Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

A forum for all topics related to constructed languages
Post Reply
User avatar
LinguistCat
sinic
sinic
Posts: 210
Joined: 06 May 2017 07:48

Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by LinguistCat »

Does anyone know good resources for reconstructions of Classical Chinese phonology and the basics of the grammar system? I'm not familiar with modern Chinese languages to any extent that would be useful, and have mostly found non-linguistics based resources that use primarily Pinyin and modifications of modern pronunciations to render the language. And if possible from those of you with any specialties in this area, what reconstruction do you favor as far as realism, and what would you favor for simplicity+being "close enough for horseshoes".

User avatar
Ser
sinic
sinic
Posts: 267
Joined: 30 Jun 2012 06:13

Re: Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by Ser »

There are no reconstructions of Classical Chinese phonology as far as I know, if we define it as the language of the Warring States Period (5th-3rd centuries BC).

There are a number of reconstructions for "Old Chinese", which is some pretty abstract system of correspondences and developments, which probably reflects distinctions of Shang dynasty pronunciations circa the 15th century BC that survived until various later points, with the very notable weakness that the tones of Middle Chinese circa 600 AD are mostly straightforwardly projected backwards as part of the coda as "consonants", since we can't do much better than that. (Old Chinese may have been tonal after all, not that we can really know.) That is, when you see a reconstruction like *[kə.l]ˤuʔ (Baxter-Sagart, the square brackets indicate uncertain segments) or *lʰuːʔ (Zhengzhang Shangfang) for 道 'road, way', you're not supposed to take any of the reconstructed segments at quite their face value (even though they do reflect biases by the researchers on what the sounds may have been). Actual Shang-era Chinese may have had (likely had) more distinctions than what scholars can reconstruct in fact (so 道 may have actually been **[kənlˤuaʔ], **[kəl:ˤuetn], or who knows what).

This is necessarily the case due to the unfortunately indirect methods (very indirect methods) used to reconstruct what is possible to reconstruct at all, mostly due to the nature of the script and the lack of transcriptions in neighbour languages (Ancient Egyptian reconstruction has certainly benefited from attested proper names in Sumerian and Akkadian!).

Axel Schuessler includes his own reconstruction of Eastern Han Chinese (1st-2nd centuries AD) in his ABC Etymological Dictionary of Chinese (you can find it marked as "EH" --if you were wondering, "OCM" stands for "Old Chinese Minimal", which reflects some vague scholarly consensus around Baxter's early 1992 reconstruction, now largely abandoned).



As for grammar, as with many other ancient languages, I don't think anybody has ever published a decent short grammar of Classical Chinese that can be used by general linguists (this is also true of Ancient Greek and many other such languages). You're really supposed to know at least a little Mandarin, and no one uses reconstructed pronunciations when talking about grammar (not even the very confident and stable reconstruction of Middle Chinese circa 600 AD off the Qieyun rhyme dictionary).

The resource most often mentioned in English is Edwin Pulleyblank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar (1992), which is in fact pretty decent, even if it has the slight issues of focusing a bit too much on, specifically, the grammar of the Book of Mencius, and also missing certain key grammatical constructions (notably superlatives marked with 至 as an adverb, e.g. 至堅之劍 ("SUPERL hard REL sword") 'the hardest sword'). His grammar does not contain any glosses or literal word-for-word translations (you're supposed to use what little knowledge you have to understand the many example sentences). To go beyond the basics there are much more detailed grammars in Mandarin though.
Last edited by Ser on 17 Jun 2020 02:33, edited 2 times in total.
hīc sunt linguificēs. hēr bēoþ tungemakeras.

User avatar
LinguistCat
sinic
sinic
Posts: 210
Joined: 06 May 2017 07:48

Re: Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by LinguistCat »

Thank you. I definitely know the issues with reconstructing the phonology itself since the languages I AM coming at this from are the Japonic language family, and even that doesn't have as many issues. Though because of relying on other languages in the Sino-sphere, things become a bit circular in reasoning trying to reconstruct sounds past a certain point in either case.

Middle Chinese seems to have quite a few different reconstructions, but the reconstructions themselves are a bit firmer than for Old Chinese, which makes sense. However, 6th century is a bit late for what I want/the historical context. I will look into Schuessler's dictionary and see if it's helpful, since that's a good time period for contact and the creatures I'm working on this for to travel over to Japan.

I'm currently making my way through "Introduction to Literary Chinese, part one" by R. Eno, and I have part 2 to look over if I get that far. I'll also look for Pulleyblank's works. I don't think I have a PDF of the Outline you mentioned, but I think I do have some work by him somewhere on my computer if I can dig it out. Edit! Turns out the work by Pulleyblank I have on my computer is this exact one.

And there's always just looking up each hanzi on wiktionary, choosing a reconstructed form from what's available and going in a pinch.

Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1967
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by Salmoneus »

Wikipedia actually compares a bunch of Old Chinese reconstructions. IME, you can also find some interesting speculative papers, including possible Sino-Tibetan comparisons, if you search for stuff on the type A/type B distinction.

User avatar
LinguistCat
sinic
sinic
Posts: 210
Joined: 06 May 2017 07:48

Re: Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by LinguistCat »

Salmoneus wrote:
17 Jun 2020 02:57
Wikipedia actually compares a bunch of Old Chinese reconstructions. IME, you can also find some interesting speculative papers, including possible Sino-Tibetan comparisons, if you search for stuff on the type A/type B distinction.
Thanks, that's pretty cool!

