Pan Wuyun

Reading Notes: Pulleyblank: Qieyun and Yunjing: The Essential Foundation of Chinese Historical Linguistics

posted 24 Feb 2014, 19:31 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 24 Feb 2014, 19:33 ]

The deficiency of applying traditional comparative method in the case of Chinese

It is doubtful of the possibility of successfully reconstructing Chinese linguistic history strictly from the evidence of modern dialects by the traditional comparative method as applied to languages without written tradition. A major difficulty is that the Stammbaum or branching-tree model that is implied by the traditional comparative method is totally unrealistic in the case of Chinese. Even in remote parts of the country dialects have never developed in isolation. they have been influenced not only by their immediate neighbors but even more importantly by provincial and national standards spreading from successive political centers. The educated elite who have governed the country as the imperial bureaucracy have been the prime source of this influence, but itinerant traders have no doubt also played a role at a lower social level. The result is that all dialects are more or less multilayered. This is obvious even in Mandarin, which has alternative pronunciations from many common words. It is even more so in areas like Min that have been relatively isolated and have preserved traces of very archaic features. In some cases literary or reading pronunciations that give evidence of earlier outside influence are clearly labeled as such but in other cases pronunciations that follow the same pattern have been thoroughly naturalized into the vernacular. Sorting this out at the strictly contemporary level is difficult or even impossible. The historical depth provided by philological evidence for national standards of pronunciation at various periods in the past is indispensable. It is not a question of one or the other. The more we know about modern vernaculars the better we shall be able to understand the historical evidence, and vice versa.

From Comparative Historical School, Structuralism, to Distinctive theory 

Karlgren was trained in the tradition of phonetic realism of the nineteenth century and never accommodated himself to the idea of the phoneme as advocated in the structural linguistics of Saussure and Bloomfield. His work was criticized from the point of view by Y.R. Chao and Samuel martin. The world has moved on again from American Structuralist School to distinctive feature theory. It is impossible to hope for progress either in the analysis of contemporary dialects or historical reconstruction without taking account of such things as distinctive feature theory and recent developments in the theory of syllable structure and prosody.

Rhyme dictionaries and Rhyme Tables

The Qieyun rhyme dictionary, completed in 601, and the rhyme tables of the Yunjing tradition, of unknown date but probably originating in Buddhist circles in the ninth century. These traditional sources remain the essential foundation for any investigation of the history of the Chinese sound system. Of course, one needs to use all sorts of other evidence as well. This evidence includes not only modern dialects and ancient transcriptions, but also such things as the systematic borrowings of Chinese in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, and the rhyming of poets. Pullyblank's reconstructions of Late Middle Chinese based on the Yunjing and Early Middle Chinese based on the Qieyun, and analysis and comparison of a wide variety of data of many different kinds.

Kargren assumed that the Qieyun was based on the current dialect of Chang'an, where it was completed in 601, and that this dialect spread over the whole empire as a koine during the Sui-Tang period asn was ancestral to most modern dialects outside the Min area.


Qieyun was not compiled by direct inquiry into current pronunciation in the manner of a modern linguistic survey but was made up by comparing five earlier dictionaries, all now lost. Four of these were from the north and one from the south. The principal compiler, Lu Fayan, had consulted other scholars about the project and one in particular, Yan zhitui, is known from his other writings to have been much interested in varieties of pronunciation and to have been well acquainted with the differences between educated speakers in the north and south in this respect. Pronunciation was, of course, not recorded in any kind of phonetic notation but simply by the way in which words were classified, first into the four major tone classes, Level, Rising, Departing and Entering, then within each tone category into rhymes, and finally within each rhyme into homophone groups for which the first character was given a Fanqie spelling, that is, its pronunciation was noted by two other characters, the first of which had the same initial sound and the second of which had same final. 

From the point of view of a modern linguist, this amounts to a phonemic analysis based on the principle of minimal pairs. Pullyblank believes that Qieyun represents an exhaustive statement of the distinctive phonological contrasts of a real language, according to distinctive feature theory. In Qieyun system, phonemic contrast certainly refers to the relation between two phonemes, but this kind of contrast might not be distinctive feature INSIDE a single phonological system of a particular language. One could theoretically attempt to reconstruct the Qieyun language by comparing these initial and final categories directly with modern dialect forms and contemporaneous evidence, but in practice sholars have mad use of the additional information provided by the so-called rhyme tables (dengyuntu) designed in later times as keys to the Qieyun.

The principal followed by Qieyun was that of maximizing distinctions. For example, Level Tone rhyme zhi 脂 was combined with zhi 之 in their southern dictionary but was separated in their northern dictionaries, they were invariably kept separate in the Qieyun. The same principle applied to the corresponding Rising and Departing Tone rhymes. 


