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Classical Chinese

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 7:48 pm
by Liu Yuante
I think I have the correct forum for this. What i'm wanting to read in Chinese are 3K-period texts but since this is more about learning/translation in general I'll stick it here.

Anyhow, I currently have some books on the subject as well as a program called Clavis Sinica that, despite some limited vocabulary definitions, is a marvel. I'm currently working through Cao Cao's SGZ bio since there are two good translations (though one lacks Pei's commentary) on the web that I can use for elucidating/puzzling out difficult words, context, etc. What I'm doing at the moment is breaking it down into small 5 or 6 line segments which I spend the day on, and I go through three stages:

1. Read through the passage once, going slowly and trying to get a feel for the general meaning, and vocabulary.
2. Using the flashcard tool of Clavis Sinica to generate lists of vocabulary to quiz myself on.
3. Going through the text again, this time focusing on syntax and grammar (the use of different particles, etc - thank God there is no gender BS in Chinese like there is in Greek).

The next day I will review briefly the vocabulary and text of the prior day's pasage and then move on to the next one.

This is not a typical method probably, but I'm good with languages and Chinese syntax especially seems to be very similar to English. A nice, welcome change from Greek.

Any general suggestions/recommendations would be great.


Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 9:20 pm
by Lady Wu
Indeed, it's really nice that Chinese has no gender distinction in the syntax, and the word order is generally subject-verb-object, just like in English.

Things to keep in mind:
- Classical Chinese is very different from modern Chinese--the difference is like that between Latin and modern Spanish. There are lots of similarities and the words look similar, but grammatical rules can vary a lot. A grammar book on modern Chinese will not help you much with texts of 3k antiquity. On the other hand, most Classical Chinese textbooks focus on the Classical period, i.e. the late Spring and Autumn (circa 500BC), so even though Chen Shou is imitating the classical style, there can be subtle grammatical differences between what you get in classical textbooks and in SGZ (just like the various stages of Latin).

- Chinese languages have no subject-verb agreement or inflection of any kind on the verb. However, the subject is freely omitted when recoverable in context. This is especially rampant in older texts (the modern language drops subjects less frequently). There is a lot of guesswork to do.

- A big fat Chinese-English dictionary will be essential. The fatter, the better. Many regular modern dictionaries do not list the archaic meanings of words.

- Personally I would start with a shorter text than Cao Cao's biography, just because you can guess words easier when you know what the whole thing is. But it's your choice. :wink:

I don't know if you have a Classical Chinese textbook, or how far along you are in your studies, but I'll be happy to post important grammatical rules and stuff if you'd like me to. If you come across a problematic passage, you can post it here and I'll do a complete grammatical break-down + commentary. :wink:

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 9:51 pm
by robbyjo
Hey, Lady Wu.

That's nice. How many characters do we need to know in order to be able to read these? 6000? I heard from people that in order to converse fluently with people, we need something like 3000-4000 characters.

-- Rob

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:00 pm
by Liu Yuante
Yes, important grammatical rules would be great. I don't have a classical textbook, I'm picking things out with context mostly. The reason I chose Cao Cao's bio is because I know where it is in SGZ - the very first bio, and because it will provide practice with a lot of different things. I am have noticed (and am glad for) the lack of subject-verb agreements; I spend several years studying classical Greek and the whole array of declensions and changes with gender and number are just a headache. Though Chinese gives fewer clues this way, it is also les to have to memorise. I have also noticed the way the subject drops out but so far it seems mostly a matter of common sense - Greek does it a lot too, and not just with the subject, so I am kind of used to it. and I've noticed the vocabulary changes as well. I find it particularly amusing that the 'de' in Mengde means virtue or morals but also Germany. Clavis Sinica gives all the meanings but online translators render it Germany, leaving the opening sentences of his bio gibberish. Clavis has a dictionary of 4000 characters with an additional 21000 compounds and other items, but at your recommendation I'll pick up a fat paper lexicon as well. The nice thing about the program is it has cross-referenced lists of other words using the same radical as a given character, the same additional root, as well as lists of compounds using the character. That helps a lot because the character for given name is rendered as 'taboo, unmentionable' by Clavis. Using the cross-references, though, allowed me to see that in general it had to do with speaking, saying, mentioning, and given the rest of the context, the family name preceding and the style following, I could infer that it was the 'given' name. But there are a lot of words like that with it that are like that - having to puzzle out synonyms and the root idea behind a character in order to get it to make sense. I'm really enjoying it, though, and vocabulary was always my strongest point in French and Greek, and it seems to be the strongest hurdle to Chinese, so with luck maybe I can eventually be generating some quality translations.

