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I am looking for something that might take a raw resource like this and instead provide a list of the discovered oracle bone script glyphs, like you would find for the CJK Unicode block for example. Does anything like this exist? Sort of like the Gardiner's List of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. How many unique glyphs have been discovered? How many have been transcribed? Do we have a dictionary of it of some sort?

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The largest publication and seriously academically attempted transcription of oracle bones in modern script (using an umbrella method known by Chinese paleographers as 隸定, or clericalification), is the title 郭沫若《甲骨文合集》 (Guo Moruo's Compilation of Oracle Bones), detailing the transcription of 41956 fragments of various sizes, freely accessible here. The interpretations given in Compilation of Oracle Bones (CB) are tentative, because the interpretation of many characters are still in question, and are a hot area of research in Chinese paleography today.

Unicode's Tertiary Ideographic Plane has tentatively allocated extensions 344-35B to oracle bone script, so you can see what Unicode has decided up to today to include as unique characters. The far right column in the corresponding PDF documents indicate what paleographers consider as the clericalified (modern script) character.

Dictionaries dealing with oracle bone characters normally treat them as ancestors of current characters, characters which exist in the Shuowen, or index them using clericalification. This means that oracle bone characters which became obsolete are next to impossible to find unless one

  1. is familiar with the process of clericalification;
  2. knows the CB number (合集號).

If one knows the CB number, then it's trivial to find publications specifically dealing with that CB number (just type 合集XXXXX in Google). I'll focus the rest of the answer in explaining how clericalification can aid in finding oracle bone characters below, through a worked example.


Note: this method is impossible to employ if one is not familiar with Chinese character structure.

Problem: We saw an oracle bone fragment with the following character on it, and we want to find out what it is.

enter image description here

Step 1 - Break the character into components.



enter image description here

 


enter image description here

 

Step 2 - Identify what the corresponding components are in regular script.

This assumes that you already have an idea of how basic oracle bone characters have changed over the years, and can at least recognise some components.

Shang
OBS
enter image description here
甲191
CB 33311
W. Zhou
Bronze
enter image description here
曶鼎
集成2838
Qin Dyn.
Slips
enter image description here
秦律十八10
Shuihudi
Modern
Regular
enter image description here

 

Shang
OBS
enter image description here
・2940
CB 18901
W. Zhou
Bronze
enter image description here
善鼎
集成2820
Qin Dyn.
Slips
enter image description here
日乙17
Shuihudi
Modern
Regular
enter image description here

 

Step 3 - Clericalification: Reconstruct the character in regular script and plug the reconstructed character into some kind of search engine.

  1. If you can read Chinese, I suggest using 小學堂漢字古今資料庫.
  2. If not, Google search the character through its components by using Ideographic Description Sequences.
    • With some luck, searching "⿱禾人" will tell you that the character is now written as「年」. The second link to a Zhihu Q&A, for example, has an answer confirming this.

Shang
OBS
enter image description here
粹853
CB 28287
Spr&Aut
Bronze
enter image description here
鄀公平侯鼎
集成2772
Qin Dyn.
Slips
enter image description here
編年紀7
Shuihudi
E. Han
Clerical
enter image description here
夏承碑
 
E. Han
Clerical
enter image description here
華山廟碑
 
Modern
Regular
enter image description here

 

「年」(Clericalified structure:「秂」, Baxter-Sagart OC: /*C.nˤi[ŋ]/) is a picture of a person「人」carrying plants「禾」on their back, indicating the meaning harvest. This was later extended to mean periods of harvest, until the modern meaning year. 「人」(/*ni[ŋ]/) simultaneously serves as a rebus indicator.

「秂」was later graphically corrupted into「秊」, where「千」(/*s.n̥ˤi[ŋ]/) functionally remained as a rebus indicator (but the semantic role of「人」has been lost).

Later changes have continued to obscure character structure, until we get the modern form「年」.

| improve this answer | |
  • Excellent answer, thank you. – Lance Pollard Jan 15 at 10:44
  • 1
    As a general note, clericalification is the first thing one should attempt to do if they're trying to interpret Chinese characters written in an unfamiliar script style. It works everything except cursive script and Simplified Chinese, both of which deliberately sacrifice character structure for other purposes (making them objectively the most incompatible or hardest to interpret writing styles across Chinese history). – dROOOze Jan 15 at 10:55

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