...Le cycle sexagésimal, de Chine en Asie du Sud-Est. Séminaire de M. Michel Ferlus, ancien directeur de recherche au CNRS - Date : jeudi 13 juin 2013, 14h00 - Lieu : salle "seminar", MICA Institute, Hanoi University of Science and Technology

Michel Ferlus, directeur de recherche CNRS (maintenant à la retraite) spécialiste des langues d'Asie

Date : jeudi 13 juin, 14h00
Lieu : salle "seminar room", 9ème étage, bâtiment B1, MICA Institute, Hanoi University of Science and Technology
Interprète traducteur : le séminaire sera présenté en français

Many countries in East Asia use a sexagesimal cycle of Chinese origin for numbering units of time: years, months, days and hours. This cycle is formed by the combination of a decimal cycle, and a duodecimal cycle, named in Chinese tiāngān ‘(ten) Heavenly Stems’, and dìzhī ‘(twelve) Earthly Branches’. The origin of these cycles is a matter of controversy. According to Chinese tradition, the sexagesimal cycle has been created by the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, in 2637 BCE, when he was sixty. It is said that it was to cover precisely an average lifespan of sixty years: but this is a later explanation. In the West, the duodecimal cycle is generally set in relation to the twelve signs of the zodiac. None of the hypotheses put forward to date is really satisfactory.

The earliest evidence of sexagesimal cycle is attested in Chinese, but the phonetic reconstruction leads us to attribute its invention to an Austroasiatic speaking population located in the center of China. In the Han period, the original terms of the duodecimal cycle whose meanings had become opaque to users, have been clearly associated with the specified names of the animals, but with some modifications. These designations have been translated into the languages of the historical peoples of South-East Asia: Vietnamese, Khmer, Mon, Lao and Thai.
I propose the hypothesis that the decimal and duodecimal cycles were formed from the primitive numbering systems of base ‘ten’ and ‘twelve’. It will be shown that expressions ‘Heavenly Stems’, and ‘Earthly Branches’, function as a kind of code preserving the key to the origin of the sexagesimal cycle.