China’s earliest romanization system

The most recent rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Dì-yī ge Lādīng zìmǔ de Hànyǔ Pīnyīn Fāng’àn shì zěnyàng chǎnshēng de? (How Was the First Romanized Spelling System for Sinitic Produced? / 第一个拉丁字母的汉语拼音方案是怎样产生的), by YIN Binyong (尹斌庸).

The author should be familiar to regular readers of this site, as he wrote the standard works on Hanyu Pinyin orthography — Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography and the Xinhua Pinxie Cidian — as well as Pinyin-to-Chinese Character Computer Conversion Systems and the Realization of Digraphia in China.

The text is in Mandarin in Chinese characters. Here is the introduction.
image of the Mandarin text (in Chinese characters) of the first two paragraphs of the article

This is issue no. 50 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in November 1994.

status of Cantonese: a survey-based study

The latest new release from Sino-Platonic Papers is one that I think will be of particular interest to readers of Pinyin News. It’s an extensive study of not only the attitudes of speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin toward the status of Cantonese but also their beliefs about its future, especially in Hong Kong: Language or Dialect–or Topolect? A Comparison of the Attitudes of Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese towards the Status of Cantonese (650 KB PDF), by Julie M. Groves.

This study reports on a comparative survey of three groups of Chinese: 53 Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, 18 Mainland Chinese Cantonese speakers, and 72 Mainland Chinese Putonghua speakers. It was found that the Putonghua speakers held more ‘classic’ views, the majority seeing Cantonese as a dialect. In contrast, only just over half the Hong Kongers and two-fifths the Mainland Cantonese speakers considered it clearly a dialect, while one-third of all respondents favoured a mid-point classification. The differing perspectives held by the groups can be traced to their different political and linguistic situations, which touch issues of identity.

The author notes, “The uncertainties in classification also reflect a problem with terminology. The Chinese word usually translated dialect, fangyan (方言), does not accurately match the English word dialect.” Groves recommends the adoption of Victor Mair’s proposed English word for fangyan: topolect.

Although this focuses on the dialect vs. language debate, it covers much more than that. Those being surveyed were also asked questions such as:

  • Where do you think the best Cantonese is spoken?
  • Do you think Putonghua will eventually replace Cantonese as the main, everyday language of Hong Kongers?
  • Do you think it is possible for someone to consider themselves to be a Hong Konger (or Hong Kong Chinese/Chinese Hong Konger) without being able to speak Cantonese?

The results of the study may also prove useful for those interested in the future of other languages of China and Taiwan, such as Taiwanese and Shanghainese.

Here are a couple of the many graphs found in the study.

HK Cant = Hong Kong Cantonese speakers
MCant = mainland Cantonese speakers
MPTH = mainland speakers of Mandarin (“Pǔtōnghuà“)

graph of responses to the question 'Will Putonghua replace Cantonese as the main language of Hong Kongers?' Most say 'no' -- and this is strongest among mainland Cantonese speakers

graph of responses to the question 'Can a person be a Hong Konger without speaking Cantonese?' Most Hong Kong Cantonese speakers say no; but the answer is closer to a tie for mainland Mandarin speakers

Intrigues of the Warring States: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Miching Mallecho: The Zhanguo ce and Classical Rhetoric (1.7 MB PDF), by Paul Rakita Goldin of the University of Pennsylvania. This covers the Zhanguoce (Zhànguó cè/戰國策/战国策 / Intrigues of the Warring States), from China’s Warring States period. The phrase “miching mallecho” comes from Hamlet; those interested in knowing more can refer to the first page of Goldin’s work.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Intrigues are a collection of anecdotes about people from the Warring States period and how they acquire the things they want: position, fame, revenge, glory for the state, and so on. Naturally, since advisors often find the best resource to be the king, they focus their attention to persuade the king to action–action sometimes beneficial to the king and his state, but often advantageous to the counselors themselves and their favorites. These are the rhetorical pieces. But in many of the stories, the characters use very different methods, such as conspiracy, espionage, and framing, to achieve their goals. These anecdotes always involve some sort of scheme or machination to bring about a desired end.

