Ciet'im: An orthography for Middle Chinese

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dva_arla
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Ciet'im: An orthography for Middle Chinese

Post by dva_arla »

Cɨet`ịm (切音) is a set of orthographies in-the-making (a bit more than a transcription: more on that in a while) for Middle Chinese that is meant to be learner-friendly. I've always wanted to learn Classical/Literary Chinese for a while, and resolved to do so only after creating a proper system to remember the pronunciation of the characters. The norm these days is to transcribe most texts, even classical ones, in Pinyin (as can be evinced from e.g. Wikipedia), however I have, for several reasons, a reluctance to employ the Mandarin pronunciation, and although there are plenty (perhaps a dozen or so) of transcription systems for Middle Chinese in (relatively scarce) use, most if not all of them look daunting to beginners, which is why I've decided to create one of my own.

Cɨet`ịm is based on the system found in the Cietghiùn (切韻) -- which serves as the basis of most transcriptions. It draws from the reconstructions set by Li Rong, Pulleybank, Baxter, and Zhengzhang, though it would not gravitate towards any. Nor does Ciet`im claim any particular phonetic value, including those proposed by other scholars and authorities, the most accurate one, in fact we can't be sure if there had even been any -- its huge Sprachraum giving rise to a great deal of variation, and remember that MC, being spoken for 400 years, saw a great deal of evolution or change in phonology -- mergers in particular. That, though, does not preclude the assignment of lax prescriptive guidelines to the pronunciation of each phoneme in Ciet`im.

Cɨet`ịm encompasses two phonological systems: the Early Middle Chinese of the Cietghiùn (切韻), and Late Middle Chinese, from which most modern Sinitic lects (with the notable exception of the Min lects) and Sinitic-derived pronunciations (Sino-Korean, Sino-Japanese, the that of the so-called 'literary' strata of Minnam / Fukkien vocabulary) may be derived. The 源音 Nguịẹn`ịm (etymological pronunciation) or 学音 Hok`ịm (scientific pronunciation) marks distinctions made only in the former with optional diacritics. These diacritics may be ignored or omitted; in fact I encourage doing so at all occasions save those which expressively, another reason why the diacritics are made to be as inconspicuous as possible, hence the 公音 Gung`im (common pronunciation), basically the etymological/scientific orthography with all the diacritics removed; meant to be the default in transcription of texts and names; It is hoped that Ciet`im might be an alternative, to the almost-universal contemporary use of Pinyin, for transliterations of historical names; one of its advantages over the latter being its retention of MC occlusive codas, lost in Mandarin. Gung`im will be the preferred style of transliteration in the rest of the article.

Aside from being an orthography of Middle Chinese Ciet'im may also serve the role of a diasystem for lects deriving therefrom, that is, all of them save for the Min lects -- which diverged much earlier (c. 100 AD) -- one akin to Jerry Norman's Common Dialectal Chinese (Chinese Rime Tables) or D'jèu Nguien`njìm's (趙元任) General Chinese.

It ought to be emphasised that Cɨet`ịm is a work-in-progress; feel free to pitch in, and please feel free to offer any sort of suggestion (including those on how the intro might be improved; my writing skills, I must say with much regret, has grown rather 'dusty').
dva_arla
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Re: Ciet'im: An orthography for Middle Chinese

Post by dva_arla »

Some guiding principles underlying the design.

- The Gung`im to be accessible to as many keyboards as possible, which unfortunately precludes the use of schwa to represent /ə/ (a null onset in some analyses), though I am willing to concede diacritical representations of tones, even though tones may be represented by letters (cf. the usage of X and H to represent the rising (zhiăng) or departing (kiù) tones.) I am thinking of the caron or tilde for the former, and the grave for the latter -- however I'd like to know if there are other ways deemed more suitable or fit to transcribe tones.
- Consistency in
a) orthography
b) merging Ciet'ghiun rhymes into Gung'im letters/diaphonemes (explanations forthcoming)
- Efficiency: as low an average of character per syllable as possible.
- Aesthetics: a matter of personal taste; though most would proscribe the usage of x in digraphs, i.e. cx sx zx.

Questions still to be resolved, primarily on matters concerning orthography:

- Whether to base the transcription of voicing/aspiration troikas (MC distinguishes between unaspirated, aspirated, and 'muddy' (i.e. voiced -- lenis in EMC and breathy in LMC) stops) on IPA (whence most hitherto transcriptions), i.e. p p' b for /p pʰ b(ʱ)/, or Pinyin p b b'. The IPA-based transcription would be acquired with more ease by foreign students; on the other hand, those accustomed to Pinyin would be more comfortable with the Pinyin-based one, and, on another note, the aspirated stops seems to occur more frequently than the 'muddy' ones, which would mean less use of the apostrophe or h (see below), which means a decrease in the number of characters used, and, in the case of the former, a less "Klingon-ish" look.
- Whether to use h or the apostrophe to represent the aspirated or muddy stop.
- Sibilants -- of which MC distinguishes three places of articulation: dental, palatal, and sibilants. I've pretty much settled for leaving the dental sibilants orthographically 'unmarked' (i.e. c for /ts/). Only the representation of the latter two, therefore, remains to be settled. Possible schemes: Cy/Ch, Ch/Cr, Ch/Cz
- Which 'lower' diacritic to assign to which purpose (more details to come).
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