The sound categories of the Qieyun have always been approached through the more sophisticated phonetic analysis provided by the so-called rhyme tables (dengyuntu) originally designed as keys to the Qieyun by Buddhist scholars, which must have started in Tang times but only came into prominence during the Song period. By general agreement the earliest of these is the Yunjing. The table most used by Karlgren was the Qieyun zhizhangtu, erroneously attributed to the great Northern Song statesman and historian, Sima Guang, but actually composed sometime around the end of the twelfth century. Karlgren believes that when the same distinctions in categories are observable in Qieyunzhizhangtu as in the Ts'ie Yün, we may reasonably expect that the phonetic ground for these distinctions is the same in both. 

Fossilized inter-language

posted 6 Feb 2014, 01:48 by Jim Sheng

When Larry Selinker first proposed the interlanguage hypothesis in 1972 it was in the context of adult second language acquisition. Likewise, the phenomenon of fossilization was first introduced and discussed in that same paper solely in relation to adult second language learners. The model presented there is a failure driven model, where a vast majority of adult second language learners are characterized as being permanently stuck at an intermediary stage in their grammars, which does not match native speaker norms of the target grammar. It was only later (Selinker et al., 1975) that the inter-language hypothesis was extended from adult second language settings to the child second language grammars are also potentially fossilizable. Child interlanguages could potentially develop as dialects in their own right.

Pan Wuyun proposes that Hai Kou dialect is a fossilized inter-language resulted from the residents of Lin Gao learning Han Chinese language. 

The New and Old Text Schools of Confucianism

posted 28 Jan 2014, 18:48 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 1 Feb 2014, 13:18 ]

In 136 B.C. Confucianism became the only officially recognized state doctrine in China. The Imperial University (Taixue 太学) was established as a state-supported center for the teaching of orthodoxy and was staffed by Erudites (boshi 博士) who taught Classical texts written in the current or "new" script of the time. In the same period there were in circulation texts written in archaic or "old" script which were not officially recognized. By the end of the Western Han period students of the two different types of texts had formed bitterly hostile camps, with the New Text faction stubbornly defending its position of authority while the Old Text school struggled for official recognition. The disagreements between the two groups involved not only the scripts in which their texts were written but also their attitudes toward scholarship and hermeneutics. It is their differences in philological approach which are of special concern to us.

The New Text Erudites, as the upholders of orthodoxy, eschewed originality and innovation of any sort. The Boshi and their pupils, chiefly concerned about the maintenance and improvement of their positions, had long abandoned individual thought and had gladly submitted to the discipline required of them, which consisted in respecting the opinions of the former masters and expatiating on them. And again, Official scholarship, refusing new stimulants and content with the traditional ways, tended to become sterile and addicted to the endless and senseless expatiation. On the other hand the Old Text scholars were unrestrained by official orthodoxy and accepted interpretations. Their texts were neither sacrosanct nor immutable, and they could collate, edit, and determine the best text versions and readings. Their freedom to follow their own lights and develop independent critical approaches led naturally to an interest in philological techniques of exegesis. Since a text had no orthodox version or interpretation, it was possible to question its meaning, to suggest that obscure points in it might be due to temporal or geographical origin, to consider the possibility that it might be corrupt, and to propose emendations or new interpretations based on such suppositions. It seems very likely that the Eastern Han loangraph glosses are products of the strongly philological approach of the Old Text School. 

Materials for the study of Han Phonology

posted 28 Jan 2014, 18:27 by Jim Sheng   [ updated 1 Feb 2014, 13:16 ]

1. Poetic Rimes, Luo Changpei and Zhou Zumo's monumental work provides a comprehensive listing of Han rime sequences accompanied by extensive and detailed analysis and discussion. This work is the standard reference source for the riming practices of Han times, and the system of RIME CATEGORIES it proposes has usually formed the basis for subsequent discussions of the syllable finals of the Han period.

2. Loangraph Glosses. Loangraph is a loan (假借) or an error for another graph. "Loan Characters in Pre-Han Texts". (karlgren 1963-7)

3. The Shuowen Duruo Glosses were of great interest of Scholars of Qing and early Republican times. "x duruo y" means "X is read like y."  This is sound glosses supplied to indicate for readers the pronunciations of the glossed graphs.

4. Direct Sound Glosses and Fanqie Spellings. Most glosses of this type have the pattern "x Yīn y", "x has the sound of y." The primary function of these glosses seems to have been to indicate for readers the pronunciations of graphs which were considered problematical in some way. This gloss method were supplanted by the more practical fanqie spelling system. 

The usual pattern of Fanqie is "x yīn y z fǎn", "As to the sound of x, it has the initial of y and the final of z." 

