Yin & Yáng
and the I Ching

In India the theory of the three elements in the Chândogya Upanishad led to the theory of the three forces, the gun.as, and to the later theory of five elements. In China, the theory of five elements coexisted early with the theory of two forces: and . These can also simply be called the "two forces," (where ch'i, , is the "breath" or vital energy of the body, but also simply air, steam, or weather). In the Spring and Autumn Period there was actually a Yin and Yang School. Later its theories were accepted by nearly everyone, but especially by Taoism. The implications of the theory are displayed in the great book of divination, the I Ching, , the "Book of Changes."

Yin originally meant "shady, secret, dark, mysterious, cold." It thus could mean the shaded, north side of a mountain or the shaded, south bank of a river. Yang in turn meant "clear, bright, the sun, heat," the opposite of yin and so the lit, south side of a mountain or the lit, north bank of a river. From these basic opposites, a complete system of opposites was elaborated. Yin represents everything about the world that is dark, hidden, passive, receptive, yielding, cool, soft, and feminine. Yang represents everything about the world that is illuminated, evident, active, aggressive, controlling, hot, hard, and masculine. Everything in the world can be identified with either yin or yang. Earth is the ultimate yin object. Heaven is the ultimate yang object. Of the two basic Chinese "Ways," Confucianism is identified with the yang aspect, Taoism with the yin aspect.

Although it is correct to see yin as feminine and yang as masculine, everything in the world is really a mixture of the two, which means that female beings may actually be mostly yang and male beings may actually be mostly yin. Because of that, things that we might expect to be female or male because they clearly represent yin or yang, may turn out to be the opposite instead.

Taoism takes the doctrine of yin and yang, and includes it in its own theory of change. Like Anaximander and Heraclitus, Taoism sees all change as one opposite replacing the other. The familiar diagram of Yin and Yang, the , the "Great Ultimate" [Wade-Giles T'ai-chi] diagram, shows the opposites flowing into each other. The diagram also illustrates, with interior dots, the idea that each force contains the seed of the other, so that they do not merely replace each other but actually become each other. (The earliest attested example of the diagram, strangely enough, occurs on a Roman shield illustrated in the fifth century Notitia Dignitatum.)

Unlike Heraclitus, Taoism sees change as violent only if the Tao [Dào] is opposed: If Not Doing, , and No Mind, , are practiced, then the Tao guides change in a natural, easy way, making for beauty and life. Since trying to be in control is a yang (or Confucian) attribute, Taoism sees Not Doing (and Taoism itself) on the yin side of things; but since Not Doing does not literally mean doing nothing, Taoism can use the language of passivity and receptivity to mean something that is actually quite active.

That is especially obvious in the use of the term [Wade-Giles jou2], "soft, pliant, yielding, gentle." Róudào, the "yielding way," is read in Japanese as judô and is the name of a popular Martial Art. Judo doesn't look at all yielding or gentle, but it does employ Taoist doctrine in so far as it is not supposed to originate force or an attack but takes the attack of an opponent and uses its own force against it.

Thus the great economist F.A. Hayek invoked Taoism in the defense of capitalism, a system that does not seem particularly yielding or gentle, but is based on the principle that government should "leave alone" (laissez faire) private property and voluntary exchanges and contracts. The free market would thus be the Not Doing of government.

When it comes to the five elements, earth, water, and wood are clearly to be associated with yin. Water, the softest and most yielding element, becomes the supreme symbol of yin and the Tao in the Tao Te Ching. Fire (the hottest element) and metal (the hardest) both are associated with yang.
Nevertheless, the Blue Dragon, , that symbolizes wood is a principal symbol of , while the White Tiger, , that symbolizes metal is a principal symbol of . This kind of reversal turns up frequently in the I Ching.

The I Ching, , is based on the principle of a broken line, , representing yin, and an unbroken line, , representing yang. During the Shang Dynasty (1523-1028 BC), questions that could be answered with a "yes" or a "no" were written on tortoise shells. The shells were heated, then doused in water, which caused them to crack. A broken crack, , was interpreted as a "no" answer, an unbroken crack, , as a "yes." The I Ching elaborates on this, by grouping the lines into sets of threes (the trigrams) and into sets of sixes (the hexagrams).

There are eight trigrams:
Among the trigrams it is noteworthy that in all the children, the sex is determined by the odd line, so that the trigrams are predominately the opposite quality from the sex of the child. Also, we expect water to be associated with yin and fire with yang, but water is the second son and fire the second daughter. The other children are associated with such things as we might expect, e.g. water turns up again in the third daughter as the Lake.

The arrangement of the trigrams around the compass reflects Chinese geomancy (), i.e. the determination of the auspicious or inauspicious situation and orientation of places (cities, temples, houses, or graves). Chinese cities are properly laid out as squares, with gates in the middle of the sides facing due north, east, south, and west. The diagonal directions are then regarded as special "spirit" gates: northwest is the Heaven Gate; southwest the Earth Gate; southeast the Man Gate; and northeast the Demon Gate. The northeast was thus the direction from which malevolent supernatural influences might particularly be expected. The situation of the old Japanese capital city of Kyôto is particularly fortunate. To the northeast is a conspicuous, twin-peaked mountain, Mt. Hiei (corresponding to the Mountain trigram), which is crowned with a vast establishment of Buddhist temples to guard the Demon Gate. Later, Tôkyô (originally called Edo) was laid out with temples to the northeast on rising ground in the Ueno district; but both the ground and the temples are now entirely surrounded and obscured by the sprawl of Tôkyô. [note]

The trigrams contrast the Moutain, , with the Lake, . A lake is essentially a valley filed with water (both with Yin associations), and the mountain in general may be also contrasted with the valley, . We see this contrast in related characters, such as , "an immortal," and , "common, vulgar, worldly." Each of these contains the "mountain" and "valley" characters, respectively, with the radical for "person," . The idea seems to be that immortal beings live in the mountains, either because that is where the divine belong (as on Mt. Olympus) or because that it where Taoist adepts, who achieve immortality, practice their asceticism. Thus, Taoists themselves can be called , the "immortal-ists" or "school of the immortals." What is down in the valley is then common, mundane, and vulgar.

