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Transition to modern Chinese


subishii

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Hello, I have a question, if I may.

At what point, and at what rate (if at all) did 'modern' meanings of words start to creep into literary Chinese.

To be more specific, when I am looking up the characters and words in a 17th century text, how many of them are likely to have modern rather than older 'classical' meanings?

Any thoughts/input regarding this point would be greatly appreciated.

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How would a text written in the 17th century have words intended to have 21st century meaning?

I can't very well write something now intending it to have meaning of words 300 years from now, right?

Or are you thinking about the conundrum of constitutional interpretation where the meaning intended by the author may not necessarily be the meaning we apply today?

Do you have an example of the text?

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Kobo-Daishi

Dear all,

I think he means how were new words introduced with the introduction of new inventions, new placenames, concepts, etc.

Both Chinese things and non-Chinese.

Like eyeglasses, the railway, steam engines, photography, hot air balloons, the bicycle, the Americas, the United States, Mexico, Cuba, etc.

All of these were introduced to China when literary Chinese were still the norm so how were words for them introduced into writing.

I had been thinking the same thing because there is a "literary Chinese" edition of the Wikipedia online encyclopedia.

I was wondering how they account for modern inventions that weren't around when literary Chinese was the vogue?

Televisions, VCRs, DVDs, CDs, the Internet, modems, hard drives, flat screens, cable stations, microwaves, helicopters, personal computers, laptops, high-definition TVs, cell phones, iPods, iPads, netbooks, digital photography, fax machinese, etc.

I guess when new things were introduced they coined new words for them.

That's how historians are able to date literary pieces. Like if a placename didn't exist beyond a certain date or a fruit hadn't been introduced from Persia before such a time, and so on.

That's why I don't get the "literary Chinese" edition of Wikipedia.

Even if Confucius were resurrected he wouldn't be able to read it. I don't see the point of it.

Is it there for it's whimsical nature?

Like the Klingon version?

History of the Klingon Wikipedia

It's like the various Chinese dialect (regionalect) versions. Most of them only have a few hundred entries and are not used by native speakers since native speakers of the dialects are able to read modern standard Chinese.

The only one that seems to have a sizeable number of entries is the Cantonese one but how many Cantonese actually visit the Cantonese version versus the regular Chinese editions or any of the various Netizen edited mainland China online encyclopedias.

Kobo-Daishi, PLLA.

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Kobo-Daishi

Dear Gato,

Gato wrote:

Are you sure you are not jumping to conclusions there, Kobo-Daishi, PLLA?

XXXXX

Jumping to conclusions about what?

The Klingon version?

The Classical Chinese version? It turns out they call it the "Classical Chinese" edition rather than "Literary Chinese".

The Cantonese version?

Do you really think that a Cantonese speaker able to read modern standard Chinese would rather visit the Cantonese edition of the Wikipedia than the standard Chinese one or Hudong or Baidu's Baike??

An edition that has far fewer entries and where most of the entries are but mere "stubs"?

Wikipedias ordered by language based on number of article entries

English and German have the most articles with 3,368,292 articles for English and 1,102,145 entries in German.

Chinese (the modern standard one), is 12th with 318,207 entries.

The highest Chinese dialect (regionalect, language, what have you other than Mandarin) is Cantonese which is 84th with 14,271 entries. Not even 5% the number of entries in the standard Chinese edition.

That's less than Esperanto (#23 with 132,545 articles), Simple English (#40 with 63,081 articles), Basque (#45 with 57,906 articles), Latin (#50 with 43,384 articles), Welsh (#64 with 28,134 articles).

A Cantonese speaker would choose an encyclopedia with less entries than Simple English rather than a standard Chinese one? :blink:

Cantonese may have more entries than Irish (#93 with 11,247 articles), Scottish Gaelic (#101 with 7,923 articles) and Yiddish (#102 with 7,806) entries but what of the other Chinese dialects or languages?

Min Nan (#105 with 7,317 articles), Gan (#119 with 5,527 articles), Wu (#143 with 2,903 articles), Classical Chinese (#156 with 2,362 articles), Hakka (#164 with 1,991 articles), and Min Dong (#231 with 272 articles).

