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I have been looking into the etymology of the character 是.

The site Chinese Etymology notes that this character was: "originally meaning straight or correct. The sun 旦 rises or 早 in the correct 正 place." It also notes that it is: "from sun-day 日 rì and foot-complete 𤴓正 zhèng".

I am wondering how a character for "straight" or "correct" came to have the meaning of "is or "equals".

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    Chinese Etymology is wrong, there is no 正 or 𤴓 in 是. – dROOOze Dec 25 '20 at 16:13
  • Thank you for your comment and your detailed response below. – MikeLangStudent Dec 25 '20 at 17:52
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時期
字體
字形 參考資料
西周
是 虢季子白盤
集成10173
春秋

是 陳公叔父甗
集成947
戰國
是 4
包山竹簡
戰國・楚
是 036
信陽書簡

是 24.28
睡虎地秦簡
東漢
是 孔宙碑
 

是

「是」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[d]eʔ/) is comprised of phonetic 「止」 (/*tə/), which is the lower component. The earliest meaning of 「是」 was this, later extended to mean to be.

The upper component's functionality is unknown, and was later corrupted to look like 「旦」. Note that 「旦」 or 「早」 in the corresponding time periods do not form part of 「是」, and so are unrelated to 「是」.

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    This is very helpful. The fact that the character once meant "this" makes the transition to "to be" clearer to me. The possibility of occasional corruption over time is something that I have to keep in mind for the future for all language study, especially for a language that has existed as long as Chinese has. Thank you for your detailed and excellent response. – MikeLangStudent Dec 25 '20 at 17:52
  • Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe 是 also cognates with 此 which means this/here, as well as 時 referring to measuring movement of the sun (hence time), and both actually have 止 as a component. – Fishuman Dec 28 '20 at 15:58

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