Evidence of Diachronic Evolution in Ancient and Medieval Chinese Texts

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room H

  • Yegor Grebnev, Chair
  • Yezi Mu, “Language Contact and Diachronic Language Change: A Case Study on the Expressions of Tense and Aspect in Early Chinese Buddhist Scriptures”
  • Lukáš Zádrapa, “On the Possibility of Employing Quantitative Methods for Assessment of Authenticity and Authorship of Early Chinese Texts”
  • Vaclav Valtr, “Textual Differences in Explanatory Chapters in Guanzi
  • Georgiy Starostin, Discussant

Classical Chinese is often imagined as a generally homogeneous language permeating Chinese history before the twentieth century. Rooted in the grammar and vocabulary of canonical and classical texts, it became the norm that all subsequent generations faithfully followed. However, the linguistic studies of texts from various periods conducted during the last century have shown the important phonological, lexical, and grammatical changes in the history of Chinese, allowing scholars to identify distinctively different stages that can be considered languages in their own right, similar to how Old and Middle English and their various dialects are distinguished in the scholarship of the English language. Although this knowledge is commonly accepted by linguists, it has had surprisingly little impact on philologists and historians, who often fail to recognise the patterns of diachronic change in the texts they study. To a large extent, this is caused by the linguistic heterogeneity of sources, which combine contemporary dialectal features with the stock language of classical texts and deliberate archaisms. No universally accepted methodological approach has been proposed so far that would allow scholars to distinguish between these diachronic features. This has greatly inhibited the progress of research in such aspects as dating of texts, identifying chronologically distinctive parts in textual collections, and developing historically justified interpretations of sources.
In this panel, we bring together linguists and philologists working on a range of ancient and medieval Chinese sources interested in establishing a common methodological ground to identify diachronic changes in Classical Chinese texts.

Yezi Mu, “Language Contact and Diachronic Language Change: A Case Study on the Expressions of Tense and Aspect in Early Chinese Buddhist Scriptures”

Chinese Buddhist scriptures as translations of Indian Buddhist texts are generally believed to have been produced under the influence of language contact between the Literary Chinese (or wenyan 文言), vernacular Chinese, and ancient Indic (or Indo-Aryan) languages. Written in Chinese, these texts present some peculiar linguistic features which are rarely seen in earlier and contemporary Chinese literature.
This research focuses on the expressions of tense and aspect in representative early Chinese Buddhist scriptures produced before the Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.), and investigates how they varied diachronically and synchronically from their counterparts in Chinese pre-Buddhist literature, contemporary non-Buddhist texts, and later Chinese literature written during the Tang dynasty. The comparison indicates that early Chinese Buddhist scriptures contain many new expressions of tense and aspect which are related to those in later Chinese vernacular texts. The syntactic position of some new markers also shows similarity with the markings of tense and aspect in the Indic sources.
Hence, it can be assumed that the peculiar expressions of tense and aspect in early Chinese Buddhist scriptures were triggered by the intrusion of vernacular elements into the written language, along with potential influences from the Indic sources. These new elements were gradually accepted as normative in later translations of Buddhist scriptures, and some were even adopted into the general stream of written Chinese, thus supplementing its system of the expressions of tense and aspect.

Lukáš Zádrapa, “On the Possibility of Employing Quantitative Methods for Assessment of Authenticity and Authorship of Early Chinese Texts”

The issue of authenticity and authorship of ancient Chinese texts and of possible mediaeval forgeries has kept the field busy for decades, but quite surprisingly, there has been little progress in methodology and technical procedures that would allow our assessments to be based a more solid ground. Instead, scholars have usually had recurse to such notoriously uncertain criteria as the subject matter and contents of the texts in question. More strikingly, most historians of Chinese literature and thought have not been acquainted even with basic observations regarding historical syntax and lexicology, which may be, to a certain extent, be used for these purposes with considerable benefit (for the latest contributions and discussion, see Harbsmeier 2019 or Zádrapa 2019). What has been entirely absent from the whole debate, at least to my knowledge, is the potential of some more or less advanced methods of quantitative linguistics which constitute the core procedures of stylometry. In my talk, I would like to draw attention to them and to present the results of preliminary attempts at their application to ancient vs. mediaeval Chinese material.
In order to control the influence both of the time of composition and style, I intend to compare relevant parameters for selected chapters from the Hanfeizi, Xunzi, Mengzi, Yanshi jiaxun, and Baopuzi.

Vaclav Valtr, “Textual Differences in Explanatory Chapters in Guanzi

Guanzi is one of the largest and most complex texts conventionally dated to the Warring States period. It has a rather complicated history with many unresolved problems. One of the problematic sections is called Guanzi jie or Explanations to the Guanzi. These five chapters (one lost) provide a commentary on the five different preceding chapters of the book (chapters Mumin 牧民, Xingshi 形勢, Li zheng jiu bai 立政九敗, Ban fa 版法, and Ming fa 明法). The analysis in this paper is based on grammatical and structural particles, syntactic flexibility, and variant characters in specific cases when source texts are paraphrased. It offers case-to-case interpretations of singular omissions, emendations, and reformulations. Building on these results, the paper reconsiders the similarities in lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical style of all jie chapters and questions their proposed relatedness. Further, the argument is checked against parallel passages from other texts, as well as occasional palaeographic and phonological evidence. The explanatory chapters in the Guanzi thus provide a good example of a problematic relationship between the many temporal layers in this challenging amalgam of texts.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room H