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Tracing variation in Old Chinese: what, if anything, was "yǎyán 雅言"?


Behr, Wolfgang (2023). Tracing variation in Old Chinese: what, if anything, was "yǎyán 雅言"? Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 51(2):287-346.

Abstract

Based on the single pre-Qin attestation of the compound yǎyán 雅言 in the Confucian Analects ( Lúnyǔ 論語 7.18) the idea of a normative spoken standard language is often projected back by early modern and modern authors into remote pre-imperial antiquity. An overview of the conceptual history of the term and of the competing etymologies of yǎ in early Chinese texts is offered in order to problematize this "invented tradition" and its ideological baggage. Four types of evidence (uniformity of phonology and syntax in excavated texts, ode citation practices, phonophoric repair by double phonophoric characters, lexical variation) are then presented and their usefulness to support an early written standard of elite intercommunication is discussed. Straightforward creolization and mixed language accounting for the emergence of Old Chinese are rejected. Instead, a scenario of interrupted language transmission in a highly diverse linguistic Sprachbund area is sketched and argued to best account for the observed asymmetries between a high degree of early lexical and orthographical variation (including substrate influences) on the one hand, and phonological and syntactic uniformity of texts from geographically diverse areas on the other. 摘要: 有鑑於《論語》中「雅言」一詞僅見於先秦文獻記載中,現當代學者 往往將規範性標準語言此一觀念投射至上古時期。本文從「雅言」一 詞的概念史切入,綜述中國古代文獻中「雅」字的競爭性詞義,進而 對此「被發明的傳統」及其意識形態背景提出質疑。文中列舉了四種 證據類型,即各地出土文獻音系和句法的一致性、賦詩和引詩現象、 重聲字所反映的修復過程、詞彙的層次性,並探討了其對早期貴族之 間交流通用語所發揮的正面作用。筆者認為古漢語之形成無法與「克 里奧爾」或「混合語言」相提並論,將之視為語言聯盟中語言傳播中 斷下的產物,從而有效地解釋古漢語中所見的不對稱現象,例如:早 期詞彙(包括地層語)和文字系統之間存在明顯的地域性差異,但各 地出土文獻的語法和音位系統卻具有穩定的一致性。

Abstract

Based on the single pre-Qin attestation of the compound yǎyán 雅言 in the Confucian Analects ( Lúnyǔ 論語 7.18) the idea of a normative spoken standard language is often projected back by early modern and modern authors into remote pre-imperial antiquity. An overview of the conceptual history of the term and of the competing etymologies of yǎ in early Chinese texts is offered in order to problematize this "invented tradition" and its ideological baggage. Four types of evidence (uniformity of phonology and syntax in excavated texts, ode citation practices, phonophoric repair by double phonophoric characters, lexical variation) are then presented and their usefulness to support an early written standard of elite intercommunication is discussed. Straightforward creolization and mixed language accounting for the emergence of Old Chinese are rejected. Instead, a scenario of interrupted language transmission in a highly diverse linguistic Sprachbund area is sketched and argued to best account for the observed asymmetries between a high degree of early lexical and orthographical variation (including substrate influences) on the one hand, and phonological and syntactic uniformity of texts from geographically diverse areas on the other. 摘要: 有鑑於《論語》中「雅言」一詞僅見於先秦文獻記載中,現當代學者 往往將規範性標準語言此一觀念投射至上古時期。本文從「雅言」一 詞的概念史切入,綜述中國古代文獻中「雅」字的競爭性詞義,進而 對此「被發明的傳統」及其意識形態背景提出質疑。文中列舉了四種 證據類型,即各地出土文獻音系和句法的一致性、賦詩和引詩現象、 重聲字所反映的修復過程、詞彙的層次性,並探討了其對早期貴族之 間交流通用語所發揮的正面作用。筆者認為古漢語之形成無法與「克 里奧爾」或「混合語言」相提並論,將之視為語言聯盟中語言傳播中 斷下的產物,從而有效地解釋古漢語中所見的不對稱現象,例如:早 期詞彙(包括地層語)和文字系統之間存在明顯的地域性差異,但各 地出土文獻的語法和音位系統卻具有穩定的一致性。

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies
06 Faculty of Arts > Zurich Center for Linguistics
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
Social Sciences & Humanities > Linguistics and Language
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sino-Tibetan linguistics, Early China,Pre-Qin period in Chinese history, Pre-Qin Chinese literature, Old Chinese, Old Chinese phonology, morphology, Old and Mitddle Chineses phonology, morphology, etymology, Old and Middle Chinese philology, classical Chinese,Classical Chinese language and translation, early Chinese texts, early Chinese writing, old Chinese language
Language:English
Date:1 June 2023
Deposited On:23 Jan 2024 09:14
Last Modified:29 Jun 2024 03:33
Publisher:Project on Linguistic Analysis
ISSN:0091-3723
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1353/jcl.2023.a902792
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