At any rate, any help you can give with the grammar and maybe the names of lexicons/dictionaries worth picking up would be fantastic. Thanks.


Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:05 pm
by Lady Wu
robbyjo wrote:Hey, Lady Wu.

That's nice. How many characters do we need to know in order to be able to read these? 6000? I heard from people that in order to converse fluently with people, we need something like 3000-4000 characters.

-- Rob

I don't know. 3000-4000 sounds about right for everyday use. My guess is that knowing 6000 certain words can get you about 90% of the texts, but the problem is that with these old texts, people like to quote even older texts in formal writing, and some really obscure words can be used. With all these years of studying old texts, I think I have a pretty big reading vocabulary; but still, I need to refer to a dictionary for unfamiliar words at least once every average-lengthed SGZ bio. I also need to look up characters that are familiar but which have an archaic meaning that I'm not aware of, perhaps 3 times a bio.

Counting # of characters you know is probably not a very good indication of how well you can read classical stuff, then. Furthermore, the set of characters you need for classical stuff is not the same set of characters you need for the modern language. :(

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:21 pm
by robbyjo
LiuYuanTe wrote:I find it particularly amusing that the 'de' in Mengde means virtue or morals but also Germany.

I thought that assigning the "De" in Deguo for Germany is just for the sound. Likewise: Meiguo (beautiful country == USA), Yingguo (brave country == UK), Faguo (Rules country == France), etc.

My biggest frustration in Chinese is like this. Suppose you already know a character, but when it is joined with another character, it means totally different thing. Take an easy example: Dong == East, Xi == West. However Dongxi == thing. This is exactly the same "Dong" and exactly the same "xi". You cannot infer individual meaning. Likewise "Fangdong", it's using the same "dong", but it means "landlord". The "fang" character is IIRC == room. How can you make sense from all of these? :devil: I was thinking "fangdong" is the "east room". :lol: Ahh... I still remember their faces...

Oh well... I guess practice makes perfect, eh? I just really want to have friends to talk Chinese with and that are really tolerant with mistakes :). Or perhaps later when I'm free I can put my stuff in art section and start composing in Chinese. ;)

And... Lady Wu, thanks for the reply... ;)

-- Rob

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:30 pm
by Lady Wu
This is the Chinese-English dictionary I have. It's expensive, but darned good. I don't know of another dictionary that I would recommend more highly than this one--there are dictionaries specific to the classical language (and thus would have more classical entries than this one), but those tend to be Chinese-Chinese, and are useless for reading the daily newspaper. In terms of comprehensiveness, clarity, and appropriateness of translation this one is unrivaled, IMHO.

Regarding Classical Chinese grammar, I always recommend Edwin Pulleyblank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar, which I consider an essential reference for anyone who wants to take Classical Chinese seriously. The only problem is that the book is not an introductory textbook, but rather a grammar. It presupposes that you can recognize characters (or at least how to look them up), since the example sentences used are given only in characters and the pinyin romanization (which helps), but the meanings of individual words are not given. It's more like a technical manual, and not for people who are afraid of words like "predicates", "noun phrase", "nominalization", "interrogative", or "aspect". It should be ok if you've done some studying of other languages, though.

