Ancient Chinese phonology

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Ancient Chinese phonology

Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-06-16, 21:17

I am not sure if this thread belongs to here, but I want to start a conversation out of this topic, and I believe there is relatively better than other forums.

Some of the (standard) Chinese learners probably know that Standard Chinese (普通话) takes its origins from the northern dialects of China. Yet in such northern dialects, finals (final consonants) eroded, and most of the time didn't leave anything after they disappeared, or in other cases the tones were left different (this is technical, and I don't know how to phrase it to make it clear...).

I am interested in ancient Chinese phonetic patterns, and how they evolved to all the actual Chinese dialects. One very interesting point is that I can point such elements when learning other languages which borrowed most of their vocabulary from Chinese, such as Japanese and Korean. I can also figure them from Cantonese, which has the uncomparable advantage to have its own standard, and for my matter, to have kept most antique phonetics which became archaic and disappeared in the northern dialects on which the standard is based.

The best is to give examples. For a learner, and even a speaker of standard Chinese, the characters 力 and 利 sound exactly the same, li4. 食 and 市 are respectively pronounced shi2 and shi4, this is the same phoneme except the tone, which changes. But this is not the same for these same words in all the languages they are used.

汉字__日本語__________韓國語____普通话____广东话
力____りょく (ryoku)__력 (ryög)____li4_______lig
利____り (ri)_________리 (ri)______li4_______li
食____しょく (shoku)__식 (sig)____shi2______sig
市____し (shi)________시 (si)_____shi4______si

The romanisation systems used are: Romaji for Japanese, a 'beta' romanisation for Korean (created by 周先生), Hanyu pinyin for Standard Chinese, Guangdonghua pinyin 广东话拼音 for Cantonese (created by 广东省中山大学, without the tones here though).

It is easy to notice in such a table that if the final consonants eroded in the northern dialects (therefore in Standard Chinese), they remain in the languages which borrowed these words: no matter if they were borrowed from northern or (mostly) southern dialects of Chinese (like Japanese), or from northern dialects of Chinese (like Korean), which shows these final consonant patterns existed in the northern dialects as well. Of course this will seem very simple to experienced scholars, but as I am a beginner I would not know how to go deep into it.

I would like to know if you have links, explanations, or comments about this, if you are interested in it as well. All remarks are welcome.
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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-06-16, 21:34

Though going slightly too much into Japanese here, I thought you'd like to check this, too:

Shinji Takasugi wrote:Japanese on-readings came from pronunciations of ancient 呉 (Wú, around the mouth of the Yangtze) and ancient 長安 (Cháng'ān, now called Xīān), not from modern Mandarin. […]

The following rules will help.

Ancient Chinese to ancient Japanese:
h- to k-
q- to - (deleted)
ng- to g-
nj- to n-
l- to r-
-m to -n
-eng to -ei
-ng to -u
-it to -iti or -itu
-t to -tu
-ik to -iki or -iku
-k to -ku
-p to -pu

Ancient Japanese to modern Japanese:
-au to -ô
-iu to -yû
-eu to -yô
pu to fu
p to h
-pa to -wa (This doesn't appear in on-readings)
-pi/pu/pe/po to -i/u/e/o
si to shi
ti to chi
tu to tsu

Ancient Chinese to modern Mandarin:
q- to - (deleted)
ng- to - (deleted)
nj- to r-
ki- to qi- or ji-
-m to -n
-k/t/p to - (deleted)

Example:

Character ----- Táng ----- Japanese ----- Mandarin
一 ----- qit<sup>4</sup> ----- ichi ----- yī
五 ----- ngo<sup>2</sup> ----- go ----- wǔ
人 ----- njin<sup>1</sup> ----- nin ----- rén
中 ----- djiung<sup>1</sup> ----- chû ----- zhōng
了 ----- leu<sup>2</sup> ----- ryô ----- liǎo

Source: http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/ts/japanese/message/jpnDSBEQbxNDSAPe7pZ.html

Getting the Korean for these last few characters would be interesting.

