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язык царства Чу

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Chu Language


The language of Chu is lost except for the few pitiful shreds of vocabulary given on our Chu Lexicon page. We here try to track and define what seems to be a phonetic feature of that language, which consists of some degree of mixing of -n and -ng finals in rhyming within a Chinese text. That aberrant feature may be due to influence from a non-Chinese language then spoken in the area of the Chu capital. There seem to be four possible instances of the feature in the present Chu Tsz anthology.

1. In Li Sau 3-4, we have a rhyme between and , which might have been approximately -Vng and -Vn in the Chinese of the time. Such a rhyme is impossible. The finals -ng and -n are carefully distinguished in the remainder of the Li Sau, and there is no evidence that the Chu author's Chinese pronunciation was generally affected by this merging of dental and velar nasal codas. But in this one case there does seem to be just that sort of confusion. What shall we do with this? Dai Jvn remarks, in connection with this passage, that the people of the Wu area of his day (the Yangdz delta region) still pronounced -vng words as -vn. It seems that he meant to suggest the persistence of an articulatory habit in a region which was once under the domination of Chu. We think that this explanation is essentially correct.

    Shvn Zhongwei, in a paper presented at the WSWG 10 Conference in 1998, identified this articulatory trait instead with the Myau/Yau languages, which are still spoken nearer to the original area of Chu, in the middle Yangdz valley. On its face, this would imply cognate relations between old Chu and modern Myau/Yau, which would be in conflict with the Thai vocabulary affinity which has been claimed for the Chu word tiger (the Myau/Yau group are not currently thought to belong to any larger language grouping). Of the Myau/Yau group, it is the Myau (also called Hmong) languages that show nasal mixing. In the words of Ramsey 279 (S. Robert Ramsey. Languages of China. Princeton 1987), Myau "has only a single nasal ending, which is realized phonetically as -ng after back vowels and as -n after front vowels." It may be best, in the current state of knowledge, to attribute the word "tiger" to the original stock of the Chu language, and to attribute the phonology of nasals in the Chu language to an area phenomenon which might have affected languages which, although in contact, were of different ultimate linguistic affinity.

    The question of geographical probability depends on when we date the earliest poems of the Chu Tsz, which are usually attributed to Chyw Ywaen. An often quoted date for Chyw Ywaen's literary activity is c0300, but Gopal Sukhu, in a paper given at the WSWG 13 Conference in 1999, convincingly argued that the Li Sau is a response to the Northern intrusion into Chu culture symbolized by Sywndz. Sywndz did not take office in Chu until after the conquests of 0255, and thus after the shift of the Chu capital to the lower Yangdz, which had occurred in 0278. If this reading is correct, we will have to consider the lower Yangdz as the center of Chu culture as of the composition date of at least this early piece within the Chu Tsz. Dai Jvn's observation thus appears to be relevant.


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