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Old ChineseA New Reconstruction$
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William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199945375

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199945375.001.0001

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The evidence for Old Chinese

The evidence for Old Chinese

(p.9) 2 The evidence for Old Chinese
Old Chinese

William H. Baxter

Laurent Sagart

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 details the sources of evidence used in the reconstruction of Old Chinese. Section 2.1 introduce Middle Chinese, a system of pronunciation of Chinese characters widely used in China in the 6th century CE, known to us through phonetic annotations in contemporary dictionaries and commentaries of classic texts. A series of tables present the elements of Middle Chinese syllable structure, including tones, initial consonants, and finals, and gives the conventional transcription we use to represent them. Section 2.2 discusses the issues involved in extracting information from Old Chinese poetic rhyming, most of it from the Book of Odes. Section 2.3 describes how phonological information about pronunciation can be inferred from the Chinese script; examples are given to illustrate the inferences suggested by newly available paleographic evidence. Section 2.4 introduces the phonologically conservative Mĭn, Kèjiā and Wăxiāng dialects, and section 2.5 describes the languages of the Vietic, Hmong-Mien and Kra-Dai families that contain layers of Old Chinese loanwords. Section 2.6 discusses the evidence on Old Chinese pronunciation that can be inferred from explicit comments in classical Chinese texts. Finally, in section 2.7 the authors warn against using evidence from related Tibeto-Burman languages to test hypotheses on Old Chinese phonology.

Keywords:   Middle Chinese, rhyming, Chinese script, Chinese dialects, loanwords, Vietic, Hmong-Mien, Kra-Dai, Tai-Kadai

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