And a question—I've read some sources that believe Ancient Chinese wasn't tonal, and that tones were actually 'imported' from surrounding (though unrelated) languages. Does that stand on safe grounds, or are just mere suppositions?
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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-06-18, 14:47

Oh, another page written by your favourite teacher Mr. Takasugi. ;)

Shinji Takasugi wrote:Japanese on-readings came from pronunciations of ancient 呉 (Wú, around the mouth of the Yangtze) and ancient 長安 (Cháng'ān, now called Xīān), not from modern Mandarin.


Yes, Japan and China had several diplomatic relations; and the writing system/ many characters were imported during the most peaceful periods. This is why I referred as Chinese borrowings having different sources, from the South ("pronunciations of ancient 呉") and from the North ("ancient 長安").

Takasugi wrote:Ancient Chinese to ancient Japanese:
h- to k-
q- to - (deleted)
ng- to g-
nj- to n-
l- to r-
-m to -n
-eng to -ei
-ng to -u
-it to -iti or -itu
-t to -tu
-ik to -iki or -iku
-k to -ku
-p to -pu


That's very interesting. :D Though not being a specialist, I know that "ng-" initial erroded in northern dialects of Chinese to nothing. For instance, "ngan" became "an" (it is still so in the South).
I could notice some of these by myself... Especially the obvious "-ik" to "-iki" or "-iku", "-k" to "-ku", as well as the less obvious "-ng" to "-u"...

Takasugi wrote:Ancient Chinese to modern Mandarin:
q- to - (deleted)
ng- to - (deleted)
nj- to r-
ki- to qi- or ji-
-m to -n
-k/t/p to - (deleted)


Oh, here is the "ng-" to "-". ;) I would like to add that, as I said in the previous post, the endings "-k/t/p" remain in many southern dialects (not standard Chinese, "Mandarin", that is).

Psi-Lord wrote:Getting the Korean for these last few characters would be interesting.


Ok, here you go:

Character ----- Táng ----- Japanese ----- Putonghua ----- Korean
一 ----- qit<sup>4</sup> ----- いち ----- yī ----- 일
五 ----- ngo<sup>2</sup> ----- ご ----- wǔ ----- 오
人 ----- njin<sup>1</sup> ----- にん ----- rén ----- 인
中 ----- djiung<sup>1</sup> ----- ちゅう ----- zhōng ----- 중
了 ----- leu<sup>2</sup> ----- りょう ----- liǎo ----- 료

Psi-Lord wrote:And a question—I've read some sources that believe Ancient Chinese wasn't tonal, and that tones were actually 'imported' from surrounding (though unrelated) languages. Does that stand on safe grounds, or are just mere suppositions?


That sounds hardly possible to me. Tones are probably (and they are, in northern dialects) remainings of endings which eroded through time... Yet when you think that Chinese used to be a monosyllabic language, this is hardly possible to have that many homophones; even if different pronunciations disappeared in northern dialects, the fact they remained in southern dialects tends to prove it impossible.

If you have other comments and links, I'd be glad to read them. :D
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Postby Psi-Lord » 2005-06-18, 17:41

JunMing wrote:Oh, another page written by your favourite teacher Mr. Takasugi. ;)

Heheh, I learnt a lot from him, especially when I started studying Japanese.

JunMing wrote:
Psi-Lord wrote:Getting the Korean for these last few characters would be interesting.

Ok, here you go:

Character ----- Táng ----- Japanese ----- Putonghua ----- Korean
一 ----- qit<sup>4</sup> ----- いち ----- yī ----- 일
五 ----- ngo<sup>2</sup> ----- ご ----- wǔ ----- 오
人 ----- njin<sup>1</sup> ----- にん ----- rén ----- 인
中 ----- djiung<sup>1</sup> ----- ちゅう ----- zhōng ----- 중
了 ----- leu<sup>2</sup> ----- りょう ----- liǎo ----- 료

Very, very interesting. Thanks.

JunMing wrote:
Psi-Lord wrote:And a question—I've read some sources that believe Ancient Chinese wasn't tonal, and that tones were actually 'imported' from surrounding (though unrelated) languages. Does that stand on safe grounds, or are just mere suppositions?

That sounds hardly possible to me. Tones are probably (and they are, in northern dialects) remainings of endings which eroded through time... Yet when you think that Chinese used to be a monosyllabic language, this is hardly possible to have that many homophones; even if different pronunciations disappeared in northern dialects, the fact they remained in southern dialects tends to prove it impossible.