Anglo-Saxon (#160 with 2,228 articles) has more entries than Hakka.

I'm sure a Hakka speaker is going for the Hakka edition with 1,991 entries. :blink:

Sure, I'm jumping to conclusions but they're based on logic and sound reasoning.

Kobo-Daishi, PLLA.

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Hi guys,

Sorry, I should clarify. I have, for example, a dictionary of 'Classical Chinese', the 古漢語常用字字典. Now, I assume this dictionary can be used to translate, for example, texts from circa 3rd century BCE. The text I am reading, the 太乙金華宗旨 is from the circa 17th century, 2000 years later. The vernacular language changed a great deal over this time, including the meanings attributed to certain characters. Hence, the difference between the modern spoken language and 'Classical Chinese'. While the 太乙金華宗旨 uses the pro forma of 'Literary Chinese', I'm wondering if perhaps what the author understood certain characters to mean may not have been different from what the same characters meant 2000 years earlier.

One example I've come across so far is the following:

。。。靜坐一二時。。。

This could be translated as 'sit quietly for one or two hours', and that would make sense in the context, but to my knowledge the 'hour' system is a western invention and in 'Classical Chinese' 時 has a more abstract meaning. Perhaps this is a bad example because the author may just have meant one or two periods of time in whatever sense they understood it, but you get my drift.

Another example is 是. In 'Classical Chinese', again to my limited knowledge, 是 means 'this', etc. and NOT 'is'. However, over time, has the usage of 是 for 'is' gradually crept into 'Literary Chinese'?

I guess my point is, obviously the written language changed over time. In such a late text, to what extent should I be considering modern usages of characters as possible intended meanings (I mean meanings that existed three hundred years ago but not 2000 years ago), or should I just stick with my 'Classical Chinese' dictionary and assume that the author of the 太乙金華宗旨 stayed true to the 2000 year old meanings and didn't let any 'modern' vernacular creep in?

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jbradfor

I have a related question.

When was the last "old-style" Classical Chinese text written?

I'm sure I'm using the terminology wrong, but what I mean by that is all the old Philosophical / Religious Chinese classics (e.g. Kongzi, Laozi, Zhuangzi) are written in a very specific style of Classical Chinese.

If you look at the "later classics", e.g. 红楼梦, 西游记, while they are obviously not written in 白话, the writing style is much different than the older classics, and closer to 白话.

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jbradfor

Not to me!

What I mean by this is that if you read 红楼梦 or 西游记 out loud, it's pretty clear (I think) that people do not talk like this. It's still denser than 白话, with the primary use of single-character words (as opposed to double-character words more common in 白话), the dropping of subjects and objects, and a freer interchange of nouns and verbs. They also make heavier use of literary allusions.

Maybe I'm using the term 白话 wrong, but 红楼梦 and 西游记 seem to me more like a "middle ground" between 古文 and 白话.

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I guess my point is, obviously the written language changed over time. In such a late text, to what extent should I be considering modern usages of characters as possible intended meanings (I mean meanings that existed three hundred years ago but not 2000 years ago), or should I just stick with my 'Classical Chinese' dictionary and assume that the author of the 太乙金華宗旨 stayed true to the 2000 year old meanings and didn't let any 'modern' vernacular creep in?

I see. By "modern", you mean 17th century usage as opposed to 200 B.C. usage. You are right, of course. Text written in the 17th century won't strictly follow usage from 2000 years ago, but I don't think there is any hard-and-fast rule that you can follow to determine which meaning they are using. You can just have to figure it out by context, I am afraid.

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skylee

My personal definition of whether something was written in 白話 is quite simple (and personal of course) - if it is prose, and is old and I can still understand it without reading a lot of footnotes and remarks than 90% it is 白話. :P

This is not (though it fits my criteria).

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jbradfor

Thanks gato. That thread ended about 7 months before I joined CFC, so I don't feel too bad for missing it. B)

FWIW, wikipedia claims that Sinologists distinguish between 古文 and 文言文. To me, that's a reasonable distinction. And I think it answers my question, that 古文 (what I called "old-style" classical Chinese) was used only up to the end of the Han Dynasty.

if it is prose, and is old and I can still understand it without reading a lot of footnotes and remarks than 90% it is 白話.