The Intrigues, then, are primarily about intrigue. The lively, disjointed pieces fuse together to paint an irreverent picture of Warring States politics. The entire book seems to be a glorification of mendacity and trickery. The cunning advisors live by their wits, rising and falling by their own ingenuity and that of their rivals. By contrast, the kings are continuously hoodwinked by the unscrupulous sophistry of their own ministers. Some, like Lord Mengchang (e.g. 4.35b-36b; 10.579f.; 153) accept the duplicity of their retainers and even encourage it, on a manageable scale, rather than oppose it fruitlessly. But most do not, and are deceived throughout.

The Intrigues form a document from turbulent times, and the jungle law they advocate reflects the circumstances in which they originated. Scholars have been reluctant to concede this point because of the clear anti-Confucian message it entails. But the position of the Intrigues is unmistakable: all is due to him who attains it; the more devious the plot, the more entertaining; virtue and loyalty are eminently unprofitable. They are a paean to miching mallecho.

If we must find a Western analogy for the Intrigues, let us look to the Arabian Nights and the medieval European fabliaux. All three raise trickery to an art form with pure delight. Differences in culture can explain differences in what the schemers scheme for….

This was originally published as issue no. 41 of Sino-Platonic Papers in October 1993.

Goldin’s website has bibliographies on a number of topics of possible interest to readers of this site:

  • Ancient Chinese Civilization: Bibliography of Materials in Western Languages (ca. 7,100 entries)
  • Ancient Chinese Civilization Bibliography: 2006-07 entries only (ca. 375 entries)
  • Bibliography of Materials Pertaining to the Kuo-tien and Shanghai Museum Manuscripts (ca. 1,250 entries)
  • Gender and Sexuality in Pre-Modern China: Bibliography of Materials in Western Languages (ca. 750 entries)
  • Principal Translations of the Thirteen Classics into Western Languages

Introduction and notes for the Tao Te Ching

Victor Mair’s translation of the Tao Te Ching has certainly more than earned its place in a crowded field. Mair’s introduction and notes to the Tao Te Ching (Dàodéjīng, to give the Pinyin form) are now available for free as part of the rereleases of the journal he edits, Sino-Platonic Papers.

Here’s the link: [The] File [on the Cosmic] Track [and Individual] Dough[tiness]: Introduction and Notes for a Translation of the Ma-wang-tui Manuscripts of the Lao Tzu [Old Master] (6.4 MB PDF). The work explains the reasons for this odd title, and in the process provides all sorts of linguistic and other goodness. This is well worth reading.

Here is how it begins:

Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gītā (BG), the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world. Well over a hundred different renditions of the Taoist classic have been made into English alone, not to mention the dozens in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Latin, and other European languages. There are several reasons for the superabundance of translations. The first is that the Tao Te Ching is considered to be the fundamental text of both philosophical and religious Taoism. Indeed, the Tao or Way, which is at the heart of the Tao Te Ching, is also the centerpiece of all Chinese religion and thought. Naturally, the different schools and sects each bring a somewhat different slant to the Tao, but all subscribe to the notion that there is a single, overarching Way that encompasses everything in the universe. As such, the Tao Te Ching shares crucial points of similarity with other major religious scriptures the world over.

The second reason for the popularity of the Tao Te Ching is its brevity. There are few bona fide classics that are so short, yet so packed with food for thought. One can read and reread the Tao Te Ching over and over scores of times without exhausting the insights it offers.

The third aspect which accounts for the wide repute of the Tao Te Ching is the fact that it is supposedly “very easy to understand” (LXX.2 and see the note thereto) when actually it is exceedingly impenetrable. Paradox is the essence of the Tao Te Ching, so much so that even scholars with a solid grounding in Classical Chinese cannot be sure they have grasped what the Old Master is really saying in his pithy maxims. This deceptive ease which masks tortuous difficulty is both a challenge and an invitation, a challenge to the honest scholar and an invitation to the charlatan. Since no one can fully plumb the profundity of the Tao Te Ching, even the amateur cannot be held responsible for misrepresenting it. Hence the plethora of translations, many by individuals who command not one iota of any Chinese language. In the words of the eminent Dutch Sinologist, J.J.L. Duyvendak:

Not only do translations made by competent Sinologues vary considerably, but there also exists a multitude of so-called translations made by people who try to make up for their entirely imaginary or extremely elementary knowledge of classical Chinese by philosophical speculations which often are completely foreign to the Chinese spirit. With due acknowledgement of the interest which this Chinese classic has been able to arouse in a large circle, one cannot help regretting that the Tao-tê-ching has thus become the object of the worst dilettantism.

