Grounding "language" in the senses: What the eyes and ears reveal about Ming 名 (names) in early chinese texts

Philosophy East and West 60 (2):pp. 251-293 (2010)
Abstract
For understanding early Chinese "theories of language" and views about the relation of speech to a nonalphabetic script, a thorough analysis of early Chinese metalinguistic terminology is necessary. This article analyzes the function of ming & (name) in early Chinese texts as a first step in that direction. It argues against the regular treatment of this term in early Chinese texts as the equivalent of "word." It examines ming in light of early Chinese ideas about sense perception, the mythology about the origin or music and writing, and changes occurring in the writing system in the third century B.C.E. This lays the groundwork for a more informed response to Derrida's speculation about Chinese logocentrism. It is explained that, in early Chinese texts, certain concepts associated with logocentrism (e.g., reality/appearance, presence/absence) function in a way that is neither the same as, nor exactly the reverse of, the Western philosophical episteme. Thus, attempts to reconstruct attitudes toward "language" in early China should note the importance of sound in interpreting ming. Moreover, interpretations of apparent denigrations of writing in early Chinese texts should, before diagnosing logocentrism, consider the context of the reliability of the visual
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DOI 10.1353/pew.0.0097
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