The recent attempt by Professor David S. Nivison to show that (= yu )/ yu in early Archaic Chinese functioned as a “pronominal” word encourages one to think that the language of bone inscriptions, though arcane and difficult, is, after all, manageable, and that it may be used to understand the later, more evolved language, rather than the other way around. The various arguments in his theory are both well presented and accompanied by rich and meticulous documentation from inscriptions and from pre-Classical texts.
Nivison takes the word yu as a pronominal adjective, variously rendered, according to the context, as “his,” “her,” “our,” “your,” “their,” “the,” “there,” “some,” “of it/them,” “about it,” and “in this matter.” These context-sensitive renditions are possible because yu is construed as a word whose grammatical functions, rather than its fixed meaning, are realized in these various readings. One major contribution of Nivison is that he has shown that the word yu, in certain contexts, functioned attributively. Whether it also did or did not function “pronominally” is the topic with which this paper is concerned primarily.