While that is a reasonable definition, keep in mind that I'm pretty sure you have been taught some classical Chinese in school, as every educated native Chinese speaker is. IMHO, the real test for 白話 is whether someone that has learned only modern Chinese can understand a text....

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I support Skylee, 红楼梦 and 西游记 were written in 白话, although the way people talked is not exactly the same as now days. Inside China, even people from different areas talk differently.

I think, a literature is 白话 or not, depends on the sentence structure, the grammer, and the words that the book used. 红楼梦和西游记 are of course 白话,because readers do not need any 文言文 knowledge to understand over 90% or 95% of the novels.

For a 白话 text, any middle school education Chinese can understand it after studying Chinese, not necessary to study Chinese 文言文. But, if it is written in 文言文,not 白话,most students may not understand the text even he or she can pronounce all the words because the grammer and the meaning of the words are so different from the current day-to-day talk Chinese.

Also, Chinese students do have 文言文 class in middle school and high school, but that knowledge is very limited. Even me, who love literature and love to read novels, reading 文言 资治通鉴 is not easy. But reading 红楼梦 or 西游记,I did that when I was in primary school, without too much difficulty at all, as long as I could look up the dictionary to solve the new words.

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Also, interestingly, 文言文 has some special grammer, like no measurement words, for example:

文言文:一桌,一椅,一尺

白话: 一张桌子,一张椅子,一把尺子

文言文(倒装):古之人不余欺也!顺序应为:古之人不欺余也!

白话:古代人没有骗我呀!

In fact, 红楼梦 is more like morden Chinese than 西游记 is. 西游记 still has some 文言 usage,but 红楼梦,almost not.

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While that is a reasonable definition, keep in mind that I'm pretty sure you have been taught some classical Chinese in school, as every educated native Chinese speaker is. IMHO, the real test for 白話 is whether someone that has learned only modern Chinese can understand a text....

Taking myself as the test subject then, 红楼梦 is definitely 白话. There are a couple of archaic usages to become accustomed to, and I resigned myself to not fully appreciating all of the poems, but this book is really not that hard.

Check out this Chinese Text Sampler that David Porter of the University of Michigan has put up (I think it was first posted by Renzhe) - http://www-personal.umich.edu/~dporter/sampler/sampler.html. Interestingly, he gives difficulty ratings to different types of writing. He rates the 红楼梦 as easier than, for example, a Jin Yong Wuxia novel, a Zhang Ailing short story and the script from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - all written in the 20th century (although there are some disclaimers). This is only one academic's opinion of course, but my experience was also that after I had struggled through the first few chapters and got used to the style, the rest of 红楼梦 wasn't harder than a densely written modern novel (except for the fact that it was so looong).

One example I've come across so far is the following:

。。。靜坐一二時。。。

This could be translated as 'sit quietly for one or two hours', and that would make sense in the context, but to my knowledge the 'hour' system is a western invention and in 'Classical Chinese' 時 has a more abstract meaning. Perhaps this is a bad example because the author may just have meant one or two periods of time in whatever sense they understood it, but you get my drift.

My understanding is that the old Chinese system of time was pretty clear in the way it divided the day into 12 parts and that is why the Chinese word for "hour" is not 时 but is 小时. So I think the above should be translated as 'sit quietly for two to four hours'. If you want to avoid using the modern word "hours", I think some translators would say something like 'sit quietly for one or two watches' instead.

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Hey guys,

Just wanted to say thanks for the replies!

I will persevere and keep in mind the possibility of 'later' meanings being intended for certain characters.

No doubt I will be back with more questions soon. :P

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jbradfor

skylee or Jane_PA, could you point me to some writings written during the Ming or Qing dynasties that you would consider written in Classical Chinese?

I'm curious how they compare in style to the ancient 古文 texts and to the 四大名著.

[skylee, I saw your link in post #12; would that be an example?]

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skylee

You can find some short essays in section 3 of this paper (with annotations) -> 明清散文選

I consider the letter at #12 文白夾雜. I like the letter not because of its writing.

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