Literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters

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Literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese文白異讀
Simplified Chinese文白异读

Differing literary and colloquial readings for certain Chinese characters are a common feature of many Chinese varieties, and the reading distinctions for these linguistic doublets often typify a dialect group. Literary readings (文讀文读; wéndú) are usually used in loanwords, names (geographic and personal), literary works (like poetry), and in formal settings, while colloquial/vernacular readings (白讀白读; báidú) are usually used in everyday vernacular speech.

For example, in Mandarin the character for the word "white" () is generally pronounced bái ([pǎi]), but as a name or in certain formal or historical settings it can be pronounced ([pwǒ]). This example is particularly well known due to its effect on the modern pronunciation of the names of the Tang dynasty (618–907) poets Bai Juyi and Li Bai (alternatively, "Bo Juyi" and "Li Bo").

The differing pronunciations led linguists to explore the linguistic strata.[1][2] It is generally believed that the colloquial readings represent a substratum, while their literary counterparts a superstratum. In other words, colloquial readings preserve more ancient and conservative pronunciations, while literary readings represent recent pronunciations of foreign influence, especially by the prestigious dialects of historical capitals such as Nanjing or Beijing. The case is reversed in Mandarin Chinese, however, where literary pronunciations are usually older.

Characteristics[edit]

For a given Chinese variety, colloquial readings typically reflect native phonology,[3] while literary readings typically originate from other Chinese varieties,[4] typically more prestigious varieties. Colloquial readings are usually older, resembling the sound systems described by old rime dictionaries such as Guangyun. Literary readings are closer to the phonology of newer sound systems. Many literary readings are the result of Mandarin influence in Ming and Qing.

Literary readings are usually used in formal settings because past prestigious varieties were usually used in formal education and discourse. Although the phonology of the Chinese variety in which this occurred did not entirely match that of the prestige variety when in formal settings, they tended to evolve toward the prestige variety. Also, neologisms usually use the pronunciation of prestigious varieties.[5] Colloquial readings are usually used in informal settings because their usage in formal settings has been supplanted by the readings of the prestige varieties.[5]

Because of this, the frequency of literary readings in a Chinese variety reflects its history and status. For example, before the promotion of Modern Standard Chinese (Mandarin), the dialects of the central plains had few literary readings, but they now have literary readings that resemble the phonology of Modern Standard Chinese. Outside the central plains, the relatively influential Beijing and Canton dialects have fewer literary readings than other varieties.

In some Chinese varieties, there may be many instances of foreign readings replacing native readings, forming many sets of literary and colloquial readings. A newer literary reading may replace an older literary reading, and the older literary reading may become disused or become a new colloquial reading.[5] Sometimes literary and colloquial readings of the same character have different meanings.

The analogous phenomenon exists to a much more significant degree in Japanese, where individual characters (kanji) generally have two common readings – the newer borrowed, more formal on'yomi, and the older native, more colloquial kun'yomi. Unlike in Chinese varieties, which are genetically related, in Japanese the borrowed readings are unrelated to the native readings. Further, many kanji in fact have several borrowed readings, reflecting borrowings at different periods – these multiple borrowings are generally doublets or triplets, sometimes quite distant. These readings are generally used in particular contexts, such as older readings for Buddhist terms, which were early borrowings.

Behavior in Chinese[edit]

Cantonese[edit]

In Cantonese, colloquial readings tend to resemble Middle Chinese, while literary readings tend to resemble Mandarin. The meaning of a character is often differentiated depending on whether it is read with a colloquial or literary reading. There are regular relationships between the nuclei of literary and colloquial readings in Cantonese. Colloquial readings with [ɛ] nuclei correspond with literary [ɪ] and [i] nuclei. It is also the case with colloquial [a] and literary [ɐ], and colloquial [ɐi] and literary [i]. Of course, not all colloquial readings with a certain nucleus correspond to literary readings with another nucleus.