I don't have particular textbooks to recommend, unfortunately. I learnt Classical Chinese simply by reading a large amount of texts when I was young enough to acquire other languages with minimal effort. I took some courses in college just to make sure that I didn't screw myself up, and in those classes we either used the Pulleyblank book with readings culled from various sources, or an unpublished textbook with Yale romanization :shock: Perhaps people like Kong Wen (who've bought classical Chinese textbooks in English) can recommend something?

Unread postPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 10:59 pm
by robbyjo
Lady Wu,

What is your recommendation for English-->Chinese dictionary? I already have the Chinese-->English one. Bidirectional dictionary would do as long as it is complete with examples... :)

-- Rob

Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2004 1:32 am
by Liu Yuante
Thank you for the suggestions. That dictionary is pricey; for the moment I will have to wait on it, but the grammar text is within my means. Rote memorization has never been a problem for me so the vocab, I think, will come in time (I hope). The grammar is the main thing.

One thing that does bother me though is recognizing proper names; now, if it is part of a lead-in to something from the commentaries, I can get it because the verb 'to say' is usually at the end of the sequence of characters. But in other spots I'll be looking at the characters and be going 'this makes _zero_ sense' and I'll check a translation and see hat the characters are representing names, not the character meaning. How do you recognise that kind of thing? Is it just something that comes with experience, where you get the rest of it and realise that's the only way to make it make sense?

Anyway thanks again for the help.

And to Liu Pi: Regarding the 'de', I don't know if it is for the sound or what, I just know that's what chintzy online machine translators usually spit out for that character. I think I inputted a piece of text from SGZ into one of those, I think it was from Chen Shou's intro, and it spewed out smething about Pakistan. Lesson learned: online translating devices are not to be trusted, not even for single character help :P


Cao Cao teaches Chinese, episode 1

Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2004 3:56 am
by Lady Wu
Lesson 1: :D
(at robbyjo's request I'm putting in the Pinyin as well...some of you Mandarin speakers out there check it for me :P)
tai4zu3 wu3huang2di4, Pei4guo2 Qiao2 ren2 ye3.
"The Grand Progenitor, the Martial Emperor, was a man from Qiao in Pei state,"
:arrow: The way to express "A is B" in Classical Chinese (hereafter CC) is [A B 也], where A and B are noun phrases. Sometimes a comma is put between them, but remember that there was no punctuation in CC texts, and the commas and whatnot we see now are edited in by modern editors. There are many other examples where there is no comma between A and B, and you just have to figure out. This sentence thus says: "太祖武皇帝 is 沛国谯人"
:arrow: 太祖, `Grand Progenitor', is the temple name given to Cao Cao after his death. Chen Shou's use of this to refer to Cao Cao throughout the text of his bio is thus an anachronism.
:arrow: 武皇帝, `Martial Emperor', is the posthumous imperial title Cao Cao received when Cao Pi ascended the throne. In Chinese, the adjective or modifying words come before a noun, so in a rank title, the acutal rank follows all the decorative words. 武, `martial', modifies the title, 皇帝, `emperor'.
:arrow: Similarly, in 沛国谯人, the actual noun is 人, `person', and 沛国谯 modifies it (by saying where that person is from, like when we say "a Chinese person", "an Oregon man", etc). When referring to place names, the widest area comes first. So Pei State is a bigger area than Qiao, which was a city in Pei. In English we'd say "Qiao, Pei State", just like we say, "Portland, Oregon" or "Beijing, China"; in Chinese, the order is reversed.

