Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction (英語) ハードカバー – 2014/9/30
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This book introduces a new linguistic reconstruction of the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of Old Chinese, the first Sino-Tibetan language to be reduced to writing. Old Chinese is the language of the earliest Chinese classical texts (1st millennium BCE) and the ancestor of later varieties of Chinese, including all modern Chinese dialects. William Baxter and Laurent Sagart's new reconstruction of Old Chinese moves beyond earlier reconstructions by taking into account important new evidence that has recently become available: better documentation of Chinese dialects that preserve archaic features, such as the Min and Waxiang dialects; better documentation of languages with very early loanwords from Chinese, such as the Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai and Vietnamese languages; and a flood of Chinese manuscripts from the first millennium BCE, excavated or discovered in the last several decades. Baxter and Sagart also incorporate recent advances in our understanding of the derivational processes that connect different words that have the same root. They expand our knowledge of Chinese etymology and identify, for the first time, phonological markers of pre-Han dialects, such as the development of *r to -j in a group of east coast dialects, but to -n elsewhere.
The most up-to-date reconstruction available, Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction brings the methodology of Old Chinese reconstruction closer to that of comparative reconstructions that have been used successfully in other language families. It is critical reading for anyone seeking an advanced understanding of Old Chinese.
William H. Baxter is Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Department of Linguistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His research in historical linguistics includes work on both the history of Chinese and its dialects and on the use of mathematical techniques to reconstruct linguistic history. Laurent Sagart is a senior scientist with the French CNRS. He has published widely in Chinese and East Asian language historical linguistics. He is interested in language classification, notably the internal classification of Austronesian, Sinitic and Sino-Tibetan, in the genetic relationships among East Asian language groups, and in East Asian linguistic prehistory.
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Like Schuessler's ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese, it contains a lengthy discussion of Old Chinese syllable structure, and I think some discussion of how syllables and words are reconstructed. It seems to me that what this book and the aforementioned free online lists concern, is what Schuessler calls "Minimal Old Chinese", so Old Chinese as guessed at from known Old Chinese characters. Huh.
This is Old Chinese, as contrasted with Middle Chinese, refering to characters in the Oracle Bone, Bronze, and Classics texts. It seems like Middle Chinese characters and phonetic values date to after these texts and are more associated with the borrowed values for characters used by the Vietnamese, Japanese, Koreans, etc, Han Dynasty colonies (hence, Japanese Kan-ji, "Han characters").
I've noticed that there's differences between the reconstructions of Schuessler in ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese and those online by Baxter and Sagart. Then there's also earlier Karlgren reconstructions of Old Chinese as can be seen in the inexpensive and popular Dover reprint of "Analytical Dictionary of Sino-Japanese Characters", which are quite different from these other two.
I'm not working on it right now, but recently I've quickly examined "A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese" and noticed that it had Old Chinese and Middle Chinese reconstructed values for some characters. I also became re-aware of Karlgren's "Grammatica Serica Recensa" (Latin: Reconstructed (Language) from the Chinese Letters) and Schuessler's addition to it, with a more transparent title, indicative of what GSR means, "Minimal Old Chinese and Later Han Chinese". In its beginning, he seems to indicate that GSR concerns this concept of "Minimal Old Chinese". I'm not sure the difference between Grammatica Serica Recensa and Analytical Dictionary of Sino-Japanese Characters, but I'm guessing they contain similar material and ideas, arranging characters by phonograms and giving reconstructions with some discussion.
Which is all really exciting.
But what I hope to do in the future is write and sell online glossaries and large corpora for Oracle Bone Script and Bronze Script. Already, I have a dictionary ready based on the 3 books by Keightley. These reconstructions are very popular matter for historical linguists, and I consider myself one, of a sort, but my interest is more in what each character-part originally was a picture of. And then, beyond that, interlinear glossed corpora and accompanying glossaries interest me very much. I strive for accuracy but within a time limit, and use academic resources.