The I Ching uses the trigrams by combining pairs of them into 64 hexagrams. The hexagrams reuse the trigrams by combining pairs of them into 64 hexagrams. The hexagrams represent states of affairs, and the I Ching is consulted through the construction of a hexagram to answer one's question. The construction is carried out either through a complicated process of throwing and counting yarrow stalks, or by throwing three coins. The obverse (head) of each coin is worth 3 points (odd numbers are yang), while the reverse (tail) is worth 2 (even numbers are yin). Three coins will therefore add up to either 6, 7, 8, or 9. The numbers 7 and 8 represent "young" yang and yin, respectively. Starting from the bottom up, these add a plain yang, , or a plain yin, , line. The numbers 6 and 9, in turn, represent "old" yin and yang, respectively, and are called "changing lines." This illustrates an important aspect of the theory of yin and yang: Because the "Way of the Tao is Return," yin and yang, when they reach their extremes, actually become their opposites. The "old" lines therefore change into their opposites, giving us two hexagrams if any changing lines are involved: the first hexagram, representing the current state of affairs; and the second hexagram, after the changes have been made, representing the future state of affairs. Changing lines are usually denoted by writing for a 9 and for a 6. The text of the I Ching describes the significance of each hexagram and also the special meaning to be attached to the presence of any changing lines.

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Yin & Yáng and the I Ching, Note


As it happens, there is a conspicuous mountain north-east of Los Angeles Valley College. Indeed, there is a whole mountain range, the San Gabriel Mountains. Beyond the lower Verdugo Mountains in the foreground, which rise to 3126 feet, there is the conspicuous Mt. Lukens in the San Gabriels, which is 5074 feet high. Behind Mt. Lukens runs Big Tujunga Canyon. There are much higher peaks in the San Gabriels (up to Mt. San Antonio, "Old Baldy," at 10,064 ft., which is east and outside of the image provided here), as can be seen in the image, but these are hidden from the perspective of Valley College. Unfortunately, there are no Buddhist temples, as far as I know, upon Mt. Lukens. Los Angeles could use the protection.

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Categories of Chinese Characters

Chinese characters are the last ancient ideographic writing system that survives in modern usage. This was a close call. In Vietnamese, the Latin alphabet is used; in Korean, the hangul phonetic system is now used. Japanese has its own syllabaries, the kana, which could easily replace characters altogether, as in the past they sometimes did. Both China and Japan were contemplating a transition to the Latin alphabet (the Pinyin system prepared the way for this in Chinese). Ironically, it is the most modern technology which has saved the most ancient writing. Computer assisted writing makes the use of characters relatively convenient, and the need for vast metal fonts for printing and even typewriting has now been eliminated.

Although Chinese characters are originally and basically ideographic, writing whole words, the language over time has become more polysyllabic and many characters now do not occur in isolation. The system thus can be said to have become morphographic, writing semantic elements of words, morphemes, rather than ideas or words as wholes. [note]

The characters and their definitions here are from Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard, 1972]. The pronunciation of each character, however, is rendered in Pinyin. There are, understandably, disputes over the classification system and over the assignment of individual characters. For instance, the very first example, , "big," is from the drawing of a man, and so can be considered "pictographic"; but since it doesn't mean "man," but "big," it might be considered "indicative" instead.

  1. Pictographic:  These are characters that originate with pictures of the objects in question. In the Shang Dyansty, these counted for 23% of all characters. By the Han they were down to only 4%, and during the Sung only 3%. The characters at right were all originally little pictures. "Great" was the picture of a man, while "mountain," "field," "woman," "horse," "shield," and "tree" were just that.

    John DeFrancis [The Chinese Language, Fact and Fantasy, University of Hawaii Press, 1984, 1986, & Visible Speech, University of Hawaii Press, 1989], one of the greatest scholars of Chinese, has the view that language (or meaning) is essentially spoken (i.e. sound) and that pictograms really stand for the words rather than for the things. However, it seems the most natural to say that a picture of a man, a woman, or a tree simply represents those things directly. While all writing systems, including Chinese, develop phonetic elements, the thesis that meaning is essentially sound is destroyed by the use of sign language among the profoundly deaf, for whom language and meaning have no aural component at all. At one time, it was not believed that the profoundly deaf had any true language, just because sign language was not taken seriously; but this view is now insupportable. Indeed, from Plato we already have the observation that the deaf sign and that this is a logical accommodation to that condition:

    SOCRATES:  Answer me this question: If we had no voice or tongue, and wished to make things known to one another, should we not try, as mute [and deaf] people actually do, to make signs [sêmaínein] with our hands and head and body generally? ["Cratylus," 433 E, Cratylus, Parmenides, Greater Hippias, Lesser Hippias, translated by F.N. Fowler, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1926, 1963, p.133]

    Sign languages are known to develop and exist with no connection to spoken language, and the form of signs has its own dynamic, unrelated to sounds. Thus, even as a Chinese character is classified by radical and phonetic, a sign can be specified by [1] the shape of the hand(s), [2] position(s), [3] orientation(s), and [4] motion(s) (if any).

  2. Simple Indicative or Ideographic:  Some abstract concepts can be suggested with certain diagrams, like simple lines for "one," "two," and "three." At right, we also have "under," "above," and "middle," all of which bear some relation, as diagrams, to the meaning. In the Shang Dynasty, only 2% of characters were like this. By the Han and Sung, it was down to only 1%. So these kinds of characters may be frequently used, but there aren't many of them.
     
