Historical evolution of Chinese language

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Jeraru, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. Jeraru Junior Member

    España, español y catalán
    Hello. I'm not an scholar but I did little research about the evolution of Chinese family of languages. If I'm not wrong that evolution was at it follows:

    Old Chinese ---> Middle Chinese, other varieties of Chinese family and formation of Classical Chinese from Old Chinese grammar and vocabulary ---> Old forms of the present varieties of Chinese family (Old Mandarin, Old Cantonese, etc.) ---> Nowaday's languages and dialects

    I have some questions about:

    1. Is Old Chinese an obscure group of archaic varieties of Chinese family or is a unique language?

    2. If Old Chinese was a unique language, it was a prestige language or a lingua franca of Northern China?

    3. Middle Chinese was in its time the predominat lingua franca of China?

    4. Middle Chinese is an ancestor of Mandarin Chinese or this one has a parallel upbringing?

    5. All written varieties of Chinese family of all time have the same (or a considerably similar) grammar and vocabulary?

    6. In Chinese history has been a tendency of having Chinese kingdoms a northern lingua franca (if the kingdom were not totally southerner)?

    7. What was the lingua franca or prestige language of Táng and Sòng Dynasties?


    Thank you so much
     
  2. CitizenEmpty Senior Member

    English & Korean
    All I know is that many of early Chinese had some kind of pharyneal influences in the phonology. I recommend Pharyngealization in Early Chinese by Jerry Norman for more information. It explains the complicated issues of palatalization in Middle Chinese phonology.
     
  3. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    This is my understanding, but I'm not an expert either and I might make some mistakes.

    1. Is Old Chinese an obscure group of archaic varieties of Chinese family or is a unique language?
    At that time the Chinese civilization was concentrated in Central China, along the Yellow river. Pretty much Northern and Southern China weren't populated by Chinese.
    I think more probably a language with many dialectal variation, descending form proto-Sinotibetan, but related to each other, and probably mutually intelligible.

    2. If Old Chinese was a unique language, it was a prestige language or a lingua franca of Northern China?
    The written language (Classical Chinese) was standardized after Confucius. The spoken languages had more variations.

    3. Middle Chinese was in its time the predominat lingua franca of China?
    The written language was (and would be till the Fourth May Movement) based on Confucius's language.
    There was probably a "standard spoken variety" based on the capital's dialect, used by some traders and educated people. But it's reported that the Emperor even had problems understanding the Southern governors.

    4. Middle Chinese is an ancestor of Mandarin Chinese or this one has a parallel upbringing?
    Mandarin descends from Middle Chinese, with both substrata and superstrata of Northern populations, such as Huns, Manchu, Mongols, etc.

    5. All written varieties of Chinese family of all time have the same (or a considerably similar) grammar and vocabulary?
    Before May Fourth Movement, the written language was Classical Chinese, based on Old Chinese grammar and vocabulary. After that, the written language is based on Mandarin.
    In Hong Kong many people write in Cantonese as they speak, with Cantonese grammar and vocabulary.
    In theory, each Chinese dialect could be written with their own grammar and vocabulary, but their written language are not standardized, most population can't write in local dialects, and many dialectal words have no characters associated.
    Dialect studious spend a lot of time and effort researching which characters correspond to the spoken words.

    6. In Chinese history has been a tendency of having Chinese kingdoms a northern lingua franca (if the kingdom were not totally southerner)?
    No. In a lot of times, a Southern lingua franca was used. Recently, before the Communism, in the Republic of China (1911-1945) the lingua franca was Nanjing dialect.

    7. What was the lingua franca or prestige language of Táng and Sòng Dynasties?
    I would say in Tang it was Chang'an dialect (today's Xi'an). But I need more research.
     

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