Classical Chinese?

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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Yeleixingfeng
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Classical Chinese?

Post by Yeleixingfeng » Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:11 pm

Btw, I noticed something interesting from that senile(>.<) professor, 60++. Something I think many of you would have noticed too.

When he read passages aloud, he didn't read word by word. Instead, he made it more colloquial, adding 的 here and there, (even if they were clearly unnecessary) while translating whole chunks of Classical Chinese into Ver. (We have classical Chinese in modern texts too, right?) For example, he read 拜天為父, 拜地為母 as 祭拜天為父親, 祭拜地為母親.

Perhaps this was generally how the older generation read things aloud, and probably in their brain too - should I venture to speculate - a trait inherited from the previous generations who read directly from Classical Chinese. So, maybe that was how SimL's mother read from passages in Hokkien, and how my maternal grandfather read from the newspaper in Hainanese. My mother could clearly understand my grandfather reading, though as seen in newspapers then from the link (sorry, I forgot who provided it) news then were written in pure classical Chinese.
My mother is the second-last daughter in her family, and she has 10 brothers and sisters in total. Her father was a direct immigrant from China. So, I am guessing my grandfather would be in school 80 years ago.
The fact that my mother, a Mand-educated yet verbally Hainanese fluent, could understand my grandfather means that my grandfather read classical Chinese in the colloquial register, habitually. My mother never did see the connection between Hanji and Hainanese, ie. tok was never 做 in her mind.
Makes sense, eh?
This means, that Classical Chinese was never meant to be read word-by-word; Classical Chinese is a silent language. This could be further substantiated by how the official language in China throughout the dynasties never prosper in Japan, but only the technical terms. Japan probably adopted the Chinese way of reading Classical Chinese. In Hanbun, since only the grammatical sequence differs from Classical Chinese, the words were re-numbered in the Japanese order, and then the overall meaning is understood.
Refer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanbun

My stating this, is both to discuss the role of Classical Chinese then, and also the possibility of Classical Chinese being the official written script for Hokkien.
siamiwako
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by siamiwako » Tue Jul 05, 2011 9:58 pm

I was told that Buddhist texts written in classic Chinese were actually colloquial during the T'ang dynasty to make it easier for commoners to read and understand.
e.g.
* 於汝意云何? 彼佛何故號阿彌陀?
* 彼佛光明無量,照十方國,無所障礙,是故號為阿彌陀。
SimL
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by SimL » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:35 pm

Yeleixingfeng wrote:This means, that Classical Chinese was never meant to be read word-by-word; Classical Chinese is a silent language.
As I understand it, it might have been comprehensible in its spoken form in the very early stages of Chinese (e.g. when Confucius was actually alive). In the course of time consonant clusters, some/many post-vocalic nasals, and post-vocalic stops were lost (though this last not in many Southern forms, as we all know). This made many syllables into homonyms, and hence required the introduction of the 2-syllable ci2yu3, in order to help the listener know which zi4 was intended by the speaker.

I've read the assertion in a number of articles now that poetry in Classical Chinese is quite incomprehensible when you hear it read out loud, but still (obviously) quite comprehensible when you see it written in characters. Of course, once you have seen a poem in its character form, then if you hear it again, you'll probably know what it's saying, without seeing the characters again.
Ah-bin
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Ah-bin » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:51 pm

What I have read is that there is a hypothesis that Classical Chinese was written in short sentences a bit different from people's ordinary spoken language in order to aid memorisation, so it was like a kind of shorthand. This was from Endymion Wilkinson's "Chinese History, A Manual"
SimL
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by SimL » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:57 pm

siamiwako wrote:I was told that Buddhist texts written in classic Chinese were actually colloquial during the T'ang dynasty to make it easier for commoners to read and understand.
I recall reading something similar a while back. There is an interesting parallel with POJ instead of characters, for spreading Christianity in Southern China in the 19th and early 20th century.

My theory is that in any established society, there are mechanisms in place for preserving the status quo. One of these mechanisms in the past was the form "Classical Chinese", which was far removed from daily speech, and hence difficult to master. Another of these was the Chinese character script, which itself (even in its vernacular form) took many years of effort to master*. When a group of people wanted to introduce a new religion to the country, they wanted to reach the "common people" so they used forms of the written language which would be more accessible. So, for the spread of Buddhism, they used colloquial Tang speech rather than Classical Chinese**, and for the spread of Christianity, they used POJ instead of characters.