  3. Compound Indicative or Logical Aggregates:  Multiple examples of the first two kinds of characters can be combined to suggest something semantically related to the original meanings. So at right, we see "sun" and "moon" combined to mean "bright," "light," or even "cleanse." Three "fields" can be combined to mean "fields divided by dikes." A "woman" under a "roof" means "quiet," "peace," "tranquility." Two "women" means "handsome" or "pretty," and also "cunning." This negative (misogynistic) suggestion emerges fully with three "women," which means "adultery," "fornication," "licentiousness," "debauch," "ravish." Two "trees" get us "forest," and three are "luxuriant," "overgrown," "dark." Three "stones" is "heap of stone, boulders." Note that there are altenative, radical and phonetic versions, given with the lei (boulders) and jiao (handsome) characters. In the Shang Dynasty, 41% of the characters were of this compound indicative type. In the Han it was 13%, and in the Sung only 3%. It is sometimes said that the Chinese character for "trouble" shows two women under one roof. Such a character is possible, and would look like this , but there actually is no such Chinese character, though I understand that the myth lives on the internet. Meanwhile, the character , which is a pig under a roof, means "a house, family, home, relatives," or a member of a class or school. We can imagine that this goes back to the conditions of rural life where people and farm animals might share the same dwelling, even as pork is still a conspicuous part of traditional Chinese cooking.

  4. The most common Chinese characters are of the Radical and Phonetic or Phonetic Complex form. These combine other characters either side by side or above and below. The constituent character called the "Radical" gives some clue about the meaning and, more importantly, is the basis for the listing of the character in Chinese dictionaries (where 214 traditional Radicals are used). The constituent character called the "Phonetic" gives some clue about the pronunciation, which is usually similar to that of the original character. In the Shang Dynasty, only 34% of characters (or 334 actual characters) were of this type. By the Han Dynasty, it was up to 82% (or 7697), the Sung up to 93% (21,810), and in the Ch'ing radical and phonetic characters were 97% (or 47,141) of the total. Clearly, this device becomes the most productive way of generating new characters in Chinese. It is also unique among Old World ideographic writing systems. Nothing similar is seen in Egyptian hieroglyphics, for instance, where the phonology of a word is indicated by writing extra, purely phonetic, glyphs. The exception, however, is in the New World, where Mayan glyphs, recently deciphered, include both ideographic and phonetic elements, just like Chinese characters. Mayan glyphs, however, fully specify the phonology (according to the current understanding), not just suggest it, as with the Chinese.

    In the diagram at right, the basic phonetic value of "horse" (ma) turns up in the purely phonetic interrogative particle, and in a word for "mother." The character for "to tie, bind" occurred as a phonetic in the alternative character given above for "heap of stone/boulders" (lei). The "fields" compound character above (lei again) occurs as a phonetic with the character for "stone" to mean "roll stones down hill." "Shield" (gan) occurs with "sun" in "sunset," with "woman" in "crafty," villainous," "false," and with "tree" in "shaft of a spear," "pole." "Middle" occurs with the radical "heart," zhong, to mean "conscientious," "loyal," "honest," etc. It is these characters that provide some of the evidence for the reconstruction of the pronunciation of earlier forms of Chinese.

    Since radical and phonetic characters already exist in the Shang Dynasty, there clearly was a long period of development prior to this. But the evidence for this is scant, and the ultimate origin of Chinese characters is unclear.
     

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Categories of Chinese Characters, note

Since Chinese characters originally wrote whole words, it is now fashionable to say that they are "logograms" (logos = "word") rather than "ideograms." On this view, Chinese characters (or the units of any such such writing system) have no meaning apart from the words of Chinese. They are derivative of the words and are semantically, functionally, and even ontologically dependent on them. The notion that the characters could exist independently of the words, or of the Chinese langauge, is incomprehensible.

As noted, this is already rather behind the development of Chinese, where characters usually write morphemes. However, the principal reason for the change in terms is ideological rather than linguistic. Because of the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ferdinand de Saussure, the view has grown that language is a self-contained and self-referential system, without connection to the external world or to truth. Because of this, the notion that there are "ideas" or concepts that exist independently of language and embody meanings with a real relationship to the world has fallen into disfavor. So "ideogram" must go.

Unfortunately, those who are at pains to demonstrate their adherence to fashionable opinion have missed the point. The issue is not whether ideas or truth exist, but whether a writing system like Chinese characters directly matches up with spoken language. It doesn't. This is the most conspicuous in something like Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, where certain glyphs are "generic determinatives," which correspond to no words in the language but give a clue as to the general meaning of the word being written. As it happens, Chinese has something rather like generic determinatives, i.e. the "radical" which is that part of the character that gives a clue to the meaning and functions as the basis of classifying characters in a Chinese dictionary. These visual elements of the written language do a job where the written language may not fully represent the sounds of spoken language, which is what happens in Egyptian or Chinese. The written language does it in its own way, and so takes on a life of its own.

Since the fashionable view is that language is self-referential, we might wonder why opinion could not move over to the view that written language breaks away from the spoken language and takes on a self-contained life of its own. Clinging to the notion that written language refers to spoken language would seem to contradict part of the fashionable thesis, that there is no external reference. Indeed. But the move does not take place, perhaps because the connection of the written to the spoken language is too obvious (though one might think that their connection to the world would then be equally obvious, which it isn't to the bien pensants), but perhaps even more so because of an old prejudice that language can only exist as spoken language. This latter assertion is actually made by John DeFrancis in the work cited in the text above -- and reconfirmed to me in personal correspondence.

The notion that language can only truly consist of sounds is refuted by the existence of fully functioning sign languages among the profoundly deaf. Indeed, there are now cases where deaf children, with no previous contact with other deaf individuals, have been introduced together into new schools for the deaf and have spontaneously and quickly developed a completely new sign language between themselves. In the past, the possibility that sign languages could be the equivalent of spoken language was simply not believed, and even educators of the deaf thought that signs could properly only be used to spell the words of spoken languages. Word of the existence of true sign languages of the deaf has apparently still not reached everyone.

The truth is that visual (whether written or sign) and spoken languages match up to each other by way of meaning. There are ideas, concepts, and reference. That is why languages can be translated into each other -- though, indeed, there are philosophers, like W.V.O. Quine, in the self-referential tradition, who openly assert the "indeterminacy of translation," as though this were not contradicted by centuries of actual translating. The existence of meaning has been ably demonstrated by Jerrold Katz. Thus, Chinese characters, which write ideas, as spoken language speaks them (with, we might say, "ideophones" -- sounds that speak ideas), are ideograms. Since they historically correspond to Chinese words or morphemes, they can also be called logograms or morphograms. Since they often originally consisted of pictures of objects, they can also be called "pictograms," a term also in fashionable disfavor. If there are pictures of objects, after all, we might need to admit that there are objects, and that language has something to do with them. It is a shame when something so obvious becomes shocking to educated opinion.

