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(NPPLC) Chapter #10 - Environment, not Heredity

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This thread is for the discussion of chapter ten in A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese by Paul Rouzer.

Please keep in mind the ground rules posted in the first lesson's thread.

For general discussion and a schedule for the study group, please see the proposal thread.


Reading this story reminded me of the saying "There must be something in the water." / "Don't drink the water (there)." My father always says that... Anyways, I think Rouzer has done a great job selecting these texts: they are not only well-graded in difficulty, but they make me laugh. Sometimes that laugh only comes after three attempts to decipher the text spread out over two months... but still, fun stuff nonetheless.

I have one cultural question. Otherwise, as usual, I have a few syntax ponderables that I'll put on the table:

  1. Referring to Oneself using One's Own Name: In East Asia, it is common for one to refer to the second person using that person's name and/or title instead instead of the second-person pronoun. But in our text we see a twist on this phenomenon: Master Yan refers to himself using his own first name (嬰 Ying), saying "嬰聞之, ..." lit. Ying has heard this. -- Does anyone know what is going on here?
  2. 者 Construction: A few sentences end with 者(也) and I'm not quite able to parse them. Examples: (一)何為者也?(二)縛者曷為者也?(三)所以然者何?-- I think that the 也 is here a particle that both lends emphasis to the preceding question and acts as a sort of lexical punctuation mark. But as for 者, its role is not clear to me. Can someone parse these sentences, or otherwise shed some more light on the role of 者 here?
    In partial answer to my own question, I guess that in (三) the 者 acts as a nominalizer to bracket 所 (see 7.4). But as for (一) and (二), my best guess is that 者 is needed before 也, perhaps because 也 needs to govern a noun phrase in this case.
  3. Rhythmic Omission of 于: Consider: 橘生淮南則為橘,生于淮北則為枳. I like how the preposition 于 is used in the second phrase but omitted in the first, presumably to maintain a common rhythm between the two phrases. It would seem that the classical authors were more concerned with aesthetics than intelligibility, or at least that they were more aesthetically-minded than the writers I'm used to reading. Now, I am not at all annoyed by this; instead I'm intrigued by the questions it raises about the limits of Classical syntax, and I feel it adds to the enjoyment of reading the texts.
  4. Modifier Following the Head Noun: I was surprised to read "吏二縛一人詣王" (Two guards bound a man and approached the king). I would have expected "二吏...". I'm wondering why we see the modifier (which here is a quantifier) following the head noun. Is this another case of aesthetics? If so, what is the guiding principle? Or is this like the appositive quantifier common in Japanese narrative? (e.g. "女は、二人、..." Women, two [of them], ...). Is there some special connotation here?
    Another place we find this inversion is in the phrase 葉徒相似 (Only the leaves are similar (to each another). ). This is less striking to me, because we do it in English too: compare The leaves alone are alike. Still, it is important to know the correct dependency of 徒 here: When we parse as above, we prime our minds to hear something which is not similar about the two trees. If instead we interpreted 徒 as attaching to the verb phrase we would translate: The leaves are only similar, and we would be ready to read something more about the leaves. -- I suppose you could call this an interaction between sentence and discourse grammar, though I'm not too familiar with this field.

Has anyone else gotten time to work through this chapter? I'm curious to know what y'all found funny, puzzling, or intriguing.

Cheers and 加油,


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1. He is probably trying to formalize his speech or trying to make himself look or sound more important perhaps? Referring to

himself in the third person by actually stating his name. Instead of using "I". Just like sometimes Chinese people use “老子”

instead of "我“ to mean "I".

2.一)何为者也?What does this person do? 做什么的这人。

二)縛者曷為者也?The person who is bound, what did he do(why is it so...why has he become so)?

三) 所以然者何? The thing that created such a thing...was/is what? What was it that made it like this? What was it that

caused this to happen?

者 is like an objectifier. Makes the concept before it object or person. “者”在句中指代上面出现的那些情况。

3. Probably wanted to make it a neat pair of 7 Hanzi.

4. 吏二 = "公差两名" 。Guards, two of them, bound that one man and brought him before the king.

He wrote like this probably for literary effect rather than to follow certain rules of grammar.

if classical Chn had commas, then it probably would've been 吏,二(吏),縛一人詣王。

There's no reason in Classical Chn why modifiers cannot follow the head noun esp. in exceptions.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 year later...

Ah alas, navaburo, my questions are largely similar to yours, particularly 2 and 4, but particularly 2.  I'm really not linguistically inclined so I find this grammar heavy approach to learning quite taxing sometimes and these 者 and 也 uses, while sounding (and looking) pretty cool, are starting to get to me.  Initially I thought 何为者也 was bad, but then 所以然者何 had me completely fooled.


何为者也 Why is there a 为 in here?  If it was just 何者也 then I think I could come to terms with it.