xing4 Cao2, hui4 Cao1, zi4 Meng4de2, Han4 xiang4guo2 Can1 zhi1 hou4.
"His surname was Cao, his tabooed name Cao, style Mengde. He was a descendent of Cao Can, former Han Chancellor of the State."
:arrow: 姓 = surname 讳= tabooed name 字 =style: standard fare at the beginning of biographies.
:arrow: Regarding the tabooed name讳: in Chinese culture, it is taboo to opening say the name of one's elders or superiors. The given names of one's father, grandfather, or ancestors are to be avoided out of respect. Since an emperor (what Cao Cao is considered here) demands the utmost respect, his name cannot be uttered. Therefore, in historical texts or when you really really have to mention his name, 讳 is used. The regular character for `name, to be named' is 名.
:arrow: 之 is like the "apostrophe s" in English, such as "Mary's lamb", "the dog's tail", "the girl's mother", etc. 汉相国参之后 thus means汉相国参's 后. 后 means `after, descendent'.
:arrow: 汉相国参 is another case of the "backward description". In English, we say "Cao Can, Chancellor of the State of Han". In Chinese, we say "Han Chancellor of State Cao Can". The description always comes before the entity under discussion--here we're talking about Cao Can, and we describe him as Han's Chancellor of State.
:arrow: `Former' was used in the translation to show that Cao Can wasn't the Chancellor at the time of Cao Cao. Anyone versed in Chinese history would know that Cao Can lived some 400 years before Cao Cao, and thus it is not noted in the Chinese text.

Huan2di4 shi4, Cao2 Teng2 wei2 zhong1chang2shi4 da4chang2qiu1, feng1 Fei4ting2 hou2.
"In the age of Emperor Huan, Cao Teng was the 'Great Prolonger of Autumn' Regular Palace Attendant, was enfeoffed as Marquis of Feiting. "
:arrow: Previously, we said that when we want to say "X's Y" or "the Y of X", we use "X 之 Y". Now we see that it is not necessary to use 之 to denote a relationship between two noun phrases. 桓帝 "Emperor Huan" and 世 "age, time" are both nouns, but there is no之 connecting them. It still means "Emperor Huan's time". It is also grammatical to say桓帝之世 (and it means the same thing), and it's stylistics that determine which version you use.
:arrow: 为 is a versatile verb. It means "do", "act as", "become", "faire", "devenir", in most of their regular senses. 中常侍大长秋 is a name of a position.
:arrow: 封XX 侯: This phrase will come up a lot in SGZ. 侯 is a Marquis. 封 is the ceremonial word for bestowing a noble title on someone. So to 封 someone a侯 of something (again, since modifiers come before the noun, the name of the marquisate or the decorative title will precede the侯) is to bestow that title of marquis on him. Here it's translated as a passive in English. There is no particular passive inflection on the verb in CC--you'll just have to tell by context, and sometimes you'll see phrases like "by so and so" that signal a passive clause.

yang3zi3 Song1 si4, guan1 zhi4 tai4wei4.
"His adopted son Cao Song succeeded the title and himself reached the position of Grand Commandant."
:arrow: 至 means `to reach, to arrive'. 官 could either mean "an official" or "an official position".

mo4 neng3 shen3 qi2 sheng1chu1 ben3mo4.
"It is unknown, however, the details of his birth.
:arrow: 莫 is a negative word. Negation always precedes the predicate, just as it does in English ("I'm not hungry") or Spanish ("No habló Español"). 能 means "can, able to". 莫能 thus means "not able to".
:arrow: The subject is omitted, and this is an impersonal construction literally meaning "one is not able to determine the details of his birth".
:arrow: 其 = his/her/its: third person possessive pronoun. Like in English, it comes before the main noun ("his chair", "her mother", "its expiry date" etc). Here, the main noun phrase is 生出本末. 生出 literally means "born" and "out", so here it refers to "where he came from, his birth". 本末 = "beginning" and "end", so the compound means "details" (i.e. when you know the details of everything from beginning to end, "make head and tail of something", etc).

Song1 sheng1 Tai4zu3
Cao Song begot the Grand Progenitor [Cao Cao].
:arrow: Ahhh... finally, the proof that CC is Subj-Verb-Obj. Subject = 嵩 [Cao] Song . Verb = 生 to give birth to, to beget. Object = 太祖 the Grand Progenitor.