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Ěryǎ 爾雅

(2,799 words)

Author(s): Weldon South COBLIN
The Ěryǎ 爾雅 is generally acclaimed as the earliest Chinese lexicographical work. The received interpretation of the title is “approaching or coming close to elegance”, from  ěr 爾 ‘near’ (a loan usage for the character more commonly written as 邇) and 雅 ‘elegance, refinement, correctness’. The use of in the sense of “elegant or correct linguistic usage” is commonly associated with the phrase yǎ yán 雅言 ‘to speak elegantly or in a refined manner’, as found in the Confucian Analects (7.18). The tradition regarding the title of the work is first attested in the Eastern Hàn paronomasticon Shìm…
Date: 2017-03-02

Guānhuà 官話, Historical Development

(4,192 words)

Author(s): Weldon South COBLIN
The term Guānhuà 官話 'Official Language, Language of the Officials' is the traditional name for the lingua franca or koiné used in China in administrative, educated, and similar circles during the Míng (1368–1644) and Qīng (1644–1911) dynasties. The expression first appears in texts of mid-Míng times but was undoubtedly used in speech before then. The seventeenth century Dominican grammarian and lexicographer of Guānhuà, Francisco Varo (Chinese name Wàn Jìguó 萬濟國, 1627–1687), remarked that in his time two other terms, zhèngzì 正字 ('correct characters or words') and zhèngyīn 正音 (…
Date: 2017-03-02

Li Fang-Kuei [Lǐ Fāngguī] 李方桂 (1902-1987)

(2,362 words)

Author(s): Weldon South COBLIN
Li Fang-Kuei (aka F.K. Li; Chinese: Lǐ Fāngguì 李方桂). World-renowned descriptive and historical linguist, whose work comprised research and publication not only on Chinese but also on comparative Tai, Old Tibetan, and the Athabaskan language family of North America. F.K. Li was born in Guǎngzhōu on 20 August 1902, one of several children of a mid-level Qīng official, who was in government service in that city. When the Qīng Dynasty fell in 1911, Li's father, in keeping with the traditional practice in such instances, withdrew fr…
Date: 2017-03-02