所以然者也 I won't embarrass myself.


One problem I do have with this book is that I have no idea how the comprehensive glossary works.  I've used a Chinese dictionary before according to stroke numbers in radicals, but this doesn't seem to have the same system.  I had a difficult time with 坐 in this lesson but I couldn't find where it had come up earlier to see what extra meanings it had.  On the bright side, I was able to deduce that they definitely weren't talking about sitting down.  I guess it might be useful in future to invest in a Classical Chinese dictionary and get used to using that.


If I'm honest, while these lessons have been hugely useful, I am kind of glad that this "introductory" part of the book is over and we can now move on to focussing more on understanding longer texts.  I find grammar quite trying and I can't remember if it was in Rouzer or Fuller that I read it, but they commented that really the only way to get good is to read as much possible and become familiar with the patterns that come up.  I'm pretty confident that with enough exposure the meaning of something like 所以然者也 will become apparent without the need for a full grammatical analysis.  I'll probably try and go back over all the main points in the previous lessons, do the review and then march on into the rest of the book!

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  • 2 months later...

OK.  I've gone back over the main points from chapters 1-10 and I've done the review (I couldn't find a thread covering the review and starting a new one seems a little pointless).


I will now be pressing on with on average one chapter a week.  There are threads for the next three chapters already created from 2 years ago.  After that I guess it kind of died out a bit.  I am fairly determined to keep going until the end of the book, as long as it doesn't become too prohibitively difficult.  I will keep posting questions and translations as I progress.  So, if anybody is interested, and has access to the text, please drop by regularly to engage in some discussion (i.e. answer my questions).  Given the level of interest here seems to be fairly low, I'll probably add all lessons past #13 either at the end of the existing lesson 13 thread, or create a new thread called "NPPLC Lesson #14 and onwards" or something like that.  This will at least avoid clogging up the whole Classical Chinese subforum with one-post-threads mainly consisting of "Whats the deal 所 in this sentence?"

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I restarted the book on Monday! Want to zip back through the first 6 chapters fairly quickly. I'll let you know if I manage to catch up with you. Please do keep posting....

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Good to hear that realmayo.  Looks like there are a few people hanging around that are pretty interested so hurry up and join in!  Look forward to hearing from you.

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  • 1 year later...

I was a bit lost when I first looked at this translation but the exercises Rouzer has at the back I find are quite good for grasping the 語感. My biggest concern from here on out is whether I can remember/keep on feeling all this stuff as Rouzer starts to take off the training wheels.


The two biggest hurdles for me in this chapter were 坐 and 吏二.


I could not for the life of me work out what the "seat stealing" was about. I assumed it had something to do with ancient Chinese protocol (and my suspicions were strengthen by Rouzer talking about 避席). In the end I had to consult the translation. When I saw that 坐 meant "be tried" I couldn't believe it! In this lesson I looked up a lot of characters (as somethingfunny mentioned, a bit of a pain in the arse of a process) to see if there was a second meaning I had missed. But I didn't check 坐. I didn't suspect it could be anything other than sit!


With 吏二 I was thinking that 二 may have some kind of meaning like "again". When I checked the translation and saw it was "two servants" it quickly made sense to me. It's like 你这个人,他们俩 etc. Basic Mandarin pattern of pronoun + number. I think the problem was (I guess like with 坐) my Mandarin brain just refused to accept 二 could be used in place of 两 in Classical Chinese. I almost feel like someone approaching this text from another language may not have this difficulty - less Mandarin interference.


The original poster also mentioned they had trouble with 葉徒相似 because it was similar to 吏二. I didn't find this problematic. Seems like fairly idiomatic modern Chinese with the "topic" coming first: "The leaves, only they are similar"


Here's how I translated the difficult passages:


晏嬰, 齊之習辭者也 - I read as "Yanying is educated by Qi" - or more literally: Yanying (晏嬰) the person educated by Qi (齊之習辭者), is (也)


何以也? - I read as "how do I do this?" - or more literally "how is this (done)?, or even more literally: how (何以) is (也)?


何爲者也 - I read as "Why is this?" - or more literally "why is this like the way it is?", or even more literally: why (何為) nominalising the why (者) is (也)?


縛者曷爲者也 - I read as "For what reason has this person been tied up?", or literally 縛者 (that which is tied up) 曷爲 (why) 者 (nominalising everything before this "the fact that this person is tied up why"), 也 ("is (why)") - or "the tied up person is like this why?"


所以然者何 - "why is this?" or more literally - "the way it is so is why?"  - or 所以 (by means of this) 然 (is so) 者 (nominalising this phrase into "the way by which this is so") 何 (why)


I think my break-downs are a bit unclear. But I feel the meaning is fairly intuitive, even if somewhat difficult to render in English

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