Why there is now this ideological preference is a good question. Such theories, however, are conformable to the "deconstructionist" or "post-modern" view that everything is a matter of power relationships -- something about equally inspired by Marx and by Nietzsche -- and unrelated to any actual truth or reality, except a political reality. People writing about Chinese characters may not be aware of all the connections of the theories they promote, but it is usually the academic water within which they swim.

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The Dialects of Chinese

What are usually called the "dialects" of Chinese are really separate languages, all descended from the Chinese of the T'ang Dynasty. They are all about as far apart from each other now as English and Dutch. However, they are all written with the same characters (with some exceptions), which means that an educated person can understand (mostly) their written forms, and for cultural and political reasons, as well as their historical origin, are regarded by the Chinese as part of the same language. A new term has even been introduced for this unusual situation, calling the languages "topolects," i.e. speech of the "place," topos.

The picture of the languages has changed somewhat over the years. Older sources (e.g. John DeFrancis, The Chinese Language, Fact and Fantasy, Hawaii, 1984; S. Robert Ramsey, The Languages of China, Princeton, 1987; and Nathan Sivin, editor, The Contemporary Atlas of China, Houghton Mifflin, 1988) say that there are seven different languages, or six, since sometimes Gan is linked with Hakka, or with Xiang. More recently, Lynn Pan, in The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas [Harvard, 1999], lists ten languages, where Jin is separated from Mandarin, Hui from Wu, and Pinghua from Yue. Now, however, in The Sino-Tibetan Languages, edited by Graham Thurgood and Randy J. LaPolla [Routledge Language Family Series, Routledge, London, 2003], Jerry Norman ("The Chinese Dialects: Phonology") states, "If one takes mutual intelligibility as the criterion for defining the difference between dialect and language, then one would have to recognize not eight [or seven, etc.] but hundreds of 'languages' in China" [p.72]. This appears to resolve the issue. What previously were regarded as separate languages, like Cantonese, are in fact families of languages. It is therefore not surprising that the "splitters" (those who like to divide groups, as opposed to "lumpers," who like to combine groups -- a typological difference) should begin to divide the old languages into new ones. If there are really "hundreds" of languages involved, however, further splitting becomes pointless.

On the map at left, we see China of the late Empire divided by the ethnic principle of the "five peoples." While the Hui, , might be Turks or Uighurs, the term in general means "Muslims" and thus applies to ethnic Chinese Muslims. Those Hui speak Mandarin and tend to live in the area identified for the Han, , People on the map. Otherwise, the dialects of Chinese all refer to languages of the Han People. Manchurian has all but disappeared and been replaced by Mandarin.

Within each of the groups of Chinese languages, there are also true dialects, which means that they are mutually intelligible. In Pan's book and The Sino-Tibetan Languages many dialects are shown for the language groups. The confusion over all this -- couldn't everyone tell what forms of speech are mutually intelligible? -- was certainly due to the difficulties of doing research in China in the 20th century. From revolution, to war, to revolution, to totalitarianism, China until recently was not the best place for graduate students wandering around with tape recorders asking strange questions. Such behavior would often have evoked suspicion, arrest, or worse. Of course, there is also the problem of distinguishing dialects from languages in general, when dialects may be intelligible to those nearby, while those at the extreme ends of a range may be incomprehensible to each other.

The table gives a classification of languages and dialects based on a combination of The Sino-Tibetan Languages and other sources. The 10 languages identified on the map from Pan's The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas are given in boldface; but the overall organization is in terms of the three groups and six "dialect familes" of The Sino-Tibetan Languages [p.6]. While Gan and Xiang and now definitely separated, Hakka has come to be included under Gan -- though this is not consistently seen in the book. "Hakka" itself is an interesting term, in Mandarin, in Cantonese, meaning "guest, visitor, traveller, stranger, merchant," or "customer." Althought there is a concentrated area of Hakka speakers, the language is otherwise spoken in widely scattered areas, where it has been taken by, indeed, Hakka traders.

"Mandarin" is a word from Sanskrit (mantrin) by way of Malay (menteri) and Portuguese (mandarim). This meant "counselor." The word was applied because the Portuguese were originally dealing with traders along the southern coast of China, where, of course, many languages were spoken, but not Mandarin. When officials from the Capital came down to deal with the Portuguese, they spoke a different language, which the Portuguese had not otherwise encountered. Hence the name, the language of the "counselors". However, this may also have simply been a translation of what the counselors were calling their own language, which was the , "Official Language," or even "Language of the Officials," i.e. the Mandarins [note]. In Modern Chinese, Mandarin is the , "Common Language," or the , "National Language." These same expressions are used in Cantonese, pronounced differently of course, where we also find , the "Beijing Language," pronounced Pak-king-wa.

Some population figures are given for the older seven language classification. These are given as percentages of the total Chinese speaking population, as a number in millions (M), and, from another source, as a number in thousands (k). These count those for whom the languages are their first languages. The figure of 952,000,000 speakers for Mandarin given elsewhere is for people who speak Mandarin at all. This is considerably larger than the 715 million number below, not just because the population has grown in the last twenty years, but also because Mandarin in the national language of China, taught in schools around the country. Areas where the languages are spoken are given after the language name(s). Names of cities and provinces in Pinyin are given in italics. I have now added new population figures, after a dash, which are taken from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2008 [World Almanac Books, 2008, p.728]. The Almanac gives the first figures I've seen for Puxian, which is now evidently often broken off of Min, as Jin is broken off of Mandarin.

Dialect FamilyInitialsFinalsTonesSyllables
Mandarin, 163942496
Gan, 195966726
Hakka, 176967038
Xiang, 233765106
Min, 155775985
Wu/Shanghai, 275079450
Yue/Cantonese, 205399540

It is noteworthy that the extension of Mandarin into the Southwest was in part the result of veterans being settled there after the Mongols were ejected from China and the Ming Dynasty founded.

