LINGUIST List 21.3045

Thu Jul 22 2010

Review: Discipline of Linguistics, Lexicography: Yong and Peng (2008)

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        1.    Ksenia Antonyan, Chinese Lexicography

Message 1: Chinese Lexicography
Date: 21-Jul-2010
From: Ksenia Antonyan <>
Subject: Chinese Lexicography
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AUTHORS: Yong, Heming and Peng, Jing 
TITLE: Chinese Lexicography
SUBTITLE: A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press 
YEAR: 2008

Ksenia V. Antonyan, Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences


This book is devoted to Chinese lexicography and is intended for a vast scope ofreaders working in the field of Chinese linguistics, Chinese philology andChinese culture in general. It will also appeal to those studying generallinguistics, history of linguistics, ancient philological traditions and historyof culture.

The scope of the book is very broad. It covers a time period from the ZhouDynasty, 1046 B.C. - 256 B.C. to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1911).Chronologically, it is divided into four major periods: the Pioneering andEmergence Period: 1046 BC - AD 220 (Western Zhou Dynasty to Eastern HanDynasty); the Exploration and Cultivation Period: 220-1368 (Three Kingdoms toYuan Dynasty); the Reform and Shaping Period: 1368-1911 (Ming Dynasty to QingDynasty); and the Depression and Booming Period: 1911- present (the twentiethcentury).

The book is divided into five parts.

Part I (consisting of chapter 1) is an introduction and tells the reader aboutthe status quo in the field of research, approaches and methodology used by theauthors, and practical implications of the research.

The research is carried out within the theoretical frame of contemporarylinguistics. A communicative approach is introduced to establish a theoreticalmodel for the study of the history of lexicography: integrating the compiler,the dictionary, and the user into a trinity so that the dictionaries and theirdevelopment can be examined from a threefold perspective - the dictionary, itscompilation, and its use. The authors call it the 'trinitarian' approach (p. 9).

Part I is followed by four main parts.

Part II (chapters 2-9) deals with the genesis and emergence of lexicographicalculture and works in Ancient China and embraces the period from the ZhouDynasty, 1046 BC - 256 BC to the Han Dynasty, 206 BC - AD 220.

Chapters 2 and 3 give an overview of the emergence of lexicographical culture inChina, the progress of exegetic practice and the advent of lexicographical worksin China.

Chinese lexicography can be traced back to the earliest textbooks compiled forchildren to learn characters (around 800 BC). In the Han Dynasty dictionarymaking manifested an apparent evolutionary process - from simple character liststo character lists with interpretative notes, and then to wordbooks anddictionaries.

Another source of lexicographical culture in China was the exegetic practice.From the late Western Han Dynasty to the early Eastern Han Dynasty, textualresearch on characters in the pre-Qin Dynasty classics prevailed as part ofexplanatory studies of Confucius' works. The practice of exegesis establisheditself as a formal branch of learning. In the Western Han Dynasty, theachievements of exegesis were embodied in the first Chinese ancient dictionary -''Erya'' (''The Ready Guide'').

Chapters 4-8 are devoted to ancient dictionaries that form the core of Chineselexicographical tradition: ''Historian Zhou's Primer'' (''Shi Zhou Pian''), ''TheReady Guide'' (''Erya''), ''The Dictionary of Dialectal Words'' (''Fangyan''), ''AnExplanatory Dictionary of Chinese Characters'' (''Shuowen jiezi''), and ''TheDictionary of Chinese Characters and Terms'' (''Shi ming''), respectively.

Not only did these dictionaries form the basis for future development of Chineselexicography; they have not become obsolete and are still in use themselves. Theauthors state that without ''Shuowen jiezi'', it would be impossible to read andinterpret ancient Chinese texts: it is a precious collection of ancient classictexts, scriptures and exegetic studies (p. 95). As M. Winter puts it in hismonograph on ''Shuowen jiezi'', ''vielleicht ist es ein Charakteristikum derkontinuierlichen chinesischen Zivilisation, dass eine beinahe 1900 Jahre altesWoerterbuch noch immer nicht zum alten Eisen gehoert'' (Winter 1998: 11).

