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


On Several Phonological Processes Found in Qing Xun gu Studies

Vol. 24 No. 1   6/1994  


On Several Phonological Processes Found in Qing Xungu Studies


Kuang Mei









Key words

Historical semantics, proto-Chinese, Archaic Chinese phonology


     Qing dynasty scholars of the Qianlong and Jiaqing periods contributed important philological studies of ancient texts, and have left us a wealth of material that provided invaluable clues for present-day sinologists working on Archaic Chinese. This paper presents two concrete examples to illustrate this point.

    Sarting from the concept of zhuan or turning relationships developed by Qing scholars, using six cognate doublets we made an investigation of the direction of the development of the bikou or labial-closing rhyming group and the phenomenon of dialectal differentiation in the Chinese language of early stages, with the following main findings:

1.Features of Dialect Differentiation(i)Lowering of Central Vowel: ә>a/ [+labial](ii)Nasal/non-nasal Pairing: -m~-b(p); -n~-r(iii)Labial/dental Pairing: -m~-n

2.Loss of Final Labials –b and –p:(i)First wave: -b>-gw;(ii)Second wave: -p(b)>-t(d)/_s

    The chronological order of the changes in (2) is established by the method of internal reconstruction; by the same method we also infer that dialectal differences as shown in (1) could have existed as early as the for mation of the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. These findings revealed by the six cognate doublets are amply supported by documentary evidence.

   Qing scholars have collected a great many cases involving interchange in the use ofxuci (so-called empty words). In the past most people treated them as if they were instances of synonymy. In effect, however, this is only a special case of phonetic borrowing which can be explained on the basis of the special phonetic properties of xuci. The unstressed nature of xuci makes it possible for axuci

to become homophonous with another one through mechanisms of phonetic modulation such as reduction and assimilation. Sound alternation due to weakening is commonly found in unstressed syllables of Modern Chinese as well as Tibeto-Burman languages. What we know of Archaic Chinese phonology would indicate that similar conditions prevailed.

    In conclusion, the paper touches on several related topics, pointing out that (1) doublets have special value in the reconstruction of proto Chinese; (2) study of proto-Chinese offers a new direction in the study of historical semantics; (3) the ancient Chinese often used written characters for their phonetic values only; for this reason, ancient texts abound in faithful records of the living language of the times.



Author: Kuang Mei
Genre: Article
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