Examples:

Chinese character Middle Chinese1 Colloquial reading Literary reading
IPA Jyutping Meaning IPA Jyutping Meaning
tsiᴇŋ tsɛŋ˥ zeng1 clever tsɪŋ˥ zing1 spirit
tɕiᴇŋ tsɛŋ˧ zeng3 correct, good tsɪŋ˧ zing3 correct
dziᴇŋ tsɛŋ˨ zeng6 clean tsɪŋ˨ zing6 clean
kɣiæŋ kɛŋ˥ geng1 be afraid kɪŋ˥ ging1 frighten
bɣiæŋ pʰɛŋ˨˩ peng4 inexpensive pʰɪŋ˨˩ ping4 flat
tsʰeŋ tsʰɛŋ˥ ceng1 blue/green, pale tsʰɪŋ˥ cing1 blue/green
ɦep kɛp˨ gep6 clamp kip˨ gip6 clamp
siᴇk sɛk˧ sek3 cherish, (v.) kiss sɪk˥ sik1 lament
ʃɣæŋ saŋ˥ saang1 raw, (honorific name suffix) sɐŋ˥ sang1 (v.) live, person
ʃɣæŋ saŋ˥ saang1 livestock sɐŋ˥ sang1 livestock
deu tɛu˨ deu6 discard tiu˨ diu6 turn, discard
lʌi lɐi˨˩ lai4 come lɔi˨˩ loi4 come
使 ʃɨ sɐi˧˥ sai2 use si˧˥ si2 (v.) cause, envoy
Notes:

1. Middle Chinese reconstruction according to Zhengzhang Shangfang. Middle Chinese tones in terms of level (), rising (), departing (), and entering () are given.

Hakka[edit]

Hakka contains instances of differing literary and colloquial readings.[6]

Examples:

Chinese character Literary reading Colloquial reading
saŋ˦ sɛn˦
tʰi˥˧ tʰɛ˦
ka˦ kʰa˦
fui˧˥ pʰui˧˥
sit˩ siak˩
tʂin˥˧ (正宗), tʂaŋ˦ (正月) tʂaŋ˥˧

Mandarin[edit]

Unlike most varieties of Chinese, literary readings in the national language are usually more conservative than colloquial readings. This is because they reflect readings from before Beijing was the capital,[4] e.g. from the Ming Dynasty. Most instances where there are different literary and colloquial readings occur with characters that have entering tones. Among those are primarily literary readings that have not been adopted into the Beijing dialect before the Yuan Dynasty.[4] Colloquial readings of other regions have also been adopted into the Beijing dialect, a major difference being that literary readings are usually adopted with the colloquial readings. Some of the differences between the national standards of Taiwanese Guóyǔ and mainland Chinese Pǔtōnghuà are due to the fact that Putonghua tends to adopt colloquial readings for a character[7] while Guoyu tends to adopt a literary reading.[8]

Examples of literary readings adopted into the Beijing dialect:

Chinese character Middle Chinese1 Literary reading Colloquial reading
IPA Pinyin IPA Pinyin
hək xɤ˥˩ xei˥ hēi
bɣæk pwɔ˧˥ pai˧˥ bái
bwɑk pwɔ˧˥ pɑʊ˧˥ báo
pɣʌk pwɔ˥ pɑʊ˥ bāo
kɣiɪp tɕi˨˩˦ kei˨˩˦ gěi
kʰɣʌk kʰɤ˧˥ tɕʰjɑʊ˥˩ qiào
luo lu˥˩ lɤʊ˥˩ lòu
lɨuk lu˥˩ ljɤʊ˥˩ liù
dʑɨuk ʂu˧˥ shú ʂɤʊ˧˥ shóu
ʃɨk sɤ˥˩ ʂai˨˩˦ shǎi
sɨɐk ɕɥɛ˥ xuē ɕjɑʊ˥ xiāo
kɣʌk tɕɥɛ˧˥ jué tɕjɑʊ˨˩˦ jiǎo
hwet ɕɥɛ˥˩ xuè ɕjɛ˨˩˦ xiě
Notes:

1. Middle Chinese reconstruction according to Zhengzhang Shangfang. Middle Chinese tones in terms of level (), rising (), departing (), and entering () are given.

