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markhavemann

於 and 于

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markhavemann

I've started working through 王力‘s 古代汉语 and I've noticed that I both 於 and 于 occur in the texts. Originally I thought that 于 was just the simplified form of 於, but obviously they both existed before, and were "merged" into 于 in simplified characters. 

 

I have only worked through a few texts but it seems to me in the texts that I've read that 于 is maybe (almost) only a place marker (在) while 於 can have basically the same function but is also more versatile? 

 

In 王力‘s 古代汉语常识 it says that they are used interchangeably but it kind of seems strange that they would both be used in the same text, and there must be some underlying reason (I'm taking the first text in the book, 郑伯克段于鄢, as an example) .

 

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Luxi

Good question @markhavemann.

 

There's some literature on this showing up in Baidu searches. I haven't got much time now, but this article may help a bit 

汉字“于”和“於”的用法 (360doc.com)

 

There's even an article by Pulleyblank quoted here:

The Locative Particles Yü 于, Yü ft, and Hu 乎 - 百度学术 (baidu.com)

I can't find the actual article but will check later to see if he goes into this question in his Grammar.*

 

The 'Students Dict of Classical Medieval Chinese' in Pleco says that  於 and 于 become synonyms from Warring States period but were different before, but I can't see any explanation or examples after a quick search. 

 

ETA: Pulleyblank page 53 makes it brilliantly clear(-ish). Probably 50% disagree and 30% shake their heads, but I love simple explanations. I'll add a summary later unless someone beats me to it.

 

Brief and very incomplete extract from Pulleyblank (1995) "Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar" p.53-55. Co-verbs of place 于 於 (he also discusses 乎 in the same section).
 

于: go, to, at.

A co-verb (follows main verb) or a verbal auxiliary before other verbs of motion, indicating inceptive or continuative aspects. Occasionally also found in time expressions (as in 于今). Pulleyblank lists several examples demonstrating quite a variety of meanings and uses in different texts.

 

於: in, at, to, from, than, etc.

Original function: a verb meaning  'to be in', 'to be at', without implication of motion.

 

According to Pulleyblank, they start being treated as synonyms during Warring States but this was gradual, and not 100% complete, both treatments coexist although the initial separation becomes rare with time (an example of older use at a later time is the 史记). Pronunciation was quite different and apparently these characters didn't become homophones until modern times.

 

There's quite a bit more than this in the Grammar, more uses and some interesting examples, but I hope this helps to give some idea. I think the book is out of print and may be hard to find now, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the odd pdf floating about on the WWW. Scribd used to be a place to look for these things.

 

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Michaelyus
5 hours ago, Luxi said:

Pronunciation was quite different and apparently these characters didn't become homophones until modern times.

 

Indeed! Even as late as the Tang dynasty rime tables, 于 had 羽俱切, with 羽 being a voiced initial, hence reconstructed */ɦɨo/. 

Meanwhile 於 was 央居切, unvoiced (possibly just the null initial), reconstructed as */ʔɨʌ/ by Zhenzhang. 

 

The distinction is still (weakly) preserved in Standard Cantonese tones, with 于 being (Jyutping) jyu4 and 於 being jyu1, but with the rarity of 于 overall, the distinction is now moribund, being merged into jyu1.

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markhavemann
10 hours ago, Luxi said:

ETA: Pulleyblank page 53 makes it brilliantly clear.

This seems to answer it in a way that makes sense with what I've read and noticed myself so far. Here are the extracts from Pulleyblank for anyone who stumbles on this in the future: 

clipImage_18092020073558.thumb.png.214986b919b48265c5792a47694af981.pngclipImage_18092020073615.thumb.png.0adbeefc0ce99b1928b491e7720ebcd5.png

 

 

4 hours ago, Michaelyus said:

The distinction is still (weakly) preserved in Standard Cantonese tones, with 于 being (Jyutping) jyu4 and 於 being jyu1, but with the rarity of 于 overall, the distinction is now moribund, being merged into jyu1.

Interesting, this answers my next question: if they are both present in modern Chinese in the "unsimplified" world and if there is any difference. 

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Luxi
8 hours ago, markhavemann said:

my next question: if they are both present in modern Chinese in the "unsimplified" world and if there is any difference

 

On 9/17/2020 at 9:33 AM, Kenny同志 said:

萌典 is your friend. 🙂

 

Your friend, the MOE dictionary, acknowledges the difference and in the primary difference agrees with Pulleyblank:

 

在。給。向。對。到、至。從、由。被,置動詞之後,表示被動。為、為了。比 ,置形容詞之後,表示比較。 和、與、跟。與、和,表示並列。依靠。位於句首  ...
 
去、往。取。在。以、用。對、對於。至、到。依照。為了。和、與。用句首或 句中,無義。用句尾,表示疑問的語氣。姓。如明代有于謙。表示感嘆的意思。
 
Funny the dict listing uses both characters but the explanation doesn't, yet nothing against modern unsimplified texts may use both characters if clarity demands. 
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