The table is a comparison of dialect families from The Sino-Tibetan Languages [p.127]. The statistics, of course, are from representative languages in each group. I have rearranged the list to move the apparently more conservative languages towards the bottom of the table, though, of course, not all the indications are consistent. With the largest number of tones and of syllables, Cantonese wins as the most conservative, but then Xiang and Shanghai both have more initials than Cantonese -- and Hakka has an anomalously large number of finals and syllables. Mandarin has clearly undergone the greatest phonetic simplification.

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The Dialects of Chinese, Note

The word "Mandarin" has also been explained as derived from Chinese, as , "Manchu great man" [cf. Dah-an Ho, "The Characteristics of Mandarin Dialects," The Sino-Tibetan Languages, p.127]. However, this looks very much like a folk etymology, and an anachronistic one, since the Portuguese had been in China more than a century (since 1518) before the Manchus took over the country (1644). The language of the officials was going to be called something long before any officials were Manchurian.

There is also the problem of the pronunciation:   probably was not pronounced with an r in the era in question. The Wade-Giles writing of the syllable, jen, reflects an older pronunciation, which we see reflected as a y in Cantonese and an actual English-like j in Japanese. Indeed, this is probably why "Japan," , is pronounced in English as it is, with an older Chinese pronunciation -- in Japanese itself, the j/y/r can and does here turn up here an n.

I have now found some good evidence of the anachronism, as I suggest, of this claim. "Mandarin" was used in reference to Chinese officials as early as 1552 by the Portuguese writer Fernão Lopez de Castanheda in his Historia do descobrimento e conquista da India. The text is cited by Yule & Burnell in their classic A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases ["Hobson-Jobson," Curzon Press, 1886, 1985, "Mandarin," p.550-551].

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Examples of Dialect Differences Between
Peking, Shanghai and, Canton

In the table superscript numbers are the tones, and brackets contain Pinyin writings (with superscript tones where HTML does not contain the appropriate diacritic).
ShanghaiPeking
p-pu1 "wave"po1 [bo1]
p'-p'u1 "slope"p'o1 [po1]
b-bu2 "old woman"p'o2 [pó]
t-tong1 "east"tong1 [dong1]
t'-t'ong1 "be open"t'ong1 [tong1]
d-dong2 "be alike"t'ong2 [tóng]
k-kuong1 "light"kuang1 [guang1]
k'-k'uong1 "frame"k'uang1 [kuang1]
g-guong2 "mad, wild"k'uang2 [kuáng]
CantonesePeking
-t/0kat7a "cough"k'e2 (sou4) [ké(sòu)]
-t/0pat7a "brush"pi3 [bi3]
-t/0yüt7b/8 "moon"yüeh4 [yuè]
-t/0yat7a/8 "sun, day"jih4 [rì]
-k/0paak7b "hundred"pai3 [bai3]
-k/0sik7a "color"(yen2)se4 [(yán)sè]
-k/0kwok7b4
"national language"
kou23 [guóyu3]
-p/0t'aap7b "pagoda"t'a3 [ta3]
-p/0yap8 "enter"ju4 [rù]
-p/0sap8 "ten"shih2 [shí]
The Wu () dialect of Shanghai is noteworthy because it retains the distinction between voiced and unvoiced, aspirated and unaspirated stops that existed in T'ang Chinese. In Mandarin the voiced stops have disappeared. In these examples, the voiced stops have seen assimilated to the aspirated ones.

Cantonese () is noteworthy because it retains from T'ang Chinese a greater variety of finals. In Mandarin, a syllable must end in a vowel or in n or ng. In Cantonese, syllables can also end in p, t, k, or m as well. Words borrowed from Chinese into Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese often also preserve evidence of the older final consonants. Thus "China" (Mandarin Zhongguó, "Middle Country") in Korean is Chung-guk and in Japanese Chû-koku. Both of them have an extra consonant in "country" where Mandarin doesn't -- but Cantonese (Jòong-gwok) does.

I had a lingustics professor once who said that you could get a kind of "instant Proto-Indo-European" by combining Greek vowels and Sanskrit consonants. Well, we can get a kind of "instant T'ang Chinese" by combining Shanghai initials and Cantonese finals. The evidence is poor for older versions of Chinese. Cantonese also preserves the larger number of tones that T'ang Chinese had. Mandarin only has four now, but Cantonese has six, or even nine if the tones of finals that end in stops are counted separately, which they sometimes are.

The most daring theory is that the Chinese of Confucius's day didn't even have tones. Evidence for this is that other members of the Sino-Tibetan language family do not have tones, while the nearby family of the Daic languages (like Thai) all have tones. In another adjacent language family, the Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer) group, some languages have tones (like Vietnamese) and others do not. It is tempting to see the phenomenon as a South-East Asian Sprach Bund where the Daic tones have influenced some languages in the Sino-Tibetan and Austroasiatic families.

At left are examples of the Cantonese tones, using the notation in Teach Yourself Cantonese by R. Bruce [Teach Yourself Books, Hodder and Stoughton, 1970, 1976, pp.12-13]. Different tone symbols are not needed for the 7th, 8th, and 9th tones (in other treatments, as in the table above, the 7th and 8th tones are styled 7a and 7b, while the 9th tone becomes the 8th). These words will look different in A Concise Cantonese-English Dictionary by Yang Mingxin [Guangdong Higher Education Publishing House, 1999]. First of all, the latter uses an adapted Pinyin alphabet, where "x" is used for "s" and "g" for final "k." Second, although Pinyin introduced the use of Greek-like accents to show tones, the Dictionary reverts to the old Wade-Giles way of simply numbering the tones with superscripts. Also, the Dictionary uses simplified forms of some of the characters. I have used the unsimplified characters in Bruce where these are available. The Yale system of Romanization, with discussion of some alternatives (though not the Pinyin) is used in the English-Cantonese Dictionary, by Kwan Choi Wah, et al. [The Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, 1991].

Dictionaries or grammars of Shanghai Chinese in English seem to all be out of print.