There's a point I start mixing some names, but it seems that the language some argue to have been toneless was Old Chinese, and not Ancient Chinese (although I did think these were synonyms before rechecking e.g. the Wikipedia page on that, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Chinese)—some researchers seem to claim that Old Chinese had many consonant clusters and finals that were lost, and so tones only appeared when such distinguishing features started to disappear. But then, since that'd be a language spoken at least 500 or 1000 years before Christ, and given the nature of the Chinese writing system, I myself don't really believe it's possible to ever be totally sure on what it may've sounded like. It's not so different from Ancient Egyptian, in a way—one may work on tons of comparisons, and use logic, and all that, but it's not like I think we'll really ever know.

And if you want to laugh a bit (or just get pissed off, hehe), check http://www.wbschool.org/chinesecharacters.htm.
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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-06-18, 18:36

Psi-Lord wrote:There's a point I start mixing some names, but it seems that the language some argue to have been toneless was Old Chinese, and not Ancient Chinese (although I did think these were synonyms before rechecking e.g. the Wikipedia page on that, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Chinese)—some researchers seem to claim that Old Chinese had many consonant clusters and finals that were lost, and so tones only appeared when such distinguishing features started to disappear. But then, since that'd be a language spoken at least 500 or 1000 years before Christ, and given the nature of the Chinese writing system, I myself don't really believe it's possible to ever be totally sure on what it may've sounded like. It's not so different from Ancient Egyptian, in a way—one may work on tons of comparisons, and use logic, and all that, but it's not like I think we'll really ever know.


I never heard about such names in English, and now I open the link, I see that Classical Chinese is 古文/文言文 as I thought, and that Old Chinese is 上古汉语. I know absolutely nothing about Old Chinese except its name and that it is very old... Now I read the article about it on wikipedia, I see that there was nothing in Old Chinese that was preserved as such, but in Classical Chinese. And as "Ancient Chinese", the expression I used in the title, I meant nothing more than... ancient Chinese. ;) You can read Classical Chinese here, that expression came to my mind when I thought about 古文... Funny that in French I would immediately name it "Chinois classique"... :lol:

I will post other messages here soon; if you have any more resources, I invited you to post them. :)

An interesting reference:
Chinese Wikipedia article about 汉语音韵学 (and its English counterpart)
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Postby minus273 » 2005-06-22, 9:43

About 安, the ancient pronunciation is with 影(-) not 疑(ng-). The current Cantonese pronunciation is a back formation.
Oh... forgive my posting monolingually...
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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-06-22, 10:51

minus273 wrote:About 安, the ancient pronunciation is with 影(-) not 疑(ng-). The current Cantonese pronunciation is a back formation.


Ah... But when I was living in Sichuan (your province), I verified the pronunciation of several characters in the 四川方言词典 there was in the library (old dictionary printed in the 1970s), and it gave "ngan" for 安. Does that mean it is a back formation in Sichuan too, that I would have assumed to be a feature which remained from the ancient pronunciation?

I wouldn't know about Cantonese, I don't speak it...
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Postby minus273 » 2005-06-23, 12:51

http://www.eastling.org/tdfweb/midage.aspx

You see? The Middle Chinese initial is 影, a glottal stop.

compared with for example 岩, whose initial is 疑, a velar nasal.

Personally, I pronounce 安 as gan, g voiced. This is known as '鼻音塞化'(plosivation of nasals?)
Oh... forgive my posting monolingually...

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Postby 勺园之鬼 » 2005-06-23, 16:43

minus273 wrote:http://www.eastling.org/tdfweb/midage.aspx


Thanks a lot, that is exactly the sort of website I was looking for! :D

minus273 wrote:You see? The Middle Chinese initial is 影, a glottal stop.

compared with for example 岩, whose initial is 疑, a velar nasal.


I see, but expressions like "velar nasal" mean nothing to me yet. ;) I have to study some more phonology...

minus273 wrote:Personally, I pronounce 安 as gan, g voiced. This is known as '鼻音塞化'(plosivation of nasals?)


I wouldn't know if this is called "plosivation of nasals" (I trust you on that one), but I understand what "鼻音塞化" means... No relation, do you know many people who pronounce "安" "ngan" as it was written in this dictionary?
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