Examples of colloquial readings adopted into the Beijing dialect:

Chinese character Middle Chinese1 Literary reading Colloquial reading
IPA Pinyin IPA Pinyin
kɣʌŋ tɕjɑŋ˨˩˦ jiǎng kɑŋ˨˩˦ gǎng
ŋam jɛn˧˥ yán ai˧˥ ái
kʰɣʌk t͡ɕʰjɑʊ̯˥˩ qiào kʰɤ˧˥
Notes:

1. Middle Chinese reconstruction according to Zhengzhang Shangfang. Middle Chinese tones in terms of level (), rising (), departing (), and entering () are given.

Sichuanese[edit]

In Sichuanese, colloquial readings tend to resemble Ba-Shu Chinese (Middle Sichuanese) or Southern Proto-Mandarin in Ming Dynasty, while literary readings tend to resemble modern standard Mandarin. For example, in the Yaoling Dialect the colloquial reading of "" (meaning "things") is [væʔ],[9] which is very similar to its pronunciation of Ba-Shu Chinese in Song Dynasty (960 - 1279).[10] Meanwhile, its literary reading, [voʔ], is relatively similar to the standard Mandarin pronunciation [u]. The table below shows some Chinese characters with both literary and colloquial readings in Sichuanese.[11]

Example Colloquial Reading Literary Reading Meaning Standard Mandarin Pronunciation
tsai at tsai
tia tʰi lift tʰi
tɕʰie tɕʰy go tɕʰy
tɕy cut tɕy
xa ɕia down ɕia
xuan xuən across xəŋ
ŋan ȵian stricked ian
suei su rat ʂu
tʰai ta big ta
toŋ tsu master tʂu

Wu[edit]

In the northern Wu-speaking region, the main sources of literary readings are the Beijing and Nanjing dialects during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and Modern Standard Chinese.[12] In the southern Wu-speaking region, literary readings tend to be adopted from the Hangzhou dialect. Colloquial readings tend to reflect an older sound system.[13]

Not all Wu dialects behave the same way. Some have more instances of discrepancies between literary and colloquial readings than others. For example, the character had a [ŋ] initial in Middle Chinese, and in literary readings, there is a null initial. In colloquial readings it is pronounced /ŋuɛ/ in Songjiang.[14] About 100 years ago, it was pronounced /ŋuɛ/ in Suzhou[15] and Shanghai, and now it is /uɛ/.

Some pairs of literary and colloquial readings are interchangeable in all cases, such as in the words 吳淞 and 松江. Some must be read in one particular reading. For example, 人民 must be read using the literary reading, /zəɲmiɲ/, and 人命 must be read using the colloquial reading, /ɲiɲmiɲ/. Some differences in reading for the same characters have different meanings, such as 巴結, using the colloquial reading /pʊtɕɪʔ/ means "make great effort," and using the literary reading /pɑtɕɪʔ/ means "get a desired outcome." Some colloquial readings are almost never used, such as /ŋ̍/ for and /tɕiɑ̃/ for Template:Lintext.

Examples:

Chinese character Literary reading Colloquial reading
/səɲ/ in 生物 /sɑ̃/ in 生菜
/zəɲ/ in 人民 /ɲiɲ/ in 大人
/dɑ/ in 大饼 /dɯ/ in 大人
/vəʔ/ in 事物 /məʔ/ in 物事
/tɕia/ in 家庭 /kɑ/ in 家生

Min Nan[edit]

Min languages, such as Taiwanese Hokkien, separate reading pronunciations (讀音) from spoken pronunciations (語音) and explications (解說). Hokkien dictionaries in Taiwan often differentiate between such character readings with prefixes for literary readings and colloquial readings ( and , respectively).

The following examples in Pe̍h-oē-jī show differences in character readings in Taiwanese Hokkien:[16][17]

Chinese character Reading pronunciations Spoken pronunciations / explications English
pe̍k pe̍h white
biān bīn face
su chu book
seng seⁿ / siⁿ student
put not
hóan tńg return
ha̍k o̍h to study
jîn / lîn lâng person
siàu chió few
chóan tńg to turn

In addition, some characters have multiple and unrelated pronunciations, adapted to represent Hokkien words. For example, the Hokkien word bah ("meat") is often written with the character 肉, which has etymologically unrelated colloquial and literary readings (he̍k and jio̍k, respectively).[18][19]

For more explanation, see Literary and colloquial readings in Hokkien.

