Historical Chinese Phonology

Historical Chinese phonology deals with reconstructing the sounds of Chinese from the past. As Chinese is written with logographic characters, not alphabetic or syllabary, the methods employed in Historical Chinese phonology differ considerably from those employed in, for example, Indo-European linguistics.

Chinese is documented over a long period of time, with the earliest oracle bone writings dated to c. 1250 BC. However, since the writing is mostly with logographic characters, which do not directly specify the phonology of the language, reconstruction is in general quite difficult, and depends to a large extent on ancillary sources that more directly document the language's phonology. On the basis of these sources, historical Chinese is divided into the following basic periods:

  • Old Chinese, broadly from about 1300 BC to the early centuries AD. More narrowly, reconstructed "Old Chinese" is based on the rhymes of early poetry such as the Shijing and the phonological components of Chinese characters, and is assumed to represent the language of c. 1000-700 BC.
  • Middle Chinese, broadly from about the 6th century AD through to 12th century AD. More narrowly, reconstructed "Middle Chinese" is usually based on the detailed phonetic evidence of the Qieyun rime dictionary from the late 6th century AD.
  • Modern varieties, from about the 13th century AD to the present. Most modern varieties appear to have split off from a Late Middle Chinese koine of about 1000 AD (although some remnants of earlier periods are still present).

Read more about Historical Chinese Phonology:  Overview, Periodization of Chinese, Chinese Native Phonological Traditions, Modern Methods of Reconstruction, From Old Chinese To Early Middle Chinese, From Early Middle Chinese To Late Middle Chinese, Branching Off of The Modern Varieties

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