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.
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。
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.
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