What I hope has been done or will be done, is an exaustive etymological dictionary of the Sinitic family, with special attention given to this Old Chinese stage of the language(s), because this is the one upon which the Oracle Bone Script semantic and phonetic values seem to be based. Inasfar as that's even possible. Indo-European wasn't a written language, but we've got whole books full of reconstructed root words and etymologies. I sound the shelves of the University of Michigan and other universities near me, and search online for titles, and have found nothing to compare for the Sinitic families with Buck's phenomenal "A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages" or even polyglot glossaries for the Sinitic families. I imagine all this sort of thing might exist in Chinese, but that doesn't do most historical linguists or other scholars much good. All these resources in Chinese (and Japanese) are useless to the majority of scholars in anthropology and linguistics, who learn German and French if anything. So I applaud this current work being in (a major European language) but would like to point out that most relevant material is still in a large but obscure and phenomenally difficult writing system (Modern Chinese) that most trained specialists and other scholars will never learn to read. Most Sinologists don't seem to be aware of it, but the core of anthropology and linguistics, the sciences most relevant to their discipline, run on comparison, which in turn runs on accessible, international scholarly languages, of which Modern Chinese isn't and probably will not be.
Another thing to note about these matters is that historical linguists like Baxter and Sagart are a misunderstood minority in Sinology. Like all other "ancient area studies", Sinologists receive inadequate training in linguists (and anthropology), and as a result produce works which are not as insightful or as useful to people trained sufficiently in linguistics and anthropology as they could be. But each ancient area study is different for its dynamics, and Sinology is notable very small in the West and otherwise mostly Asians living in China and Japan, which is a weird shame and contrary to what's best for the world for sure. So there's a lot for linguists to do for ancient Chinese languages, and a lot of progress that can be made in training Sinologists sufficiently in linguistics, as opposed to just like, "Oh, I took classes like that in grad school but it's not really my thing and nobody uses it, so whatever." So Baxter and Sagart have really done a tremendous thing in making this book, from what I saw of it, and I can only express my wish that it be read and understood by a lot of people, as opposed to being one of those works that gets buried and not really implemented and mulled over. Not that many of us can afford it at $66 used, but we'll do what we can, and in time hopefully it will either get less expensive through reprints or they'll put a free PDF on their websites or something. I have yet to meet a lot of scholars in China of Old Chinese, but I'm sure they could not afford $66 used, if I can't. I have some idea of their budget from what scholarly libraries I have seen in China. If I ever see this book in a university library in China, it will be a photocopy made on a Xerox machine, that's for sure. I also have doubts that Chinese scholars of Old Chinese can even read English (or French or German), to tell the truth.
Knowing what I know of other language families, I find it very interesting that Karlgren called them Archaic Chinese and Ancient Chinese whereas today they prefer Old Chinese and Middle Chinese. At least I would have prefered they keep using Karlgren's names. It's just not like the Western literature for the Chinese language is so huge as that for the Egyptian languages. Consistency in naming and orthography goes a long way. Anyway, it ends up being a big topic regarding these ancient languages. Sometimes I would prefer Karlgren's names on various grounds, though knowing what I do of the relations between languages in Sinitic, these new names seem consistent with the use of Old -, and Middle - for other major language families, though I also have an appreciation for Classical - and even Archaic - as more descriptive of the actual corpus of texts and which stage of ancient languages we're talking about. I mean, if you're a linguist or anthropology, "Classical Egyptian" rings more bells than "Middle Egyptian", despite its scientific precision. And there's a comparable situation afoot with Chinese.
I can imagine why grad students and professors would refrain from typing up reviews for Amazon. Maybe they don't know about it, maybe they don't care. I'm sure there's reviews in academic journals behind pay walls. Anyway, I think all that impedes scholarship, and that Amazon should have some meaty reviews. I'm sure it helps research, as I've met people who have read meaty Amazon reviews.
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