A nice example of a difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is a surname. This is in the former, Ng in the latter. The Cantonese name is one of many words that are simply a syllabic ng. There is also a syllabic m in Cantonese, which is , "not," in Mandarin. That is the only word with that pronunciation in A Concise Cantonese-English Dictionary [pp.260-262]. Although it seems like there ought to be, there is no syllabic n in Cantonese. There is more than one character used for the Cantonese surname. At right, we see the traditional character first, then a recent simplified one to the right of the pronunciation. This was also the name of the Kingdom of Wu, one of the states of the Three Kingdoms Period in Chinese history, and of the modern language of Shanghai. At far right is an alternative character used, at least in Cantonese, for the surname. My only question is that the first character (with its simplification) and the second are pronounced differently. In Mandarin, the first has a 2nd tone, the second a 3rd. In Cantonese, the first has a 4th tone, the second a 5th (with the symbols used in Teach Yourself Cantonese). I originally learned of the two possible characters from a young woman whose name actually was Ng, but I didn't know then to ask about the different tones. Perhaps someone can help me out.

Note that the Cantonese spellings in the table above are from Teach Yourself Cantonese, while, as noted, A Concise Cantonese-English Dictionary uses a form of Pinyin adapted from Mandarin. Thus, words traditionally ending in t/k/p are written d/g/b in the latter.

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Pronouncing Mandarin Initials

Chinese has the extraordinary structure that nearly every syllable has a semantic content, even if only a historical one. Each syllable is thus written with a Chinese character, which was originally a separate word.

Each syllable is analyzed into an "intitial" and a "final." The "final" contains the vowel, the tone, and the final consonant, if any. This structure is also applied to
Simple Initials
PinyinWade-GilesPronunication
bpp, unaspirated (spot)
pp'ph, aspirated (pot)
mmm
fff
dtt, unaspirated (stop)
tt'th, aspirated (top)
nnn
lll
gkk, unaspirated (skit)
kk'kh, aspirated (kit)
hhh
Sibilant Initials
PinyinWade-GilesPronunication
ztsts, unaspirated
ctsths, aspirated (hats)
sss
Retroflex Initials
PinyinWade-GilesPronunication
zhcht.s., unaspirated
chch't.hs., aspirated
shshs.
rjr
Palatal Initials
PinyinWade-GilesPronunication
jchtsh, unaspirated
qch'thsh, aspirated (church)
xhssh
Korean and Vietnamese, which borrowed Chinese writing and many Chinese words, even though neither language was even related to Chinese.

The "initials," apart from the tones, pose the greatest challenge for foreigners trying to pronounce Chinese. And now we have two common systems for writing Mandarin, the older Wade-Giles and the recent Pinyin. The greatest challenge is that Mandarin does not have voiced stops, like b, d, and g. These existed in T'ang Chinese (and have been preserved in the Shanghai or Wu language), but have been lost in Mandarin. Instead, Mandarin contrasts aspirated stops with unaspirated stops. "Aspirates" have breath coming out, "unaspirates" don't. In Wade-Giles, aspirates were indicated with an apostrophe, as in the name of the T'ang Dynasty. Sometimes it is said that an aspirated t is pronounced like the t in "hot house." This not quite right, since the t there is in a separate syllable, and a separate word, from the "h" aspiration. Instead, it should be noted that English contrasts, in certain environments, an aspirated from an unaspirated t. Thus the t in "top" is aspirated, and the t in "stop" is unaspirated. Holding a hand in front of the mouth can detect the breath expelled in one and not expelled in the other. The Chinese unaspirated t can be duplicated by pronouncing "stop" without the "s." Aspirations are indicated in the "pronunciation" column of the table with a superscript h.

Since there are no voiced stops in Mandarin, the Pinyin system conveniently uses the Latin letters for the voiced stops for unaspriated stops, and the Latin letters for the unvoiced stops for the aspirated stops. The English word "stop" thus could be written in Pinyin as "sdob," which looks very odd, and has a final consonant unallowed by Mandarin, but does use the proper values of the Pinyin consonants.

The "retroflex" initials have the tongue curling up, as in the similar series of sounds in Sanskrit and subsequent languages in India. But other Chinese dialects do not distinguish retroflex from palatal initials. In fact, even in Mandarin, retroflexes and palatals are really just different allophones (sounds) of the same phonemes, i.e. they do not occur in the same environment and so can actually be represented by the same signs (as in Wade-Giles). Retroflexes (and sibilants) occur only with a, o/e, and u finals. Palatals occur only with i and ü finals. The "i" written with sibilants and retroflexes, e.g. "si" and "zhi," does not represent a true i, but a "buzzing" for sibiliants and an r for retroflexes.

The Wade-Giles system represents Chinese more efficiently and familiarly. Pinyin, besides the phonemic redundancy, has the drawback that the sound of a number of letters (like q and x) has nothing to do with how they are pronounced in most Western languages. On the other hand, Pinyin makes a more elegant use of the Latin alphabet.

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Mandarin Finals and Syllables

Simple Initials and Group-a Finals
InitialsFinals
Øáánángáiáo
Ø aanangaiao
bbabanbangbaibao
ppapanpangpaipao
mmmamanmangmaimao
f fafanfang 
ddadandangdaidao
ttatantangtaitao
nnanannangnainao
llalanlanglailao
ggaganganggaigao
kkakankangkaikao
hhahanhanghaihao
Retroflex & Sibilant Initials and Group-a Finals
InitialsFinals
"i"aanangaiao
zhzhizhazhanzhangzhaizhao
chchichachanchangchaichao
shshishashanshangshaishao
rri ranrang rao
zzizazanzangzaizao
ccicacancangcaicao
ssisasansangsaisao
Each syllable in Chinese is analyzed into an "intitial" and a "final." Initials of Mandarin are considered in the section
above. The "final" contains the vowel, the tone, and the final consonant, if any. The tables here show nearly all the possible syllables in the Standard form of Mandarin Chinese, i.e. the Mandarin of Peking (Beijing). This is not actually all the syllables because of the "Group-r" finals. Those are added either as "er" or "r" to the syllables shown. After a, o, e, u, and ng, "r" is added. After ai, an, and en, drop the i or n and add "r." After i and ü, add "er." and With "i," in, and un, drop the i or n and add "er."

