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My son's studying Chinese. His teacher asked how 念 semantically appertains to its components 今心. I don't speak Chinese, and he had no idea. Then we resorted to Wiktionary that refers to Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (2007), page 400. Pls see my red underline beneath.

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    Sounds like it just means a word that exists (with variations, of course) in a geographical area that comprises several unrelated languages (a so-called Sprachbund), like an areal feature, but on a purely lexical level. There are lots of them in Northwest Europe as well, words that appear to be non-Indo-European, but appear in both Germanic and Celtic languages. 念 would then be the Chinese form of a word that exists in various local forms in languages throughout an area covering China down to Cambodia (and perhaps elsewhere). Oct 8 at 7:48
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    Incidentally, if the etymology for the Khmer word given here is correct, and it's an infixed form of a Khmer root cam, then it's a spurious cognate and seems unlikely to be related to a root shaped like nem.
    – jogloran
    Oct 8 at 7:55
  • But note that this is talking about the etymology of the word, which is different from the origin of the character (especially because the character 念 is used to represent two completely different words: ‘miss, think of’ and ‘read aloud’). The character itself is just a normal phono-semantic compound, with 今 providing the phonetic hint, 心 the semantic one – although 今 as a phonetic compound is quite diffuse, as you can see from the variation of pronunciations found in the list of other characters in the same phonetic series on the Wiktionary page. Oct 8 at 7:57
  • If 念 really is a phonosemantic character (as stated in 說文解字), this would give some credence to this idea of a Sprachbund word 'cognate' to Khmer ចំណាំ camnam, because its phonetic component 今 would have been *krem in Old Chinese.
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 8 at 10:57
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    @AaronQuitta A Wanderwort is a somewhat different thing. Wanderwörter are words that spread from a particular source, often through trade, and are loaned into other languages as they travel. They frequently have known etymologies that reveal a single point of origin (i.e., a single source language), but they can be spread to quite unrelated geographical areas. Areal words/features generally appear in multiple languages in the same area, and it’s usually impossible to tell where they originated – many are assumed to be substrate words. Oct 10 at 8:22

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