Another parallel to these is the use of (the embryonic forms of) English, German, Dutch instead of Latin, for the spread of Protestantism in North Western Europe.

Notes:

*: preserving the status quo. I'm not trying to imply that the preservation of status quo was necessarily an "evil plot" by the landed gentry or official mandarin class or anything like that. It could just as much be just a "natural process", where all segments of society respect and admire Classical Chinese instead of colloquial Chinese (respectively characters instead of POJ).

**: I'm aware that Buddhism was introduced to China before the Tang (from memory, in the Han, but perhaps even earlier), but I'm just sticking to "Tang", as mentioned by siamiwako, also because I'm aware that this was a period when Buddhism particularly started to flourish in China. The colloquial texts mentioned above are both a cause and a result of this blossoming.

---

PS. I should add a qualification that despite this particular "take" I have on the situation of Classical Chinese vs colloquial Chinese, traditional characters vs POJ, (and, for that matter traditional characters vs simplified characters), I'm not against the first member of each of the pairs. I highly admire Classical Chinese (even though I don't know any - I like is as a concept!), and I like traditional characters. In fact, I like them all, including simplified characters (as mentioned in earlier postings) and POJ. I think they all have a role to play in the whole complex which is "culture and history".
siamiwako
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by siamiwako » Tue Jul 05, 2011 11:12 pm

SimL wrote: **: I'm aware that Buddhism was introduced to China before the Tang (from memory, in the Han, but perhaps even earlier)
I agree with you on this as current history texts suggest.
Ah-bin
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Ah-bin » Wed Jul 06, 2011 2:29 am

This means, that Classical Chinese was never meant to be read word-by-word; Classical Chinese is a silent language. This could be further substantiated by how the official language in China throughout the dynasties never prosper in Japan, but only the technical terms. Japan probably adopted the Chinese way of reading Classical Chinese. In Hanbun, since only the grammatical sequence differs from Classical Chinese, the words were re-numbered in the Japanese order, and then the overall meaning is understood.
I didn't even read the first post here properly, but now I have I need to respond by saying that some of this is inaccurate. Kanbun 漢文 means "Classical Chinese" and "kundoku" 訓讀 means readingit off in the Japanese semi-translation style. This style of reading developed after the introduction of reading Kanbun texts, and is not used in reading Buddhist Sutras aloud. These are read word by word in their Chinese order with their "Chinese" pronunciation. The whole kun 訓thing was actually invented by Koreans before it got to Japan, and it started with learning a character (水) , its sound (su) and its hun 訓 (mul). Hun/kun originally meant "explanation".

Children in Japan used to read aloud by chanting the Analects in Kundoku, the chanting aloud of texts to memorise them was the main way of becoming educated in pre-modern East Asia.

Also, the whole name "Classical Chinese" is over-simplistic. It refers to several different things, one is the old language of the Classics (the Four Books and Five Classics), another is the various old semi-vernacular writings of the T'ang and before that diverged from the Classical model, and the other is the reconstructed language created by the 古文 enthusiasts during the late T'ang and Sung. It wasn't just the Buddhists who started using colloquial style to write during the T'ang, but the 古文 people like 歐陽修 and 韓愈 were not fond of Buddhism and felt they were returning to something really Chinese by writing in this artificial old style.
Mark Yong
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Mark Yong » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:35 pm

Yeleixingfeng wrote:
Classical Chinese is a silent language.
From what I read, not entirely true. In Edwin G. Pulleyblank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar, he mentions that Classical Chinese* as it we know it today is based on what was then the spoken language of LO. That said, that form of speech evolved fairly quickly.
Yeleixingfeng wrote:
...the possibility of Classical Chinese being the official written script for Hokkien.
Ooh, I love it when you talk dirty. :mrgreen:

Being a proponent of Literary Chinese*, I personally support the idea. One advantage is that Literary Chinese* lexicon is likely to retain many archaisms still prevalent in Hokkien but no longer in the other dialects. One thing I like about Literary Chinese* is that it has a rich stock of words that no one dialect group can claim to ‘own’. I like the example of liam for ‘inexpensive’ - as far as I am aware, none of the dialects today use it in speech, which therefore levels the playing field.