It is precisely because of my annoyance at the sheer presumptuousness of those who pretended to convey the words of the Old Master to others, when they themselves had not the slightest idea how to read them, that I vowed two decades ago I would never be so bold as to add my own voice to the cacophonous chorus of Tao Te Ching paraphrasts. Two unexpected and celebrated events, however, conspired to make me recant. One was the egregiously large advance and effusive national publicity awarded to an absolute tyro a couple of years ago who dared to dabble with the daunting Tao Te Ching. Although the individual concerned will remain mercifully unnamed, I felt duty bound to reclaim translation of the Tao Te Ching as the proper province of the conscientious Sinologist.

The other prod was the recent discovery of two ancient manuscripts in China which made it possible to produce a totally new translation of the Tao Te Ching far more accurate and reliable than any that has hitherto been published. This is the first translation of the Tao Te Ching based from its very inception wholly on these newly found manuscripts. The manuscripts came from a place in central China called Ma-wang-tui, not far south of the Yangtze River….

Above I expanded Mair’s acronym of TTC for Tao Te Ching.

This was first published in October 1990 as issue no. 20 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Language, writing, and tradition in Iran: SPP

The most recent rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Language, Writing, and Tradition in Iran (1.5 MB PDF), by David A. Utz.

In discussing language, writing, and tradition in Iran, we must begin with some clarification. What we, want to examine is the crystallization and development of a particular method and pattern of scribal practice, and its implications and consequences for the historical development and legacy of a particular cultural tradition. For this purpose we need to consider a particular geographical area, Iran, which for our purposes includes not only the modern Islamic Republic of Iran, but also Afghanistan, Armenia, and much of Central Asia. Furthermore, we are particularly concerned with a specific span of time, from the early Achaemenian period in the latter half of the 6th century B.C.E. until the progressive advent of Islam in these regions during the 7th-l0th centuries C.E. Throughout this period, the paramount characteristic of language and writing was that they were separate and distinct: language was not writing and writing was not language.

The semi-independent development of writing became a powerful historical factor influencing tradition in this region. Moreover, orthographic systems and methods tend to define, at least for modern scholarship, distinctions between so-called Old, Middle, and New Iranian languages. Examples of Old Iranian languages are Old Persian and Avestan. Examples of Middle Iranian languages are Middle Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Khotanese, and Bactrian. Examples of New Iranian languages are Persian (including Farsi, Dari, and Tajiki), Pashtu, Baluchi, so-called “Kurdish” (in its disparate manifestations), as well as more obscure languages such as Ossetic, Yaghnobi, and the various Pamir languages. For our present purposes, we will be primarily concerned with Middle Iranian languages. Language, itself, did not become an historical force of consequence until the 20th century, due primarily to the introduction of 19th century European ideas about language and ethnicity and their exploitation for purely utilitarian political purposes by 20th century governments in this entire region.

To better understand the highly idiosyncratic development of writing in Iran in this crucial period, it may be helpful to see it in the larger context of one of the major operative factors in the formation of Iranian culture and tradition: the process of incessant dialectic and synthesis of the indigenous heritage of the Iranians, especially their distinctive religious and ethical ideology, and the accumulated traditions and methods of the Ancient Near East, especially the urban and mercantile society of Syria and Mesopotamia. Furthermore, it might be most effective to illustrate this process with a specific non-linguistic, non-scribal example: two specific major concepts within the Iranian view of history as presented in the Šāhnāma of Abu’l-Qāsim Firdausī. Although this work, which contains the history of the Iranians from creation until the Arab conquest, was completed only in the very early 11th century, the historical ideas and information it embodies originate from late Sasanian times (i.e., at the end of the particular span of time we want to consider) and from Sasanian historiographical works such as the Kārnāmak i Artaxšēr i Pāpakān and the famous Xuatāi-nāmak, translated into Arabic by Ibnu’l-Muqaffa` in the 8th century and used extensively by Islamic historiographers such as aṭ-Ṭabarī. It should be pointed out in passing that, even if these concepts originate in the late Sasanian environment and in some sense reflect the self-image of that time and place, it is puzzling that some of them, such as Cosmic Kingship, exemplified in the Šāhnāma especially by the four kings of the Pīšdādiyān dynasty [Kayūmars̱, Hūšang, Tahmūras̱, and Jamšīd], do not at all reflect the reality of that environment….