The micro- and macrostructure of ancient dictionaries became the template forfuture dictionaries. The semantic classification and the definition modes workedout in ''Erya'' formed the basis for ''Shuowen jiezi'', ''Fangyan'', ''Shi ming'' andmany other dictionaries. Moreover, the lexical fund represented in ''Xiandaihanyu cidian'' (the normative ''Dictionary of Modern Chinese'') has much in commonwith that of ''Erya'' (Guryan 2009b: 142-143).

It is a notable peculiarity of the book under review that the authors translatethe titles of the dictionaries. It is unusual for sinological studies; usuallythe titles are only transliterated, not translated, cf. Norman 1988. This is, inmy opinion, a useful and progressive innovation: it makes the book much moreuser-friendly and facilitates the access to the material to non-sinologists. Ofcourse, the translation of the title may be a serious problem; in difficultcases, and in cases when the English equivalent is far from literal translationthe authors give the detailed philological analysis of the title in question.Thus, the English equivalent suggested by the authors for ''Erya'' - ''The ReadyGuide'' - is motivated by the function of this dictionary rather than by theliteral meaning of its title. In this case the authors carefully analyze thepossible interpretations of the original title (according to a note to ''The bookof the Han Dynasty'', 'er' means 'close, approximate' and 'ya' means 'zheng''justice, standard') and motivate their choice (pp. 59-60).

Original titles and their English equivalents are given in two appendices: a''List of book titles from English to Chinese'' and a ''List of book titles fromChinese to English''. This makes the use of the book very convenient.

One of the merits of the book is that it provides information not only on thedictionary itself, but also the information on the historical background andmotivation to its compilation, its academic value and cultural influence. Thisputs the information on the dictionary in a broad socio-cultural context andmakes the book much more informative, interesting and valuable.

The layout of chapters 4-8 in Part II is as follows:The historical background to the dictionary's birth.The background and motivation for the dictionary's compilation.The format and style or the dictionary.The cultural and academic implications of the dictionary.

In the light of the studies of contemporary lexicographers, the authorssummarize the functions of a dictionary into three categories: descriptive,didactic, and ideological (p. 138). They show that, apart from the first two,the dictionaries of the Han dynasty also played an ideological role in helping'to interpret the classic works, to advocate Confucian ideas, to maintain thesovereign, and to consolidate the foundation of the government' (p. 138). In theTang Dynasty, ''Erya'' (''The Ready Guide'') was elevated and ranked among thescriptures. The values embedded in it, for instance, filial piety andbrotherliness, have influenced the thinking and behaviour of the Chinese inlater generations.

Chapter 9 gives a survey of theoretical inquiries into lexicographical issues inancient China.

Part III (chapters 10-14), entitled ''The Exploration and Cultivation ofLexicography in China'', embraces the period from the Wei Dynasty, 220-265, tothe Yuan Dynasty, 1206-1368.

The authors call this period a period of exploration and construction forChinese lexicography for the following reason. Prior to the Western HanDynasty, the prototype of lexicographical culture had already taken its form -major types of dictionaries had appeared and the general styles and formats ofdictionary compilation had begun to take shape and established.

The authors show that this period is noteworthy for the following fourhighlights. First, the invention of 'fanqie' solved the problem of phoneticnotation in dictionary making and enabled lexicographers to formulate andstandardize dictionary formats and styles; second, on the basis of dictionariesof the Han Dynasty, dictionary families began to take shape and continued toflourish, notably ''An Explanatory Dictionary of Chinese Characters'' and itsderivatives, and ''The Ready Guide'' and its derivatives; third, new dictionarytypes had come into being and were added to these dictionaries; and newretrieval systems were created, that is, referring to dictionary information bymeans of phonetic sequence (p. 165).

Part III tells about the development of Chinese character dictionaries, worddictionaries, classified dictionaries ('leishu'), and rhyme dictionaries.

Part IV (chapters 15-19), entitled ''The Reform and Shaping of Lexicography inChina'', embraces the period from the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, to the QingDynasty, 1616-1911.