However, not everyone may share those view. As a language, opponents may argue that from a grammatical standpoint, Literary Chinese* is much harder to learn, and link to Hokkien. To cite a simple example of the grammatical disjoint, the copulas and exist in practically all the vernaculars, but not Literary Chinese (which uses the structure <subject> <predicate> instead of <subject> <predicate>).

That said, my opinion is that Hokkien has a genetic link with Literary Chinese* in the way that Mandarin does not, makes for a case to support this.

* To be pedantic about it, one should make the distinction between 古文 Classical Chinese, (i.e. specifically the form of writing between 周 Ciu and 漢 Han, as exemplified by the 春秋 Spring and Autumn Annals and the 四書 Four Books) and 文言文 Literary Chinese (i.e. the written language based on - but not identical to - Classical Chinese, that prevailed as the standard all the way till the end of the 清朝 Cheng Tiau, and had some minor degrees of vernacular intrusions along the way).
Yeleixingfeng
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Yeleixingfeng » Wed Jul 06, 2011 6:46 pm

First, I must apologize for the factual error. My exposure to Classical Chinese was mostly informal, and so strangely enough I never doubted my view on Classical Chinese to check my proofs before posting it. >.<

Nonetheless I know Classical Chinese was originally a spoken language, and Confucius actually spoke word-by-word as recorded in their analects. Though I doubt just because Confucius was born in 魯 so Classical Chinese was based on the vernacular there - But I have no proofs, so I will shut up. Haha.

And, in respect to Mark's clarification of the two differing definitions of Classical Chinese, I was talking about 古文, which grammar I think is far simpler than 文言, and honestly, very close to contemporary English grammar. All, my humble observation.

The following is a mere hypothesis yet to be proven.

是(昰) is a pictograph of a sun, 一 and 止 - correct. {正 itself consists of 止 and 一. 一 is the target of destination (originally written as a 口 which is 丁 - a nail.) The foot going towards the destination, is metaphor-ed to being correct, and through time, righteous.} In the earlier fonts, the nail was tagged on the sun, thus meaning to aim to reach the sun. As the sun is perceived as all things yang, the whole pictograph ultimately means something that is righteous.
Since yin-yang was a relatively new concept as compared to the history of Hanji, the character emerged only during Bronze (not Oracle)
For its various fonts: http://www.zdic.net/zd/zi/ZdicE6ZdicADZdicA3.htm
Chineseetymology is good reference too.
That was how it started out. Then, it was reduced to be a metonymy for things/(later)statements righteous. (See the subtle difference between 是而 and 然而. 是而 connotes that the previous statement is correct, but so is the following statement. 然而 does not give the same confirmation to the previous statement. I think the distinction blurred later on.) Then, 是 was further reduced to be a common pronoun for any statements. Then - I think it occurred only verbally - 是 was further reduced to a tag, similar to the wa/nga in Jap, to stress on preceding word as the subject of the sentence.
乃 is another completely different story.

Anyway, I see it as a flow. Or at least, I try to see, should the above be pure bullshit. >.< Even if it is not true, it certainly does help in remembering the various functions of 是.

Classical Chinese grammar is actually very easy, as there are a lot of steadfast rules to follow. Or, we can make a lot of steadfast rules to follow.I personally write many Classical Chinese (following imagined but nonetheless helpful grammar rules) - I think it can actually work. Just don't treat it as Hokkien; treat it as another language.
Yeleixingfeng
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Yeleixingfeng » Fri Jul 22, 2011 1:06 am

Huh? What is so hard to understand?
SimL
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by SimL » Fri Jul 22, 2011 9:58 pm

Hi Yeleixingfeng,

Don't bother to respond! It's just another stupid spammer.

I've been on vacation for 2 weeks. I'll be back posting properly again next week.
hokkien_learner
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by hokkien_learner » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:11 pm

As a person come from Chinese family. I dont really like to questioning or criticsing about our own ancestor's language :|
amhoanna
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by amhoanna » Tue Oct 11, 2011 6:58 pm

陳雲:文言難, 白話也不易——讀張中行《文言和白話》有感
http://commentshk.blogspot.com/2011/10/ ... _4351.html
Yeleixingfeng
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Re: Classical Chinese?

Post by Yeleixingfeng » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:47 am

I read many of 陳雲's books too!!
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