18.104.22.168:55: TANGUT 'TALLY MARKS' AND PAHAWH KHMU
For nearly a century, Tangutologists have devised various systems of 'radicals' to index Tangut characters. These modern radicals do not necessarily correspond to the components implied by the analyses in Tangraphic Sea. No explicit premodern list of Tangut character components was known prior to the discovery of the book known in Mandarin as 擇要常傳同名雜字 Zeyao changchuan tongming zazi, translated by Andrew West as 'Essential Selection of Often Transmitted Homonyms and Mixed Characters'. Andrew has written an article on the publicly available pages of this book.
The most interesting aspect I have seen so far is the list of radicals (?) which may be titled
3583 0706 5865 1084 2403 0092 1ta4? 2vi1? 1soq1 2ghaq12di4 1ma4 'TOPIC? rhyme? three ten character mother'
The first two characters are difficult to identify. I have followed Andrew's intepretation here.
The use of a topic suffix as the first part of a title is baffling.. 3583 is a common fanqie speller for Tangut rhyme 1.20 1-a4. Could the title mean 'thirty letters for the rhyme 1-a4?' But why would there be thirty ways to represent the same rhyme? There is no obvious correlation between these thirty elements and the rhyme 1-a4, and as we will soon see, some of the thirty elements do not even occur in any Tangut characters. Another possbility is that 3583 is a phonetic symbol for a word ta, as the graph can transcribe the Sanskrit syllables ta and tā. But what would that ta mean/? What if ta is a non-Tangut word in the Tangut script?
The first eleven elements look like tally marks:
1-4: one dot, vertical stacks of two to four dots
5-8: one horizontal line, vertical stacks of two to four horizontal lines of the same length
9-11: one vertical ine, horizontal clusters of two to three vertical lines of the same length
Tangut characters do contain single dots (1), horizontal lines (5), and vertical lines (9), but the combinations of those elements (2-4, 6-8, 10-11) are unknown in Tangut. (When two horizontal lines are vertically stacked in Tangut, the top line is shorter than the bottom line, whereas 6 has lines of equal length.)
Why include these un-Tangut 'tally marks'? Andrew wrote (emphasis mine):
What if 3583 1ta4 is the name of a language? A name related to the source of the exonym Tangut (which does not resemble any Tangut autonym)? What if the 'tally marks' were used to write 'Ta' but not Tangut? What if Ta and Tangut had scripts with partially overlapping components?
At present it is a mystery to me as to what these thirty "letters" are intended to represent, and whether they represent rhymes in Tangut or some other language.
I am reminded of Shong Lue Yang who invented the Pahawh Hmong and Pahawh Khmu scripts for Hmong and Khmu. As far as I know, Pahawh Khmu has disappeared without a trace. William Smalley (1990: 195) wrote:
All we know about the form of the Pahawh Khmu' is that Chia Koua Vang has seen it, and that the letters were like the Pahawh Hmong letters, which leaves us no way of evaluating it as a writing system. It may not have been preserved.
Hmong and Khmu have very different phonologies, so I assume that Pahawh Khmu had graphemes absent from Pahawh Khmu and vice versa. Would a list of graphemes of both of Shong Lue Yang's scripts resemble the Tangut list of 'thirty letters'in the sense that it would be a mixture of familiar and alien components?