Min Dong[edit]

In the Fuzhou dialect of Min Dong, literary readings are mainly used in formal phrases and words derived from the written language, while the colloquial ones are used in more colloquial phrases. Phonologically, a large range of phonemes can differ between the character's two readings: in tone, final, initial, or any and all of these features.

The following table uses Foochow Romanized as well as IPA for some of the major differences in readings.

Character Literary Colloquial
Literary reading Phrase Meaning Colloquial reading Phrase Meaning
hèng [heiŋ˥˧] 行李 hèng-lī luggage giàng [kjaŋ˥˧] 行墿 giàng-duô to walk
sĕng [seiŋ˥] 生態 sĕng-tái zoology, ecology săng [saŋ˥] 生囝 săng-giāng childbearing
gŏng [kouŋ˥] 江蘇 Gŏng-sŭ Jiangsu gĕ̤ng [køyŋ˥] 閩江 Mìng-gĕ̤ng Min River
báik [paiʔ˨˦] 百科 báik-kuŏ encyclopedical báh [paʔ˨˦] 百姓 báh-sáng common people
[hi˥] 飛機 hĭ-gĭ aeroplane buŏi [pwi˥] 飛鳥 buŏi-cēu flying birds
hàng [haŋ˥˧] 寒食 Hàng-sĭk Cold Food Festival gàng [kaŋ˥˧] 天寒 tiĕng gàng cold, freezing
[ha˨˦˨] 大廈 dâi-hâ mansion â [a˨˦˨] 廈門 Â-muòng Amoy (Xiamen)

Gan[edit]

The following are examples of variations between literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters in Gan Chinese.

