Most linguists classify all varieties of modern spoken Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family and believe that there was an original language, termed Proto-Sino-Tibetan, from which the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended. The relation between Chinese and other Sino-Tibetan languages is an area of active research, as is the attempt to reconstruct Proto-Sino-Tibetan. The main difficulty in this effort is that, while there is enough documentation to allow one to reconstruct the ancient Chinese sounds, there is no written documentation that records the division between Proto-Sino-Tibetan and ancient Chinese. In addition, many of the older languages that would allow us to reconstruct Proto-Sino-Tibetan are very poorly understood and many of the techniques developed for analysis of the descent of the (fusional) Indo-European languages from PIE do not apply to Chinese, an isolating language because of "morphological paucity" especially after Old Chinese.
Categorization of the development of Chinese is a subject of scholarly debate. One of the first systems was devised by the Swedish linguist Bernhard Karlgren in the early 1900s; most present systems rely heavily on Karlgren's insights and methods.
Old Chinese, sometimes known as "Archaic Chinese", was the language common during the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE–256 BCE), texts of which include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the poetry of the Shījīng, the history of the Shūjīng, and portions of the Yìjīng (I Ching). The phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters provide hints to their Old Chinese pronunciations. The pronunciation of the borrowed Chinese characters in Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean also provide valuable insights. Old Chinese was not wholly uninflected. It possessed a rich sound system in which aspiration or rough breathing differentiated the consonants, but probably was still without tones. Work on reconstructing Old Chinese started with Qīng dynasty philologists. Some early Indo-European loan-words in Chinese have been proposed, notably 蜜 mì "honey", 獅 shī "lion," and perhaps also 馬 mǎ "horse", 犬 quǎn "dog", and 鵝 é "goose". The source says the reconstructions of old Chinese are tentative, and not definitive so no conclusions should be drawn. The reconstruction of Old Chinese can not be perfect so this hypothesis may be called into question. The source also notes that southern dialects of Chinese have more monosyllabic words than the Mandarin Chinese dialects.
Discuss the Chinese language.
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