Learning sinitic and sinoglyphic "zero"

« previous post | next post »

Plus Indic, plus Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, Hokkien (Taiwanese), Hakka, and Fuzhou (Eastern Min).

For an exciting read / ride, be sure to follow the whole thread, travelling through time and space.

Courtesy of Egas Moniz-Bandeira ᠡᡤᠠᠰ ᠮᠣᠨᠢᠰ ᠪᠠᠨᡩ᠋ᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠ

All for nothing and nothing for all.


Selected readings


[Thanks to Hiroshi Kumamoto]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 11:02 am

    "零 originally didn't mean 'zero,' but 'small rain, drizzle.'" Source? BS?

    But what is this twitter space… academics trying to share pearls of wisdom? Please, twitter is for attention-hungry wannabe stand-up comics; when you come across the meme above for god's sake spare us and just be like Elon ("What about 69 LOL").

  2. Chris Button said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 1:05 pm

    The Shuowen defines 霝 as 雨零也.

    But does “drizzle” work for the meteorological phenomenon 霝 in the oracle bones?

  3. Rod Johnson said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 1:10 pm

    Can anyone parse the Mongolian (?) in his signature?

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 1:27 pm

    It is of course possible that "零雨" in Shijing means 'drizzle', but even if so, the first syllable need not mean 'drizzle' per se

    And SJ also has "涕零如雨" 'tears fall? like rain" and "靈雨既零" 'after the good? rains have fallen?', so an important word here is 'fall (of rain)' or sth., whether or not there is a separate (related) noun

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 8:24 pm

    From Bill Mak, the historian of science who was cited in the tweet stream:

    Recently, I read a paper titled "From Zero to Infinity — China’s Encounter with Indian Mathematics” at a Berkeley Conference recently.

    I suppose the questions related to “zero” will continue to generate interest!

  6. Arnold Baldwin said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 3:23 am

    零, 0, and۰ Fifty years ago, transiting Teheran airport, I bought FitzGerald’s “Rubaiyat” priced $۱۵ so I handed over $US10 and was taken aback when an angry seller signalled that I still owed her $5.

    Lucky that we couldn’t speak for in my youthful naivety I would have recommended that they price their stock with “arabic numerals”.

  7. Jichang Lulu said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 8:02 am

    @Rod Johnson

    It's Manchu and transliterates the author's name. Incorrect display on some browsers might be a rendering, rather than input issue.

  8. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 9:10 am

    霝/零 seems to refer to nature of the rain rather than the basic act of falling.

  9. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 11:45 am

    Of course the sense of the verb seems to be more specific than Eng. 'fall', thus hand-wavy glosses like 'fall (of rain)'. And it applies to leaves/vegetation at times. Not "small rain" was the point.

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 11:57 am

    'come loose' / 'fall off and scatter' may be the idea (>> 'loose change')

  11. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 12:08 pm

    Hence “drizzle” or some such thing seems to be the term adopted most widely. It also clearly refers to rain in its earliest instances. Takashima actually notes how the big drops almost make it look like “torrential” would be a better analysis, but then opts for “drizzle” in the end. Since rain was a “power”, a connection with 靈 is interesting.

    I’m curious about the etymology of the actual word “ling” for zero regardless of the loangraph.

  12. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 1:39 pm

    Verb sth. like 'fall (of rain, etc.)', is simply factual for Shi jing, etc.; no opting involved.

    The etymology of ling2 'zero' is correctly explained in the twitter thread; it's not a loan graph.

  13. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 2:05 pm

    Well, the meaning is not "fall". Falling is just a necessary component of drizzling, pouring, or whatever.

    I can't actually find the etymology of the word "ling" for zero in that thread. Can you share it?

    Also, the use of a graph for some kind of rainfall for a much later sense of "zero' is surely a loangraph? Perhaps you misunderstood my comment?

  14. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 5:32 pm

    I see. Drizzle – fragmentary – small – zero. Hmm… any other theories?

