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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


The Interpretation of the Vocalic h in the Menggu Ziyun─New approaches to an old problem

Vol. 32 No. 4   12/2001  


The Interpretation of the Vocalic h in the Menggu ZiyunNew approaches to an old problem


Zhongewei Shen









Key words

vocalic h, hP’ags-pa script, Yuan phonology, Menggu Ziyun


   The phonetic values of the vocalic h have interested hP’ags-pa scholars for decades but still remain controversial. The new approaches taken in this study are based on our view that the phonetic values of the hP’ags-pa spelling should be interpreted according to the surface values of the Chinese syllables instead of their underlying of reconstructed values. With such a shift in the basic understanding, acoustic phonetics, which is largely ignored by the Yuan phonologists, should play a crucial role in the interpretation of the hP’ags-pa spelling.

In the first part, for the purpose of convenience, we show the phonological environments in which the vocalic h appears and summarize various interpretations proposed so far. In the second part, we discuss some critical issues involved in the interpretations. We point out that the invention of the hP’ags-pa script was basically a linguistic interaction between Chinese and Tibertan. Thus we focus on the differenct between the Chinese phonetic forms and forms perceived by the inventors of the hP’ags-pa alphabet. In the third part, from different approaches, we offer new evidence for determining the phonetic value of the vocalic h. In part four, from a phonetic point of view we explain the deletion of the vocalic h after guttural fricatives. We also explain a peculiar phenomenon in the MGZY, which is why some MC division-I syllables appear along with the MC division-III syllables.

    In this paper we suggest a unified solution for the various usages of the vocalic h. Like letter Ц letter h actually is just a modifying feature on the following vowel. Its phonetic value is [-front], which changes [i] to a central vowel [Ï] and [a] to a back [α].



Author: Zhongewei Shen
Genre: Article
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