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Wenhai 文海

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenhai 文海 "Word ocean", also called Wenhai baoyun 文海寳韻, is a Chinese character dictionary from the Tangut empire of Western Xia 西夏 (1038-1227). The author is not known. The book was excavated in the ruins of Ejin Banner in Inner Mongolia, the ancient town of Heishui 黑水城 (Kara-Khoto).

The fragments of the butterfly-bound book contain three parts, the level tone rhymes (pingsheng 平聲), falling-raising tone rhymes (shangsheng 上聲), and miscellanea (zalei 雜類). More than 3,000 characters are preserved on 109 pages. The name of the book and the chapter is indicated in Tangut characters. Each page is divided into seven columns, the explanation of the characters is written in small script in double columns.

The pingsheng section has 97 homophones under which the characters are listed according to the initial consonant and the head (or middle) vowel. Homophones are included in one paragraph and separated from each other by a circle. The section of the shangsheng rhymes, which should have included 88 rhymes, is only partially preserved.

Figure 1. Example from the Wenhai 文海
The second page of the ping rhymes section. From Shi, Bai & Huang 1983. Facsimile of the original to the left, with a modernized version to the right.

The section "Miscellanea" is a supplement to the two other rhyme groups. Each entry is analysed in three parts, first the graphical composition of the character, secondly the meaning, and thirdly the pronunciation, indicated with the fanqie system 反切.

Sources:
Chang Fengxuan 常鳳玄, Huang Zhenhua 黃振華 (1997). "Xixia zishu Wenhai suo jian Tufan mingcheng kao 西夏字書《文海》所見吐蕃名称考", Minzu yuwen 民族語文, 1997 (2).
Chen Qingqing 陳慶英 (1993). "Cong Xixia Wenhai kan Xixiayu tong Zangyu cihui de guanxi 從西夏《文海》看西夏語同藏語詞彙的關係(一),(二)", Qinghai Minzu Xueyuan xuebao 青海民族學院學報, 1993 (10, 12).
Gao Wende 高文德, ed. (1995). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu shi da cidian 中國少數民族史大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 386.
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