  15. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 5:40 pm

    Although the use of 餘 in the SW definition of 零 as 餘雨也 does make the idea of 105 as "1 餘 (remainder) 5" pretty compelling.

  16. Egas Moniz Bandeira said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 6:14 pm

    Thanks a lot for the comments and the interesting discussion about the exact meaning of 零/霝.
    About the etymology of the word, Schuessler (who by the way abstains from the controversy about the specific type of downfall and just translates 零/霝 as 'rain') writes: 'Etymology not clear. Perh. from AA and related to the items under 萍 ping4 "rain master". Or note TB-JP mă31-raŋ33 "rain", raŋ31-ga31 "violent rain" (CVST 2: 53). There is a remote possibility of a connection with yun2 隕殞霣 "drop, fall, rain"…' According to Schuessler, it's etymologically distinct from 靈, although there is some semantic convergence ('rainmaster').

  17. Egas Moniz Bandeira said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 6:36 pm

    @Chris Button can I ask you for the Takashima reference? I'd be interested in reading it up! :)

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 8:04 pm

    Thank you for the stimulating post, Egas Moniz-Bandeira ᠡᡤᠠᠰ ᠮᠣᠨᠢᠰ ᠪᠠᠨᡩ᠋ᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠ, also for the good humor, and thank you, Chris Button, for doing so much to straighten things out.

    Fuller views of Schuessler (2007):

    From Austroasiatic; compare Khmer ភ្លៀង (phliəng, “rain”), from Proto-Mon-Khmer *(p)liɲ ~ *(p)liəɲ ~ (p)liiɲ (“sky, rain”).
    Possibly related to Jingpho marang (“rain”), for which STEDT sets up Proto-Sino-Tibetan *m/s-raŋ (“rain”). Starostin also relates it to this Jingpho word and sets up Proto-Sino-Tibetan *rēŋ (“to drop”), also comparing Tibetan སྤྲིན (sprin, “cloud”) and Burmese ရည် (rany, “liquid; juice”).
    Possibly related to 隕 (OC *ɢunʔ, “to drop”) and 霣 (OC *ɢunʔ, “to rain; to fall down like rain”) if one assumes Proto-Sino-Tibetan *r/s/g-wa (“water; rain”) (or its variant *rwe-) can be simplified to *re- and *we-.

    (As per Wiktonary)


  19. Chris Button said,

    May 23, 2023 @ 10:40 pm

    @ Egas Moniz Bandeira

    The Ken-ichi Takashima reference is:

    2010. Studies of Fascicle Three of Inscriptions from the Yin Ruins, Volume II: New Palaeographical and Philological Commentaries. (734 + 4pp.) Taipei: Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Special Publications No. 107B.

  20. Chris Button said,

    May 24, 2023 @ 11:32 am

    Starostin’s comparison with Burmese ရည် (rany, “liquid; juice”) is interesting phonologically, although admittedly it could come from a palatalized -n or -ng depending on the vocalism, and I’m not convinced by the semantic leap. Having said that, Todo Akiyasu does go with the idea of a sequence of drops in setting up a word family, but I’m not particularly convinced by the word family he is proposing either.

  21. Chris Button said,

    May 24, 2023 @ 1:20 pm

    Since the Old Chinese palatal coda chimes with Old Burmese here.

  22. Egas Moniz Bandeira said,

    May 28, 2023 @ 5:23 pm

    I have just checked my print Shuowen edition (Yiwen yinshuguan 藝文印書館 2005, p. 578), which argues on the basis of the Yupian, the Guangyun, and the Taiping Yulan that the definition for 零 contained in most editions, 餘雨也, should actually be 徐雨也.

  23. Chris Button said,

    May 29, 2023 @ 3:06 pm

    @ Egas Moniz Bandeira

    I should add 餘 and 徐 were almost certainly homophones. The j- ~ z- alternation that emerged in Early Middle Chinese was a regular alternation from the same OC origin. "Drizzle" it is!

  24. unekdoud said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 9:07 am

    In unrelated vacuous news: 沒 (without) is used to write the Vietnamese một (one).

RSS feed for comments on this post