Chinese character Literary reading Colloquial reading
/sɛn/ as in 學生 (student) /saŋ/ as in 出生 (be born)
/lon/ as in 微軟 (Microsoft) /ɲion˧/ as in 軟骨 (cartilage)
/tɕʰin/ as in 青春 (youth) /tɕʰiaŋ/ as in 青菜 (vegetables)
/uɔŋ/ as in 看望 (visit) /mɔŋ/ as in 望相 (look)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ LaPolla, Randy J. (2010). Language contact and language change in the history of the Sinitic languages. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(5), 6858-6868.
  2. ^ LaPolla, Randy J. (2009). Causes and effects of substratum, superstratum and adstratum influence, with reference to Tibeto-Burman languages. Senri Ethnological Studies, 75, 227-237.
  3. ^ 王洪君 (2006), 層次與演變階段—蘇州話文白異讀析層擬測三例, Language and Linguistics, 7 (1)
  4. ^ a b c 王福堂 (2006), 文白異讀中讀書音的幾個問題, 語言學論叢, 32 (9)
  5. ^ a b c 陳忠敏 (2003), 重論文白異讀與語音層次, 語文研究 (3)
  6. ^ 臺灣客家語常用詞辭典 [Dictionary of Common Words in Taiwanese Hakka], version 2016 (in Chinese). Ministry of Education, R.O.C.
  7. ^ Chung-Yu, Chen; 陈重瑜 (1994). "Evidence of High-Frequency Colloquial Forms Moving Towards the Yin-Ping Tone / 常用口语字阴平化的例证". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 22 (1): 1–39. JSTOR 23756584.
  8. ^ Cheng, Robert L. (June 1985). "A Comparison of Taiwanese, Taiwan Mandarin, and Peking Mandarin". Language. 61 (2): 352–377. doi:10.2307/414149. JSTOR 414149.
  9. ^ 杨升初(1985年S2期),《剑阁摇铃话音系记略》,湘潭大学社会科学学报
  10. ^ 王庆(2010年04期),《四川方言中没、术、物的演变》,西华大学学报(哲学社会科学版)
  11. ^ 甄尚灵(1958年01期),《成都语音的初步研究》,四川大学学报(哲学社会科学版)
  12. ^ Qian, Nairong (2003). 上海語言發展史. Shanghai: 上海人民出版社. p. 70. ISBN 978-7-208-04554-5.
  13. ^ Wang, Li (1981). 漢語音韻學. China Book Company. SH9018-4.
  14. ^ 張源潛 (2003). 松江方言志. 上海辭書出版社. ISBN 978-7-5326-1391-5.
  15. ^ Ting, Pang-hsin (2003). 一百年前的蘇州話. 上海教育. ISBN 978-7-5320-8561-3.
  16. ^ Mair, Victor H. (2010). "Taiwanese, Mandarin, and Taiwan's language situation: How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language". 拼音/Pinyin.info. Archived from the original on 13 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  17. ^ 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典 [Dictionary of Common Words in Taiwanese Hokkien] (in Chinese). Ministry of Education, R.O.C. 2019.
  18. ^ Klöter, Henning (2005). Written Taiwanese. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 21. ISBN 978-3-447-05093-7.
  19. ^ "Entry #2607 (肉)". 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典 [Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan] (in Chinese and Hokkien). Ministry of Education, R.O.C. 2011.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Bauer, Robert S. (1996). Identifying the Tai substratum in Cantonese. In Pan-Asiatic Linguistics: Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Languages and Linguistics (Vol. 5, pp. 1806-1844).
  • 王洪君 (Wang Hong-jun). (2009). 兼顾演变、推平和层次的汉语方言历史关系模型 [A Historical relation model of Chinese dialects with multiple perspectives of evolution, level and stratum]. 方言, 2009(3), 204-218.
  • 吳瑞文 (Wu Ruei-wen). (2002). 論閩方言四等韻的三個層次 [Chronological Strata of Qieyun Grade IV Finals in Min]. Language and Linguistics, 3(1), 133-162.
  • 吳翠萍 (Wu Tsuei-Ping). (2006). 從語意角度看閩南語文白異讀的競爭現象 [Competing Of the Colloquial and Literary in Taiwan Southern Min: Semantic Analysis]. 南亞學報, 26, 147-158.
  • 李如龙. (1999). 论汉语方音异读. 语言教学与研究, 1, 96-110.
  • 李蓝. (2014). 文白异读的形成模式与北京话的文白异读. 中国社会科学, 9, 163-179.
  • 徐芳敏 (Hsu Fang-min). (1995). 古閩南語幾個白話韻母的初步擬測:兼論擬測的條件. 臺大中文學報, 7, 217-252.
  • 徐芳敏 (Hsu Fang-min). (2010). 漢語方言本字考證與「尋音」(貳)——從漢語「大」音韻地位談到漢語方言本字文讀白讀音韻對應 [Original Characters in Chinese Dialects and the Search for Pronunciations (2): "Da" and Phonetic Correspondences between Literary and Vernacular Pronunciations ]. 臺大文史哲學報, 72, 35-65.
  • 徐貴榮 (Hsu Kuei-jung). (2004). 台灣客語的文白異讀研究 [The Research Between the Speech Sound and the Pronunciation of Taiwanese Hakka]. 台灣語文研究, 2, 125–154.
  • 耿振生. (2003). 北京话文白异读的形成. 语言学论丛, 27.
  • 康韶真(Khng Siâu-Tsin). (2013). 少年人對台語文白選讀ê使用情形kap影響因素 [The Usage Situation and Influencing Factors for Young People's Choice of Colloquial or Literary Pronunciations in Taiwanese]. Journal of Taiwanese Vernacular, 5(2), 38-53.
  • 張堅 (Zhang Jian). (2018). 潮州方言的「正音」與新文讀層次 [Zhengyin and the New Literary Pronunciation of Chaozhou Dialect]. 漢學研究, 36(3), 209-234.
  • 陳忠敏 (Chen Zhongmin). (2018). 吳語、江淮官話的層次分類:以古從邪崇船禪諸聲母的讀音層次為依據 [Strata Subgrouping of Wu and Jianghuai Mandarin Dialects—Based on the Pronunciations of Some Initials in Middle Chinese]. 漢學研究, 36(3), 295-317.
  • 楊秀芳 (Yang Hsiu-fang). (1982). 閩南語文白系統的研究(Doctoral dissertation). Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University.
  • 賴文英. (2014). 臺灣客語文白異讀探究. Hakka Affairs Council, Taiwan R.O.C.