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Old Chinese morphology


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Don_Horhe

Chinese language back then sounded quite different from what you can hear today, so the homophony wouldn't be such an issue as it is now. Furthermore, it is the literary language that we study today and which makes us wonder, just like a foreign student of English would ask himself "do they really speak like that" when reading an academic paper on, let's say, philosophy.

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I know, I know, it was tongue-in-cheek... However, we will never completely know how it worked, because the best we can confidently reconstruct the sounds for are for Middle Chinese. Chances are that Ancient Chinese had much more stuff going on in terms of endings and so forth. Would be exciting to go back in time and see how they really spoke...

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Well, fortunately there's been a lot of progress in that field, with recent publications such as Laurent Sagart Sagart (1999)'s The Roots of Old Chinese...it's certainly not been fully reconstructed yet, but if you're interested in Old Chinese morphology, I'd suggest you give that book a go. It makes for fascinating reading.

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I know Sagart's work (and have heard him speak at a Chinese linguistics conference when I was an undergrad), and it's certainly an important work. But the fact remains we don't have certainty once we leave the comfort zone of Middle Chinese.

Right now the consensus seems to be that there were morphological suffixes in Archaic Chinese, Baxter talks about them as well.

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  • 5 months later...

We touched on this subject in our Chinese linguistics class here last week. And apparently it's commonly accepted here that while Old Tibetan definitely had morphological affixes, Old Chinese did not have any. Because Sinitic languages "have no morphology", so that's settled then. Which makes me wonder: has anyone read any good books in Chinese on the morphological system of Old Chinese? If yes, could you provide publication details? Back when I did a lot of reading on this, my Mandarin wasn't up to scratch yet (it still isn't, but it's getting better), so I only read Sagart, Baxter, Pulleyblank, Maspero, etc.

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This would depend on your definition of Old Chinese, wouldn't it. Well I know that a lot of Western linguists are biased against Chinese philologists (maybe against philologists in general :mrgreen: ), so I couldn't tell you what they thought, but they must have some way of explaining pairs such as 好 hao3 hao4, 治 chi2 zhi4 and so forth. Even if they don't assume suffixes, it's still morphology if they concede some kind of systematic/productive relationship.

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That's exactly what I was thinking about, yeah. I do have some related books here (amongst others, 王力's 漢語史稿), but I was wondering if anyone happened to have read more on this in Chinese. And yeah, I should have defined Old Chinese in my previous post: it's generally used by Baxter, Sagart etc to describe the language of the Shijing, the Zhou dynasty bronze vessels and the Shujing, although there has been considerable discussion lately on the dating of the Shijing to that era. The most recent work on the subject is Dobson's work from the 1960's, but several people have been taking issue with his assertion that those works were compiled in the same language. I can't find the related article from the Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (2002) online, sadly, but it's an interesting debate.

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Since Fuller doesn't really talk about Old Chinese morphology, I thought it'd be nicer to create a new thread for this.

Oh yes, Daan, talking about Chinese scholars, have you heard about 龔煌城? I took a short course with him once. Mainly he talked about phonology, but you could check out his articles...

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