all 325 ‘words that form the Chinese language’

The New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery offers a glimpse inside a book published in the 1770s: The Chinese traveller. Containing a geographical, commercial, and political history of China..

The book provides a chart of 325 syllables identified as being “A LIST of all the WORDS that form the CHINESE LANGUAGE.” I’ll skip the obvious and not address why that’s ridiculous.

The chart is apparently in the first volume of the work. But since the NYPL doesn’t provide many images and Google Books provides only the second volume (scanned from the one in the NYPL collection), I wasn’t able to find any explanatory text about the chart or the authors’ views of Sinitic languages.

Here’s one column:

mouen, moui, moum, mouon, na, nai, nam, nan, nao, nem, ngai, ngan, ngao, ngue, nguen, ngeo, ngo, ni, niam, niau, niao, nie, nien, nieou, nio

Which Sinitic language these are supposed to represent isn’t clear. But, no, it doesn’t appear to be Cantonese, which tends to be the default first guess when it comes to Sinitic languages — at least until recently. My guess is that it’s some form of Mandarin that’s been written in a bastardized way, obscuring differences between what are represented in Pinyin by b and p, d and t, g and k, etc. But then there are those -m finals. What do the rest of y’all think?


10 thoughts on “all 325 ‘words that form the Chinese language’

  1. Definitely some sort of Mandarin, not Hakka. How do they pronounce the final -ng in Xi’an, anyone knows? Both initial v- and ng- is still prevalent there.
    The compiler of the list and the author of the chapter on the Chinese language were possibly not the same person.

    As to bastardization: The author does mention aspiration, alongside tones, but transliterates neither of them.

  2. It’s definitely a northern dialect, because from the screenshot that GF sent, ‘ta’ is used as the third-person pronoun, which is a feature that developed in the Mandarin dialects. The fact that -p, -t, and -k are not present also points to this conclusion. As for the presence of -m, it is documented that the Proto-Mandarin of the Yuan dynasty had -m before it merged with -n; I have no idea what present day northern dialects have -m though. The absence of -ng is puzzling though.

  3. “I could”? It could. Maybe I should stop acting smart.

    Anyway I’ve seen some of the reconstructed phonologies from the past, with suspiciously many vowels, and assumptions that there were many people who all read them the same… OK, quitting while I’m ahead.

  4. Standard mandarin isn’t really widely used in the 1700’s, that is, if it even exists at all. Since I don’t really know how romanization works outside of Hanyu Pinyin, I’ll just provide some youtube video of various mandarin dialects, you’ll judge which one might sound the closest:

    Shangdong Dialect, it had huge influence in present day dongbei dialect (which of course spoke Manchu in the 1700’s) And video is olympics parody dub of the movie titanic.

    Dalian Dialect, which is mush between shangdong and hebei dialects. The video is language conference thing that has a word in standard mandarin follow by the dialect.

    Shichuan Dialect, which is pretty representative of southwestern dialects. The video is a lesson to learn the dialect from Mandarin.

    Shaanxi (Shanxi) dialect: pretty representative of northwestern mandarin. The video follow the format of a character’s name in standard mandarin? and a typical phase might be uttered by that character in Shaanxi Dialect:

    And it’s could also be Wu Dialects too, also I doubt it. Here is Suzhou dialect. The video is a poem recital of ???

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