3

It seems that there are many "simplifications" in cursive that have existed for far longer than Simplified Chinese characters have.

There are some mentions of this here: How do I find the rules used to create the simplified version of the characters? between @EnricoBrasil and @droooze.

My question is, what are the earliest examples of "simplification"? Perhaps it can be seen in the standardization of cursive. Ideas?

  • You're not specifically asking about regularisation of cursive, right? Cursive (as we know it) wasn't invented until long after the Warring States period. There are other kinds of simplification. – dROOOze Jan 5 at 5:35
  • @droooze No, not specifically. I was just stabbing in the dark at what might be a possible solution. – Mo. Jan 5 at 6:12
7

On a system level, there was never a movement of simplification until the early 20th century. Chinese characters developed from less refined writing techniques and simpler shapes to more standardised writing styles and characters with more complex structures. This is because simple shapes have two (possibly related) problems:

  • They're too easy to confuse with other simple shapes;
  • You can only make so many simple shapes, and there isn't enough of them to represent the basic units of the language.

Chinese characters thus naturally piled on more components to existing characters to make enough distinguishable characters to represent the language sufficiently. Simplifications are therefore relatively rare, and are only one kind of process of how characters have changed in general. Exclusive simplifications (which make a former character obsolete) are close to nonexistent.

This being said, one can sometimes find individual characters that were known to be unambiguously simplified at one stage from a previously more complex character. I'll show two examples, the first which people would be more familiar with but doesn't really fulfil the criterion earliest, the second to actually fulfil this criterion (in an approximate sense).


「与」

「与」is ultimately a corruption of「牙」. As is already known,「与」is a simplified variant of「與」.

春秋

enter image description here
⿱止高君鉦鋮
集成423
戰國

enter image description here
106
曾侯乙墓竹簡


enter image description here
舁部
說文解字


enter image description here

 

西周

enter image description here
⿸尸⿱罒丌敖
集成4213
戰國・楚

enter image description here
語叢3.9
荊門郭店楚簡


enter image description here
牙部
說文解字
東漢

enter image description here
斥彰長田君斷
 


enter image description here

 

「與」(Baxter-Sagart OC: /*m-q(r)aʔ/) is comprised of semantic four hands「𠂇𠂇又又」and phonetic「牙」(/*m-ɢˤ<r>a/).

「牙」was a common phonetic loan for「與」in the Warring States period to the Han Dynasty. Over time,「牙」suffered some shape changes into「与」inside the character「與」(changes outside as a stand-alone character resulted into the modern form of「牙」instead). This leads on to the Shuowen erroneously describing「与」as a component of「與」, and「与」as a separate character from「牙」:

戰國・楚

enter image description here
語叢3.9
荊門郭店楚簡


enter image description here
勺部
說文解字


enter image description here

 

  • 《說文》:"與,黨與也。从舁,从与。𢌱,古文與。" ✘✘ (「与」is not a separate character from「牙」. Should be 从舁,牙聲)

  • 《說文》:"与,賜予也。一勺為与。此与與同。" ✘✘ (Shuowen shouldn't have this entry at all)

The current form of「与」is a result of an incorrect shape analysis from Shuowen (hence why using Shuowen to demonstrate glyph evolution without checking modern publications on the subject can lead to serious errors), and is really just「與」, inclusive of its corrupted「牙」component, stripped of its four hands「𠂇𠂇又又」.

As mentioned earlier, Chinese characters piled on more components to existing characters to make enough distinguishable characters to represent the language sufficiently. 《荊門郭店楚簡》語叢3.9 is an example where「牙」is used as a phonetic loan or rebus for「與」. What happens when you start using phonetic loan characters? You need another character to represent the original meaning, here demonstrated by piling on more components on to「牙」to distinguish its uses.

戰國・楚

enter image description here
165
曾侯乙墓竹簡

隸定
enter image description here
「𤘈」
 

「𤘈」is a precursor to「齖」, which has even more components; what looks like「臼」in this character is a shape-approximation of the same picture which forms the bottom part of「齒」.


「⿻人一」(Simplification of「伐」)

Exclusively found in Shang Dynasty oracle bones, the simplified form was dropped relatively quickly.



enter image description here
7.15.4
合集6540


enter image description here
328
合集6363正

「伐」(to behead > kill > attack) is a picture of a person「人」and a dagger-axe「戈」, where earlier forms deliberately drew the blade of「戈」across the neck of「人」, emphasising the meaning to behead.

西周

enter image description here
大保簋
集成4140
春秋・楚

enter image description here
南疆鉦
集成428


enter image description here
日書乙種128
睡虎地秦簡


enter image description here

 

In the simplified form (佚328 and others), most of the shape of「戈」is removed, with only the blade across the neck remaining. The following is a text sample to demonstrate the usage of this shape.

《殷虛文字丙編》502

The following text contains both「伐」and its reduced form「⿻人一」, both shown in red. Reading order given by circled numbers ①—⑭.

enter image description here

  1. 甲午卜,爭鼎(貞):羽(翌)乙未用羌?用。𡳿(之)日⿱𠔼隹(陰)。

    (Jiǎwǔ [甲午] day divination [卜]) Oracle Zhēng [爭] asked [貞]:

    • "On the day of yǐwèi [乙未] in the period of [翌], sacrifice [use, 用] a Qiāng person?"
      • (Divined a positive result) "Confirm sacrifice [用]."
      • "That [之] day [日] is cloudy/overcast [陰]".
  2. 甲午卜,爭鼎:羽乙未勿⿻𠁥⿰目目(瞿)用羌?

    (Jiǎwǔ day divination) Oracle Zhēng asked:

    • "On the day of yǐwèi in the period of , don't [勿] sacrifice a Qiāng person?"
  3. 鼎:羽乙未用羌?

    Asked:

    • "On the day of yǐwèi in the period of , sacrifice a Qiāng person?"
  4. 乙未卜,𡧊(賓)鼎:以⿱戈止(武)芻?

    (Yǐwèi day divination) Oracle Bīn [𡧊] asked:

    • "Will the farmers [grass cutters for animal feeding, 芻] be brought over [以] from the land of [⿱戈止]?"
  5. 以⿱戈止芻?

    (Asked again:)

    • "Will the farmers be brought over from the land of ?"
  6. 鼎:弗𠀠(其)以⿱戈止芻?

    Asked:

    • "Will the farmers not [弗] be brought over from the land of ?"
  7. 㞢(侑)于唐子,「伐」?

    (Asked:)

    • "To return favours [侑] to [于] our ancestor Tang [唐子], shall we conduct a beheading [伐] ritual?"
  8. 鼎:乎(呼)取⿱子止,「⿻人一」?

    Asked:

    • "Beckon [呼] someone to grab [取] a sacrificial person [⿱子止] for a beheading [⿻人一] ritual?"
  9. 鼎:𤉞(燎)于土(社)?

    Asked:

    • "Conduct a bonfire [燎] ritual for the regional gods [社]?"
  10. 㞢于父乙?

    (Asked:)

    • "Return favours for our ancestor King Fùyǐ [父乙]?"
  11. 鼎:𠙻(王)㝱(夢),隹𡆥(禍)?

    Asked:

    • "The king [王] had a dream [夢], will there be disaster [禍]?"
  12. 不隹𡆥?

    (Asked:)

    • "Will there not [不] be disaster?"
  13. 鼎:𠙻𠀠𤕬(疒)罒(目)?

    Asked:

    • "Will the king suffer an eye [目] disease [疒]?"
  14. 鼎:𠙻弗𤕬罒?

    Asked:

    • "Will the king not suffer an eye disease?"

References:

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.