Sample of late Sasanian book script, commonly called “Book Pahlavi.”
basic character set of the late Sasanian book script

This is issue no. 24 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in August 1991.

Orality and textuality in the Indian context: SPP

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Orality and Textuality in the Indian Context (1.7 MB PDF), by Ludo Rocher of the University of Pennsylvania.

An excerpt:

Friedrich Max Müller noted: “We can form no opinion of the power of memory in a state of society so different from ours as the Indian Parishads are from our universities. Feats of memory, such as we hear of now and then, show that our notions of the limits of that faculty are quite arbitrary. Our own memory has been systematically undermined for many generations.” More succinctly, the German indologist Heinrich Lüders described some Indian pandits as “nothing but waking, living text books.”

But Western scholars went further than being amazed. They also raised the question why Indians resort to memorization “even at the present day when manuscripts are neither scarce nor expensive.” Memorization is something one expects in illiterate societies, and that includes India before the introduction of script. But why did Indians continue to memorize so much, even after the time when script came to India?

The age of the introduction of script in India — rather its reintroduction after it disappeared with the Indus Valley Civilization — is still debated, and I will not touch on that problem since it is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that there are inscriptions, all over the subcontinent, as early as the third century B.C.E., which means that Indians still resort to oral transmission more than two thousand years after they could have resorted to written transmission.

I will argue in this paper that the question of oral transmission versus written transmission in India is far more complex than it has often been presented. There are a number of factors at work, and these factors are different for different branches of the extensive literary legacy of classical India.

This is issue no. 49 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was originally released in October 1994.

that demon grammar: lessons from Indian mythology

The most recent reissue from Sino-Platonic Papers is On Attitudes towards Language in Ancient India, by George Cardona of the University of Pennsylvania. Cardona discusses how grammar “became part of a soteriological system, with linguistic usage a means to acquiring merit and the ultimate good.” [I had to look that one up.]

“In this respect,” he concludes, “the Indian attitude towards language is probably unique.”

He gives several examples from early writings, including this one:

“The demons, with speech taken away from them, said he’lavo he ‘lavaḥ and were thus vanquished. They uttered this indistinct speech there. That is barbaric speech (mlecchaḥ). Therefore, a Brāhmaṇa is not to utter barbaric speech (na mlecchet), for this speech is of the demons. One who know thus takes the speech of his competitors who hate him; they are vanquished with their speech taken from them.”

Now, the contrast here is not between Ārya and non-Ārya pure and simple. Instead, the emphasis is placed on usage that is correct according to an accepted norm and usage that is considered barbaric because of its deviation from the norm. Thus, the demons are said to have been vanquished because, incapable of uttering the correct form he3arayo he3arayaḥ, they said he’lavo he’lavaḥ. That is, instead of the accepted form arayaḥ, with –r– and –y-, they used a dialectal and unacceptable form alavaḥ, with -l- and -v-; and instead of using a prolated (trimoric) -e3 that is exempt from phonological alternation, they used an ordinary vowel -e and followed the rule of phonologic alternation whereby word-final -e and word-initial a- together give -e-.

Although some of that may sound complicated, depending on your familiarity with that field, the essay as a whole is aimed at nonspecialists.

This was first published in January 1990 as issue no. 15 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Sexism in Mandarin: a study

This week’s free rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Covert Sexism in Mandarin Chinese (1.9 MB PDF), by David Moser (of Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard fame).

Here’s part of the introduction:

Like other cultures, China has a long history of sexist social conventions, and the Chinese language is pervaded with evidence of these. Research in this area has usually sought to identify and catalog aspects of Chinese that embody these sexist cultural traditions, such as sexist idioms, demeaning words for wife, derogatory terms of address for women, or the large number of characters containing the female radical (女) with negative connotations. Such elements tend to be rather easily identifiable and have been some of the earliest aspects to be targeted for linguistic reform. (The Chinese Communist Party, for example, in their attempts to elevate the status of women and eradicate vestiges of feudalism, has from time to time officially discouraged use of pejorative terms of address for women and wives.) Notable contributions have already been made in such research, but there are certain kinds of sexism in the Chinese language that are more subtly embedded in the grammar in such a way that they often escape conscious attention. This article attempts to shed light on some of these phenomena, since it is often in these hidden patterns of linguistic usage that sexist assumptions and notions are most powerfully present.

This is issue no. 74 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in January 1997.