Scholarship on early Chinese theories of “language” regularly treats the term ming 名 (name) as the equivalent of “word.” But there is a significant difference between a “word” and a “name.”1 Moreover, while a “word” is often understood to mean a unit of language that is identifiable in its sameness across speech and writing, there is reason to believe that a ming was mainly used to mean a unit of meaningful sound.2 Analyzing the function of ming is a prerequisite for understanding early Chinese theories of “language”—if such a term is even appropriate. Such an analysis will also clarify early Chinese views of the relation of speech to a nonalphabetic script.3

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Copyright © 2010 University of Hawai‘i Press. This article first appeared in Philosophy East and West 60:2 (2010), 251-293.

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