Thesaurus Linguae Sericae

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The Thesaurus Linguae Sericae (TLS; Chinese: 新編漢文典) is an international collaborative project designed to explore the conceptual schemes of the Chinese language. The project was conceived by Christoph Harbsmeier, its chief editor, and receives input by a large number of academic contributors worldwide. The content of TLS is preserved and presented in the form of a relational database hosted by the Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg.

According to the editors, TLS is designed throughout to make the classical Chinese evidence strictly comparable to that of other cultures, and to make possible meaningful analytic primary-evidence-based disagreement among non-sinologists on classical Chinese concepts and words. The editors hope that careful philosophical reflection on Chinese texts might serve to broaden the empirical basis for philosophical theories and generalisations on conceptual schemes. They intend to improve the clarity and bite of declarations of difference between conceptual schemes by enlarging the basis of literally translated and analysed texts from widely (though never radically) different intellectual cultures, and to make precise criteria of translation for classical Chinese, mainly through a detailed description in English of systematic recurrent semantic relations between Chinese words, especially distinctive semantic features.

Key features of TLS are:

  • Focusing on distinctive semantic nuances, it serves as a synonym dictionary of classical Chinese.
  • It systematically organises the Chinese vocabulary in taxonomic and mereonomic hierarchies, thus showing up whole conceptual schemes or cognitive systems; these are taken to circumscribe the changing topology of Chinese mental space.
  • It systematically registers a range of lexical relations like antonym, converse, epithet etc.; TLS thus aims to define conceptual space as a relational space.
  • It incorporates detailed syntactic analysis of (over 600 distinct kinds of) syntactic usage; TLS thus enables users to make a systematic study of such basic phenomena as the natural history of abstract nouns in China.
  • It is a corpus-based dictionary which will record the history of rhetorical devices in texts and thus enables the study of such things as the natural history of irony in China.
  • All analytic categories and procedures of analysis in TLS are flexible in the sense that they are continuously being revised and improved in the light of new observation and analysis.

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