Saturday, July 02, 2005

Onset and Rime

Bridget's presentation on Akkadian mentioned onset and rhyme (rime) as elements of phonology which may be represented by a writing system. Here are the relevant lines.

"Onset / rhyme: S = 2G {p, t, k, sp, st, sk…} {a, a:, i, aw, um…}
Fan Qie, Bopomofo, Hmong (Pollard, Pahaw)"

This is particularly timely since I was thinking about how best to explain the very significant difference between the Evans and Pollard syllabic systems.

The Evans syllabary (so called) represents consonants by the basic shape of the character and vowel by rotation. Four vowels are represented and the difference between long and short vowels is further indicated by an optional overdot. Cree has seven vowels. There are also finals, that is, characters to represent final consonants.

The Pollard syllabary represents consonants, by initials; and rimes by finals. There are 20 characters in the rime or vowel category. In this writing system the finals represent the rime. They are of a lesser status, being smaller in size than the initials or consonants: the characters are arranged into syllable level units.

Both the Evans and Pollard systems are organized into units which represent syllables but in a manner than demonstrates analysis of the segment.

Now what is Fan Qie? (Bopomofo will wait for another day but it is probably fairly well-known as the phonetic writing of Chinese, also called Zhuyin.)

Chinese made use of rhyme tables or rhymebooks which are the organization of Chinese characters by onset and rime into tables or charts. Dylan Sung has devoted part of his website to a discussion of rhyme tables. A particularly famous book of rimes was called Quiyun, dated 601 AD in the Sui dynasty.

Fanqie is an earlier development, circa 200 AD, in which the pronunciation of a Chinese character was explained by two other characters, one with the same onset and a second character with the same rime.

In this way the pronunciation of 'table' could be explained in English as 'top' + 'cable', or 'stay' as 'stop' + 'day.'

Fanqie is dated as early as the Han period in Notes on Middle Chinese.

"Chinese is a monosyllable-structured language. Its characters or words are composed of single syllable sounds. Fanqie, as we understand it today, is a method of indicating pronunciation by dividing the single-syllable word into two parts: the initial (shengmu 聲母) and the final (yunmu韻母). Using this method, the pronunciation of an unknown word can be represented using two known sounds, one for the initial and one for the final of a given syllable.

For example, the fanqie for東 is德紅. The initial of 德 (d/e) is d, and the final of 紅 (h/ong) is ong. d + ong à dong. This shows that the initials of 東 (d/ong) and 德 (d/e) are both d; which is referred to as shuangsheng 雙聲. The finals of東 (d/ong) and 紅 (h/ong) are also the same: ong; which is called dieyun叠韻. Shuangsheng and dieyun are set rules in fanqie. Also, the initial determines if the word is voiceless (qing 清) or voiced (zhuo 濁); and the final determines the tone of the word. This method of indicating pronunciation is roughly what we understand today as fanqie. We are not sure if it was used in the same way during ancient times, but it is generally assumed that there were differences."

Notes on Middle Chinese is an intriguing introduction to the topic of early fanqie and the awareness of segments smaller than the syllable in Chinese. Interestingly the author indicates that this awareness was subsequent to the introduction of Sanskrit into China.

Invention of Fanqie

"Another important factor that fanqie should arrive in China at this particular time was the introduction of Buddhism into China shortly before the Christian era, near the end of the Western Han Dynasty西漢. Through cultural interaction and translation of Buddhist texts, the Chinese became familiar with the splitting of Sanskrit or Pali syllables into initial and final parts and applied the system to glossing Chinese syllables."


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