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After I came across the character 寓 (yù; residence), I wanted to know more about it's sound component 禺 (yú, yù; district/a mountain in Zhejiang) and it's origin.

Unfortunately though, there are many theories about this sound component and I cannot come to a conclusion on what this sound component original meaning or representation was.

Here's this sound component's ancient form for reference (Ancient forms from 小學堂): enter image description here

Also for reference, here are what some of the following sources say about the origin of 禺:

  • 《說文解字》: Depiction of a kind of monkey with a ghost/demon-like head.

  • 漢語多功能字庫, Dong Chinese: Possibly a depiction of a reptile-like animal and may be related to 禹.

  • zi.tools: Derived from 鬼, which depicts a ghost with an emphasized cranium. (Already checked the Old Chinese pronunciation, doesn't sound similar to each other.)

  • Kanji Networks: Depicts a monkey with a curved back and a curved tail.

  • Alex Adler, The World of Kanji p. 71: Depicts a person dancing with a skull mask on.

  • 谷衍奎《汉字源流字典》p. 457-458: Depicts a gorilla with it's head emphasized/protruding.

  • I've tried looking up this component in Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters and 季旭昇 《說文新證》 but was unable to find any information about this component. Unless if I skipped out on any pages on 《說文新證》.

If anyone could assist in finding out the origin for this sound component, it would be much appreciated!

3 Answers 3

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Unfortunately, I think the unsatisfying answer to this one is "nobody knows for sure".

漢語多功能字庫

「禺」字構形初義不明
[My translation] The origin of the form of the character 禺 is unclear.

This character has historically almost always been used as a phonetic loan for meanings unrelated to its form, so there's not a whole lot of evidence to work from.

That being said, I think the most convincing explanation among those you listed is that 禺 is a pictograph of a monkey, since 禺 seems to be cognate to words for monkey in Tibeto-Burman languages.

https://stedt.berkeley.edu/~stedt-cgi/rootcanal.pl/etymon/2529#1.3.1

#2529 PTB *ŋaːw APE / MONKEY
Reconstructed mesoroots below:
PKC *ŋaaw MONKEY (long tail / grey)
PCN *ŋa MONKEY
Chinese comparandum
禺 OC *ngi̯u, GSR #124a-b ‘monkey’; Schuessler 2007:617 *ŋoh; B & S 2011: (*ŋo‑s); Mand. yù.

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  • This kind of makes a bit of sense honestly, as the ancient form that I'm seeing almost resembles a highly stylized simplified picture of a monkey in a way.
    – prismcool
    Jul 28, 2023 at 20:36
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Not my forté but I find this:

Main pronunciation 主要发音: yú

Other pronunciations 其它发音: yù,yú

Original meaning 本义: Meaning a snake

Character decomposition 字形分解 [?]: Component 禺 from (not- 禸 róu).
(name- hand-holding-snake 禺 yú)

Decomposition notes 字形分解说明 [?]: (- 禺 hand holding a snake)

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The content below is copied from 汉典 for your information. (https://www.zdic.net/hans/%E7%A6%BA)

enter image description here

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