Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning
224pp. October 2003
Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning
Author: Unger, J. Marshall;
In this latest book, J. Marshall Unger exposes the historical, scientific, cultural, and practical flaws accompanying the widespread belief that Chinese characters embody pure, language-less meaning. Whether one is interested in Chinese characters from the standpoint of language, literature, semiotics, psychology, history, cultural studies, or computers, Ideogram contains new ideas and insights that are sure to challenge preconceptions and provoke thought.
"In Ideogram, his latest contribution on the subject, Unger, with characteristic depth of knowledge and breadth of experience, precision of exposition and original analogies (for example, a comparison of Chinese characters with American Gregg shorthand), analyses the nature of Chinese and Japanese writing and the confused notions of it still common in the West." --The Times Higher Education Supplement

"In this informative and entertaining book, once and for all, J. Marshall Unger thoroughly demolishes the notion that Chinese characters directly convey meaning without any reference to specific languages and cultural contexts. To do so, he unleashes an amazing array of weapons, ranging from the perceptions of a famous comedian, the techniques of specialists in memorization, the secrets of shorthand, the mysteries of probability, computer science, and artificial intelligence, to the profundities of philosophy. With a razor-sharp mind and deft pen, he exposes the self-contradictory folly of those who would assert some sort of independent, transcendental status for Chinese characters. Anyone who reads this book from beginning to end--parts of it are easy and fun, others are challenging and demanding--will surely come to the same conclusion as the author: in reality, there is no such thing as an ideogram." --from the foreword by Victor H. Mair

"Ideogram will particularly appeal to students of Japanese, but no knowledge of that language or of Chinese is necessary to follow it; it is recommended to anyone curious about language and linguistics."

Author: Unger, J. Marshall;
J. Marshall Unger is professor of Japanese and chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Ohio State University.
Read table of contents and/or introduction (PDF).