the poem, this translates to:
[Man] must forever abide by filial piety, for filial piety is the moral code [of Man].
- 「老」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*C.rˤuʔ/ > MC: /lɑuX/, Fanqie: 盧晧切, old), both a semantic and a phonetic component;
- 「子」(child), a semantic component.
「老」was later abbreviated to「耂」, as seen in the transition between forms A1 and A2.
「老」was originally a depiction of an old, hunched person with unkempt hair grasping a walking cane. The cane later detached from the character (transitioning from B1-B2) and changed to the shape of「匕」(form B2 onwards).
「子」depicts a young child.
「思」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[s]ə/ > MC: /sɨ/, Fanqie: 息兹切, to think about / to miss) is composed of
- 「囟」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[s]ə[r]-s/ > MC: /siɪnH/, Fanqie: 息晉切), a phonetic component;
- 「心」(heart/mind), a semantic component.
The original form of the character is「恖」; in this character,「囟」was later merged into the shape of「田」, which is easily identifiable in the image.
「心」depicted a heart. The heart chambers later became exaggerated (E1-E2), then heavily abbreviated (E5 onwards).
「維」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*ɢʷij/ > MC: /jiuɪ/, Fanqie: 以追切, to bind/tie > to maintain/preserve) is composed of
- 「糸」(fine silk), a semantic component;
- 「隹」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*ɢʷij/), a phonetic component.
/*ɢʷij/ for「隹」is a lost phonetic line; the current pronunciation derives from /*tur/ > /t͡ɕiuɪ/, 職追切.
「糸」depicts fine silk threads.
「隹」depicts a bird.
「則」(patterns > norms/rules) is composed of
- 「鼎」(cauldron), a semantic component;
- 「刀・刂」(knife), a semantic component.
The structure「則」originally described the carving of patterns onto bronzeware. Later on,「鼎」was abbreviated into「貝」, which is easily identifiable in the image.
「刀・刂」depicts a knife.