Beware of modern editions, which are almost all in simplified characters! The student will have enough to do learning the traditional ones. This is a work in progress, which I shall be updating on a regular basis. I post it now since, even in its incomplete and provisional form, since the clarifications I offer on number of topics are vitally important to the reader of classical Chinese, and nowhere else to be found.
Classical Chinese grammar
I shall be grateful to anyone who brings to my attention errors or omissions. A word may here be added about the proliferation of translations of Chinese poetry, among which one should add the translations now more than of the Dao De Jing into English. Since a scientific understanding of Classical Chinese grammar has never been general, virtually all of these are either fraudulent reworkings of earlier translations, or unfounded interpretations of the texts themselves. Even the really good translations, e.
And these responsible scholars were, none of them, lyrically gifted. I mean to remedy this lack myself, and am presently working on the Dao De Jing , of which I mean to offer a study with selections soon. Then I shall be turning my attention to Mencius, for the sake of completing this grammar: he is the Cicero of Classical Chinese, and is the one true school in which a mastery of syntax may be acquired. Thereafter I shall complete the Classic of Poetry translation, and make a study of the I Ching with selections of its poetic passages.
The Chinese themselves did not make a scientific study of their classical grammar, such as the Greeks or the Indians did.
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The traditional Chinese approach to the language is purely lexical. One learns the special idiomatic uses of the words by studying examples. Because of the great simplicity of Chinese, this approach is effective for handling most, though by no means all, points of syntax. Traditional instruction in the Chinese classics is pretty much the same as what you'd find if you studied the Talmud at a yeshiva.
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The teacher reads and paraphrases into modern idiom as he goes. Sooner or later the student, who already knows Hebrew, picks up the closely cognate language of the Talmud, Aramaic. He develops "a feel" for the grammar. The merit of this approach is that it favors intuitive understanding.
The shortcoming is that a really complete control of the grammar's fine points will remain elusive. The scientific study of Chinese begins only with the grammars written by Christian missionaries in the 17th century. Though our knowledge of the modern language has made great strides, and is now close to being complete, the grammar of classical Chinese has been neglected.
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This is due both to the Chinese' own indifference to it, and the purely mercantile motives of nearly all modern western language teaching. Edwin G. Pulleyblank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar is the standard, and indeed the only serious work on this subject.
I have relied upon it heavily for my own work, but even this fine book has a number of defects which it will be instructive to point out. First there is the sheer obscurantism. Really, there is no reason to use words like "anaphoric" and "transformationally" if the intention is to be understood.
And saying "adnominal" instead of "adjective" pays unnecessary tribute to Rome. Another vice from which Pulleyblank is not entirely free is "linguistics. Finally, Pulleyblank continues the lexical tradition of the Chinese, and most of his book consists of overblown dictionary entries, rendered less useful by the above-mentioned obscurantism and linguistics.
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Pulleyblank's is the most useful grammar book I have found for Classical Chinese, and I am sorry to take it so seriously to task. But since it suffers from the above defects to the extent that I now have to write my own grammar of Classical Chinese, I think I may be forgiven a little plain speaking. It will no doubt be promptly objected by some that I am imposing the terminology of traditional western grammar, which comes to us from the study of Latin, on an inappropriate object.
The reply is that the terminology of Latin grammar, which is in turn based on that developed by Alexandrian scholars for the study of Greek, came about as a result of a thousand-year study of these classical languages, and is a splendid tool for understanding and describing any language. Whatever the actual mechanics of a given language, the basics remain the same. Tense, number, person, relation, degree of possibility and so on must be indicated somehow, regardless of whether they are so by specific forms as in Latin or by specific words and word order as in Chinese.
I use, for example the term "gerund" to describe a phenomenon in Chinese grammar. Now of course there are no gerunds in Chinese, in the sense that there are no special verbal forms that may be so denominated, but there are fixed combinations of verb and particle that do exactly what a gerund does: make a verb like "write" into a noun by making its action continuous "writing" , thus making a quasi-noun, which may stand as a subject "writing is tiresome" and is able to take a direct object "writing a grammar. The proper way to teach is to make the known a bridge to the unknown.
To invent unheard of terms to describe unfamiliar concepts is a capricious proceeding. But the proof of my assertions, and the vindication of my method, will come from a perusal of the texts I translate and comment on in the grammar itself. If I make the meaning clear by explanations which are consistently effective in explaining the so far intractable problems of Classical Chinese grammar, then I should in fairness be taken seriously as one whose works have in some measure superceded those of my predecessors.
All Chinese texts are given in Pinyin, Chinese, and literal translation. The object of these translations is to make it transparently clear to the student what the Chinese means, thus I will always prefer awkward English to a smooth translation that hides the "watch-works" of the sentence. For the translations that appear with each quotation in Chinese:.
I shall always indicate words that I supply by enclosing them between square brackets [ ].
Sometimes I have had to paraphrase, because a word-for-word rendering would have been, by itself, unintelligible. In such cases I shall use parentheses and the word "literally" literally, ". In the translation portions I shall give Chinese names in my own style of sound-equivalence, which is simply the best approximation of the sound which decent English orthography allows. Pinyin should only be used in transcriptions: to foist its mysteries on the unprepared reader is just scholarly malice. At times I refer the reader to the entry for a word in Mathews' dictionary.
This will look like this M.
The "M" is for Mathews and the number is for the entry. When I quote from the Mathews definition without change, I place the words in quotation marks. In this case I will use the abbreviation W. Unfortunately Wang Li's work is only available in Chinese, and is not yet available to us even via Internet booksellers.
Karlgren is an absolute authority for the archaic and early-classical meaning of any given word, superceding even Mathews and Wang Li. Though Chinese is not an easy language, it is a very simple one. Once we grasp the full extent of this simplicity, and the problems which it causes, we arrive at a truly scientific understanding of the language and our work in learning it becomes immeasurably easier.
Chinese does not mark person, number, tense, mood, voice or case in the forms of its nouns and verbs. This simplicity in the form of the language entails that word order is rigidly fixed. Word order is considerably more flexible, however, in poetry. The following rules are the very essence of Classical Chinese syntax:.
Classical Chinese grammar
Context and word order are the only reliable guides to how a word is to be understood. There are a number of exceptions to these rules of word order, but these relate to particular words, not general principles. They will be addressed individually below when the words themselves are described. These will receive no special treatment here, since their employment is straightforward and without nuance. They precede the verb or noun negated.