5. Paranomastic Glosses are in effect punning definitions where one word is glossed by another which was thought to be cognate to it. The basis for assuming such an etymological or cosmological link between two words was presumably phonetic similarity of some sort. 

6. Buddhist Transcriptions, Early Chinese Buddhist transcriptions have been of interest to Sinologists, Buddhologists, and Central Asian specialists for at least a century. Numerous works of E. G. Pulleyblank make extensive use of transcriptional evidence. 

7. Han Dialectology. 

-- A Handbook of Eastern Han Sound Glosses By W. South Coblin

Historical Background of the Origin of Wu Group

posted 20 Dec 2013, 03:34 by Jim Sheng

Historical Background of the Origin of Wu Group

Pan Wuyun

Abstract The paper raises two kinds of important models of language contact, Haikou model and shanghai model. The feature of the shanghai model is that the natives ares so superior in culture that the immigrants, although larger in population, have to accept the native dialect. The feature of the Haikou model is that the immigrants, although smaller in population, are superior in culture and therefore the natives have to accept their dialect. Min group in Hainan, a new fossilized inter-language, formed in the process of the native learning the immigrant's language and assimilated the target language in turn. The history of Wu group is shaped in both the Shanghai and Haikou models.

Key words: Language contact, Haikou model, Shanghai model, inter-language, fossilization, Proto-Wu 

zheng Zhang Shang Fang 1991/1997 Decipherment of Yue-Ren-Ge, CLAO
Campbell, Lyle 1998 Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Selinker, L. & Lashmanan, U. 1992 Language Transfer and Fossilization: The Multiple Effects Principle. In Gass & Selinker (eds.) Language Transfer in Language Learning. Amsterdam: John Benjamines, 1992: 197-216.
Wen, Bo, etc Genetic evidence supports demic diffusion of Han culture, Nature vol. 431, Iss. 7006:302-305

Song of the Yue Boatman

posted 20 Dec 2013, 03:31 by Jim Sheng

The "Yue" were a large population group that once lived in South China, mainly in the coastal areas south of the Yangzi estuary. Little is known about their language, due to the almost complete lack of written records. The Yue-Ren-Ge 越人歌 (Song of the Yue Boatman) is the only complete text in the Yue language that has been transmitted to us. Its pronunciation was recorded in Chinese characters, and the transcription is accompanied by a Chinese version, based on the meaning of the song. Moreover, that Chinese version was written in Chu-Ci 楚辞 poetic form, by a person from the state of Chu 楚, at the time the song was sung around 528 ВС.

Both the transliteration in Chinese characters and the Old Chinese (ОС) of the song are found in the Shan-Shuo chapter of the Shuo-Yuan (说苑-善说)a work by Liu Xiang, a Han dynasty author.

Because the language in which it was sung is unknown, the Song has remained something of a mystery for a long time. In 1981, Prof. Wei Qing-wen made a pioneering comparison between the transliteration in Chinese characters and certain Tai languages (mostly Zhuang dialects), and attempted a Chinese version of the Song. Prof. Wei's use of Tai languages was an important step towards the solution, even though his version could not be perfect. ZHENGZHANG Shangfang followed his lead, but compared the transliteration mainly with written Thai (WTH), because WTH is the most anciently attested form of Thai and other languages in the Tai group, and also because it is generally believed that the Yue people spoke a Tai language.


1. 普通话拼音
Làn xī biàn cǎo làn yǔ, chāng hù zé yǔ chāng zhōu zhōu, kǎn zhōu yān hu qín xū xū, màn yǔ hu zhāo, chán qín yú shèn, tí suí hé hú.
濫 兮 抃 草 濫 予, 昌 枑 澤 予 昌 州 州, 𩜱 州 焉 乎 秦 胥 胥, 縵 予 乎 昭, 澶 秦 踰 滲, 惿隨 河 湖。

2. 毫无疑问,这是中国有文字记载的最早的译诗。

3. 故事里唱歌的“越人”是越女还是男船工?

4. Translation by Zhengzhang in modern Chinese and English:
Oh, the fine night, we meet in happiness tonight !
I am so shy, ah ! I am good at rowing.
Rowing slowly across the river, ah ! I am so pleased !
Dirty though I am, ah ! I made acquaintance with your highness the

5. Chinese version of the song and English translation
Oh! What night is tonight,
we are rowing on the river.
Oh! What day is today,
I get to share a boat with a prince.
The prince's kindness makes me shy,
I take no notice of the people's mocking cries.
Ignorant, but not uncared for,
I make acquaintance with a prince.
There are trees in the mountains and branches on the trees,
I adore you, oh! You do not know.

Zhengzhang Shangfang, Academy of Social Sciences, Peking.

Download the article by Zhengzhang.

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