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I came across this entry for 囗 in 季旭昇's《說文新證》:

釋義:城邑。圍的初文。《說文》釋爲「回也」,不可從。

釋形:古文字未見單獨出現的囗字,但在偏旁中多見,學者都釋爲城邑的象形,可從。《說文》釋爲「象回帀之形」,不可從。

He mentions that 囗 is the original form of 圍, but 囗 was never seen as an individual character. If that's the case, I'm not too clear on how this conclusion was drawn. How did scholars conclude that 囗 was the original form of what is represented by 圍?

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Generally speaking, it is quite difficult to determine the pronunciation of characters which are pictograms or ideograms without resorting to deduction, inference, or secondary evidence. 《說文新證》 does not go into detail what it means by

古文字未見單獨出現的囗字

but we can refer to its entry of 「丁」

甲骨文丁字,或謂象釘形、或謂象城邑、金鉼、人顛頂。以「正」字甲文多从「囗」、金文多从「丁」來看,丁、囗實爲一字,皆城圍之象。

to deduce that the text probably means that there is no independent usage of 「囗」 which refers to the word 「圍」; the independent usage of the original shape 「囗」 is now written as 「丁」, originally referring to a word now written as 「城」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[d]eŋ/) with fourth heavenly stem (/*tˤeŋ/) as a phonetic loan.

I wouldn't think too much of the pronunciation 「圍」 (/*[ɢ]ʷə[j]/) for 「囗」, which does not appear to have any direct evidence in ancient inscriptions; rather, 「囗」 (walled city) as a component has been associated with both the word city walls 「城」 and the meaning to surround, to enclose (concretely realised as the word 「圍」) for a very long time, with the only clear difference being whether it has a direct sense of surround (e.g. 囿) or a direct sense of city (e.g. 邑). Once we have a dictionary like 《說文》

囗,回 (/*[ɢ]ʷˤəj/) 也。象回帀之形。

also directly making a etymological connection between 「囗」 and 「回」, then we have a deduced assumption of what kind of word 「囗」 may have represented, if it ever existed independently and was not referring to 「丁」 or 「城」.


Characters' original forms that have no independent usage may not have the same explanation behind them, with conclusions being drawn from educated guesswork. Check out 《說文新證》's entries for 「夊」 and 「夅」.

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  • Skewing a bit from the original question, would it be wrong then to interpret 囗 some variation 丁 (or even the original form), especially if 丁、囗實爲一字? – wang_xiao_ming Jun 9 '20 at 16:42
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    @wang_xiao_ming Yes, it's not correct for a rather nuanced reason - modern Unicode characters already have a definition attached to them, with the majority of definitions derived from 說文解字 or 康熙字典. The Unicode character 囗 is defined as being pronounced as 圍, so it cannot be a variant or the ancestor of 丁. If you're familiar with the glyph evolution of 十, an equivalent statement would be to say that 丨 is the original form of 十; it's incorrect because 丨 is pronounced as 滾 (in Mandarin) - rather, the oracle bone form of 十 looks like 丨 if we do a stroke-transcription into regular script. – dROOOze Jun 9 '20 at 22:58

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