The "Group-a" finals go with the simple, the retroflex, and the sibilant initials. The "i" final only occurs with the retrolex and sibilant initials, and represents a vowel with little kinship to an actual i. For the retroflexes, it is more of an r sound, while with the sibilants it is a vowel so reduced and indefinite that it is described as a "buzzing." Indeed, in the Yale system of transcription, the former is rendered with "r" and the latter with "z." Wade-Giles uses "ih" (or "tzu" for Pinyin zi, etc.), thus distinguishing it from the simple "i" used with the palatals. In this way, neither Pinyin nor Wade-Giles give much of a clue from English phonology how to make the sound. Since the "i" is the only letter i that is not used with the "Group-i" finals and the palatal initials, its presence rather confuses the symmetry of the system, although there is no ambiguity (I will not say confusion), since "i" does only occur with the retroflex and sibilant initials. It is a cleaner and more elegant solution than in Wade-Giles. Since Pinyin was willing to pick phonetic values of the Latin alphabet from different languages, the undotted Turkish I might have been considered for the "i" sound, though this is not available in HTML and is, as noted, unnecessary.

Otherwise, the vowels in the table are as they are in Wade-Giles. The syllabic m in included in the table just as a reminder that there is such a thing in Cantonese. In the index row, the tone is written over the vowel to show, where there might be ambiguity, which vowel is used.

Simple Initials and Group-o/e Finals
InitialsFinals
óéénéngéióuóng
Ø eeneng ou 
bbo benbengbei 
ppopepenpengpeipou
mmo menmengmeimou
ffofenfengfeifou
d de dengdeidoudong
tteteng toutong
n nennengneinounong
llelenlengleiloulong
ggegengenggeigougong
kkekenkengkeikoukong
hhohehenhengheihouhong
Retroflex & Sibilant Initials and Group-o/e Finals
InitialsFinals
oeenengeiouong
zh zhezhenzhengzheizhouzhong
chchechencheng chouchong
shsheshenshengsheishou 
rrerenreng rourong
zzezenzengzeizouzong
ccecenceng coucong
ssesensengsousong
With the "Group o/e" finals a major difference between Pinyin and Wade-Giles is that the latter writes the "ong" final as "ung." Since one may be used to seeing words like "Chung" in English, its absence from Pinyin is conspicuous.

Of priniciple interest here in the phonetic system is the lack of contrast between the o and e finals. Where the final o is used, e is not; and where e is used, o is not. That this was not always the case is shown with two anomalous syllables against a blue background. Pe and ho used to occur, but they do no longer. The only minimal pairs with o/e are those with contrasting eng and ong finals, though there are a good number of these.

The pe syllable is found in the name "Peking," which now, with the Pinyin Beijing being used, people might just think of as some kind of mistake. It is not a mistake, just a transcription of an older form of pronunication in Mandarin, where pe existed, and where the palatals in the "Group-i" finals had not yet developed from their original stops -- the word is still king in Cantonese and was borrowed as kyô into Japanese.

A difference between Pinyin and Wade-Giles that would also apply to the "Group-a" finals above is the initial r. In Wade-Giles, that is written j, which, pronounced r, must produce for Wade-Giles as much confusion as q and x in Pinyin. Again, this reflects some history. Since the r corresponds to a y in Cantonese (yat for ), and is often borrowed as (English) j into Japanese (e.g. jin for rén), writing j in Wade-Giles reflects the circumstance that this is pronounced y in German but j in English (the y pronunciation being the original value of j as a modification of Latin i). However, the letter is also borrowed as n into Japanese (e.g. nichi for ), and r itself does not look much like a natural derivative of either y or j. So there seems to have been something else going on in the original Chinese sound, which may have been more an ñ than a y.

Simple Initials and Group-u Finals
InitialsFinals
úuáiuánúnuánguéng
Øwuwawowaiwéiwanwenwangweng
bbu 
ppu
mmu
ffu
ddu duo duiduandun 
ttutuotuituantun
nnunuo nuan 
lluluoluanlun
gguguaguoguaiguiguangunguang 
kkukuakuokuaikuikuankunkuang
hhuhuahuohuaihuihuanhunhuang
Retroflex & Sibilant Initials and Group-u Finals
InitialsFinals
uuauouaiuiuanunuangueng
zhzhuzhuazhuozhuaizhuizhuanzhunzhuang 
chchu chuochuaichuichuanchunchuang
shshushuashuoshuaishuishuanshunshuang
rru ruo ruiruanrun 
zzuzuozuizuanzun
ccucuocuicuancun
ssusuosuisuansun
In the Group-u finals, uo often turns up as just o in Wade-Giles. Otherwise, we see a lot of possible syllables that are not used. A curiosity in both systems is that ui is actually pronounced more like ué (with the accent from French). Wei is written more like it is pronounced (with the anomaly that the tone goes on the e). That all this is the case may be because the Mandarin e in isolation has more of the reduced, schwa-like sound that is familar from many occurrences in English (the last a in "banana"), French (le), and German (Töne). We don't get a pure Italian e or French é in Mandarin.

Simple Initials and Group-i Finals
InitialsFinals
íiáoiáníniángíngióng
Øyiyayaoyeyóuyanyinyangyingyong
bbi biaobie bianbin bing 
ppipiaopiepianpinping
mmimiaomiemiumianminming
ddidiaodiediudian ding
ttitiaotie tianting
nniniaonieniunianninniangning
llilialiaolieliulianlinliangling
Palatal Initials and Group-i Finals
InitialsFinals
iiaiaoieiuianiniangingiong
jjijiajiaojiejiujianjinjiangjingjiong
qqiqiaqiaoqieqiuqianqinqiangqingqiong
xxixiaxiaoxiexiuxianxinxiangxingxiong
With the "Group-i" finals, we see a number of systematic differences between Pinyin and Wade-Giles. Ian here turns up as ien in Wade-Giles, and iong as iung. Although written ian, the a is a reduced vowel pronounced still more like the e discussed above.

We also see the most unfamiliar use of letters in Pinyin, with q for Wade-giles ch' and x for hs -- which itself was simply an alternative to sh. X actually is used to write sh in some languages (e.g. Basque). I am not aware of q being used anywhere to write any variation of English ch. However, whether intentional or not, this evokes a bit of the history, since q usually is pronounced like k, and q in Pinyin is used with an initial that, although now a ch, was actually an original k. If that was the intention, in the use of q, it was cleverly done.