Bob
hieroglyphic
hieroglyphic
Posts: 57
Joined: 09 Jul 2020 07:32

Re: Classical Chinese help for conlang project?

Post by Bob »

LinguistCat wrote:
15 Jun 2020 20:20
( Just what is in original post. )
I am very into Classical Chinese. I actually do a lot with Oracle Bone Script Chinese and Bronze Script Chinese and made the first dictionary in English. I hope to put it free online i a year or so.

Oh, maybe the Old Chinese Reconstruction and Phonology books by Baxter and Sagart. Grammar? Introduction to Literary Chinese is good one for English. It's got all the basic.

It's very weird grammar, it's all about complex grammatical particles that help guide sentences along and words with relation to eachother. I study it from time to time but have patience to make a slow progress. Most of it's easy to figure out without exact memory of all that. I always use bilingual texts with facing English. I only have one interlinear glossed text, it is The Tao Te Ching by Star something the author.

For reconstructions, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese is nice. But distinct from Baxter Sagart's reconstructions, which are all listed in a Wiktionary article, Old Chinese lemmas or something.

A great book to have and study: Dictionary of Sino-Japanese Characters by Karlgren. The reconstructions for Old Chinese are outdated. But you can update them using the steps outlined in one of the few reviews for this book on Amazon website. I never bother.

"What reconstruction do you favor?" Baxter-Sagart. It's the most recent, extensive, and accessible.

The reconstruction of what Classical Chinese was pronounced like gets all sorts of complicated. Another book: Kohl's A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. It consistently gives Middle Chinese reconstructed readings and on occasion the Old Chinese ones.

You see, what I do with Ancient Chinese languages is very unique and odd. The last 15 years have seen me pioneer techniques of using comparative logographic writing system studies to guess the original "sign identities" and "sign etymologies" of logographic writing system signs. I also assign these for signs which cannot be guessed otherwise, based on sophisticated criteria.

See, everybody does something different with Classical Chinese and Old Chinese.

But when I otherwise work with these languages, it's more about writing system than pronunciation. Maybe some of the more common characters I will know the Modern Mandarin reading of, and then sometimes I explore etymology and reconstructed values etc, even outside of that necessary for "sign etymology". But I just figure them out based on what their "character parts" are pictures of, plus my memory of my now-vast experience reading the stuff with the help of side by side English translations. Which are sometimes riddled with errors, notably if they're from Modern China. Communist Propaganda. So for that, it helps to know well the ideas of Marxism and Chinese Marxism. I'm not sure if they fool anyone, maybe locals. Chinese translations to English of all eras have varying degrees of purposeful and accidental mistranslation, though. A good book for that, changing ideas of how to misportray China: The Great Chan's Continent.

Then there's also a free new huge online The Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictonary, some title like that, by Matisoff. I don't know how much Old Chinese it has in it.

There's a green book that's a nice overview of Chinese Languages linguistics, by Jerry Norman, I think.

When studying Chinese, don't be surprised if anyone tries to trip you up. There's a thought among Chinese that non-Chinese should not study Chinese. And if they do, they should be paying a lot to do so. Because foreigners have big money. It doesn't really make sense but it's a very very big country with many many people and the rest of the world is peripheral to them. Also, funny and trivial, childish. Do not be offended, the mindset is that China is the world's oldest and best civilization. And then there's lots of misunderstandings and cursory examinations of non-Chinese manners and ideas. It's like how people view children, sort of goofy and wish-they-were-Chinese. Poor large-nosed barbarians. They have not invented chopsticks yet! It's like that. They're languages with a lot of baggage and drama, too. For some people, the charms are not sufficient and it's just one big avoidable trainwreck.

Also, if you talk to Chinese or people really into China, don't mention Japan. Lots of Americans are more interested in Japan than China. Many of them don't realize how painful of a thing this is for Chinese or people really into China.

I study Classical Japanese and its myths quite a bit and Modern Japanese some. But when I first arrived in China, I told some people and now regret it very much, though I think they were very gracious regarding my deep ignorance of the situation. I spend far more time studying the writings of mostly Ancient but also Modern China. ( For me, it's actually all mostly about the writing systems, but if you live there you pick up the groove. )

It is like this song, though it would take time to explain why.
I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Tony Bennett
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysw4svDmcxc

Ah, the charms of China. You'd almost believe they were the oldest and greatest ...

Be careful if you go over there, the air pollution is enough to take some years off your lifespan. Is it worth it? Oh, I think so. Touch someone's heart while you're there and let them touch yours and it will be as if you had lives 100 times those years. It is quite the adventure, though. I have heard that few go from the West. But you will miss Western food very sorely. But then after 10 years, you stop missing it altogether, just eat rice all the time and various long noodles. Oh, they eat so much sugar, it is bad for your teeth. But it's hard to avoid.

But I think the books explaining all this about Old Chinese reconstructed phonology are easy enough to follow, slowly. Maybe ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese by Schuessler.

...

But if you're really serious about Classical Chinese, you learn to read Mandarin Chinese as well. And usually scholars who do that also know French, German, and somehow most Western European languages. My Mandarin is much better than it was 5 years ago.

( So sorry for any mistakes in this post, it is very early now for me. )

Image

Post Reply