Simple and Palatal Initials and Group-ü Finals
InitialsFinals
üüéüánün
Øyueyuanyún
jjujuejuanjun
qququequanqun
xxuxuexuanxun
nnüe 
llüe
The "Group-ü" finals feature the vowel ü, written and pronounced like the u-Umlaut in German (also used now in Turkish). This is the sound i with lip-rounding, and so, being a front vowel like i, is found with the palatal initials of the "Group-i" vowels.

Where Wade-Giles did not distinguish between retroflex and palatal initials with different letters, it did so by the circumstance that the palatals only occurred with "Group-i" and "Group-ü" finals. Thus the ü was always fully written. Since Pinyin does differentiate the initials with different letters, the need for the Umlaut, to separate "Group-u" from "Group-ü" finals, is mostly eliminated. However, some writers do not seem to realize that this is not universally the case. Where the initials are n or l, the Umlaut is still necessary. Thus, lü is sometimes improperly written as lu in Pinyin. The retention of the Umlaut does create some graphic difficulties, since the tone must be written atop it in nü and lü, something that fonts may not often be called upon to do. Otherwise, its loss is a convenient simplification.

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The Contrast between Classical and Modern Chinese

Although both ancient and modern Chinese are mostly written with the same characters, the modern daughter languages have become very different from the ancient one. One of the most conspicious differences is just that the terse, monosyllabic nature of Classical Chinese -- , "old writing," or , "literary language" -- has given way to many more particles, polysyllabic words, and periphrastic idioms. The following story, given in both Classical Chinese and a translation into modern Mandarin, -- or the , "colloquial speech, vernacular" -- illustrates the difference. This is also a salutary example for one's view of government, as Confucius indeed makes clear to his students. [I am unaware of the origin of this text.]

The modern Mandarin pronunciation is given for the Classical characters because the ancient pronuncation, indeed the pronunciation before the T'ang Dynasty, is unknown. Even that of the T'ang is reconstructed and uncertain. The extreme simplifiction of Mandarin phonology, which would render the Classical language ambiguous if used as a spoken language today (too many words now being pronounced the same), explains the polysyllablic character of the modern language and the reduction of many characters to morphemes.

The same Classical text that can today be read as Mandarin could as well be read with Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese versions of the Chinese words, or the Korean, Vietnamese, or Japanese translations of the words. None of those languages is even related to Chinese, but since mediaeval, or even modern, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese often wrote in Chinese, without, however, really speaking the language, their own renderings of the characters was customary. Since the ancient pronunciation of the Classical language is unknown, Sino-Korean, Sino-Vietnamese, and Sino-Japanese reading are really just as "authentic" for Classical Chinese as a Modern Mandarin reading. Indeed, much of our evidence for the T'ang pronuncation of Chinese is from the Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese readings, which were contemporary borrowings.

For example, the character for "mountain," now read shan in Mandarin, turns up as san in Korean, in Vietnamese as so. n or núi, and in Japanese as san, sen, zan, or yama -- the last versions in Vietnamese and Japanese being the native words. Similarly, we find the name of Japan itself, "Sun Source," as Rìben [Wade-Giles Jihpên] in Mandarin, Yatbóon in Cantonese, Ilbon in Korean, Nhâ.t-Bàn in Vietnamese, and Nippon or Nihon in Japanese. The Cantonese word is, of course, cognate to the Mandarin. The Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese are all borrowings from Chinese, pronounced in the local manner. Native words for "sun" are hae in Korean, ma.t giò. i ("face of the sky") in Vietnamese, and hi in Japanese (e.g. hi-no-maru, "circle of the sun," "sundisk"). The Japanese borrowed word for "sun" in isolation is nichi, but this is just the pronunciation of niti, where the final i as been added because Japanese syllables cannot end in t. In compounds, the i can drop out, so nichi-hon (*hi-moto in the unused pure Japanese reading) becomes nit-hon. At that point different things can happen. The t can be lost in assimilation to the h, getting us Nihon, OR the h can revert to its original p, with the t getting assimilated and doubled with it, getting us Nippon.

Another example concerns the present capital of Japan. The Míng capitals of China were Nánjing (Nanking) and then Beijing (Peking), which simply mean, respectively, "Southern Capital" and "Northern Capital." The capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 was Kyôto, which meant "Capital District." Then the capital was moved to Edo, which was renamed the "Eastern Capital." In Chinese that would be Dongjing. In Japanese, however, that is pronounced Tôkyô. In Vietnamese it is Ðông-Kinh (or Tonkin). The Vietnamese version preserves more of the Chinese consonants, but both Japanese and Vietnamese versions reveal that "capital" originally started with a k, which has become palatalized (to a j) in Mandarin. The k is also preserved in early modern Western versions of Chinese words, like "Nanking" and "Peking" themselves.

Chinese departments in colleges sometimes expect students to learn Mandarin even though they only want to read Classical Chinese or Sino-Korean, Sino-Vietnamese, or Sino-Japanese. This imposes a vast unnecessary burden on them, but even teachers and scholars of Chinese sometimes have trouble accepting that the ancient language is not the modern one and that the ancient language is part of the civilization of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan as much as of modern China. It is as though students of Latin were told they would have to learn Italian as well.

Once when Confucius was passing near the foot of Mount Tai in a chariot, there was a married woman weeping at a grave mound, and dolorously too. Confucius politely rested his hands on the front rail of the chariot and listened to her weeping. He sent Zilu (Tzu-lu) to inquire of her, saying; "From the sound of your weeping, it seems that you indeed have many troubles."

Classical Chinese:

Mandarin Translation:

Then the woman said; "It is true. My father-in-law died in a tiger's jaw; my husband also died there. Now, my son has also died there." Confucius said, "Why do you not leave this place?" The woman said: "Here there is no harsh and oppressive government."

Classical Chinese:

Mandarin Translation:

Classical Chinese:

Mandarin Translation:

 

 
Confucius said, "Young men, take note of this: a harsh and oppressive government is more ferocious and fearsome than even a tiger."

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