The dictionaries in the Ming and Qing Dynasties fall into the following fourcategories: dictionaries patterned after ''The Ready Guide'' (the Erya dictionaryfamily), those patterned after ''The Dictionary of Dialectal Words'' (the Fangyandictionary family), dictionaries of exegetic explanations, and function worddictionaries. The book provides an introduction to the masterpieces of eachcategory to outline the evolutionary progression of dictionaries in this period.

Chapter 15 gives a general survey of the lexicographical culture in the Ming andQing Dynasties. Chapters 16-19 deal with the formation of Chinese characterdictionaries, Chinese word dictionaries, the evolution and reformation ofspecial and encyclopedic dictionaries, and the evolution and formation of rhymedictionaries.

Part V (chapters 20-25) gives the detailed overview of Chinese bilinguallexicography from the Tang Dynasty, 618-907, to the Qing Dynasty, 1616-1911.

It tells about the origin and emergence of Chinese bilingual lexicography, thearchetype and evolution of Chinese bilingual dictionaries, ethnic minoritylanguages and their bilingual dictionaries (among other, Tangut, Mongolian,Turkish and Tibetan), religious preaching from the West and its influence onbilingual dictionary compilation, Chinese government establishments and Chinesebilingual dictionary compilation, and the characteristics and socio-culturalinfluence of early Chinese bilingual dictionaries.

Chinese bilingual lexicography originated from the preaching of Buddhism; it wasintroduced into China in the late Western Han dynasty, 206 BC - AD 7 (p. 369).In translating Buddhist sutras, Chinese monks accumulated Buddhist terms andtransliterated them with Chinese characters, which were later gathered to becomeglossaries. The authors show that the earliest extant glossary of this kindpreceded the first Western Sanskrit-English dictionary by more than one thousandyears (p. 370).

Further development of the bilingual lexicography was stimulated by cultural andtrade relations of China with its neighbours (including Xinjiang and CentralAsia) and countries in other parts of the world. From the Eastern Han Dynasty(25-220), the Han Cultural Rim was beginning to take shape, and Chinese culturewas widely found in China's neighbouring countries such as Korea, Japan, andVietnam. By the sixteenth century, Christianity began to spread in China, whichled to the compilation of numerous Chinese-English, Chinese-Latin and otherChinese-Western dictionaries.

The book disposes of a detailed and well-organized reference apparatus.

It contains three appendices: a ''List of Book Titles from English to Chinesewith English Titles Arranged in Alphabetical Order'', a ''List of Book Titles fromChinese to English with Chinese Titles Arranged in Pinyin Order'' (unfortunatelythere is no pinyin transliteration itself, the titles are given in Chinesecharacters only) and ''The Chronology of Chinese History''.

The book gives an extensive and far-ranging bibliography on the subject, a listof main websites used by the authors, and an index of Chinese names. Thebibliography is a precious guide and an indispensable guide for scholarsinterested in the subject.

The book contains 13 colour illustrations representing, among other, prominentpersons of Chinese history, such as the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty and XuShen, the author of ''Shuo wen jie zi'' (''An Explanatory Dictionary of ChineseCharacters''), as well as pages from the major lexicographic works, such as ''Shiming'' (''The Dictionary of Chinese Characters and Terms'') and ''Guang yun'' (''TheDictionary of Rhymes'').


It may seem incredible that a book on Chinese lexicography has not been writtenby now. Dictionaries belong to the main products of Chinese traditionalphilology, one of the most ancient autochthonal traditions of the world.Moreover, dictionaries are necessary for anyone who would like to take up astudy of any aspect of Chinese culture.

But the fact is that ''for various reasons, historical, political, andlinguistic, no in-depth, comprehensive, and consistent studies have ever beenmade of the history of lexicography in China'' (p. 12).

Except for a few of succinct reviews not exceeding a dozen of pages, there is nogeneral survey of Chinese lexicography in European languages (Creamer 1991, Xue2003; the relevant sections in Norman 1988 and Harbsmeier 1998). This alsorefers to Russian (Yakhontov 1980, 1981; the relevant sections by S.E.Yakhontov,O.I.Zavyalova and A.M.Karapetyants in the encyclopedia ''Spiritual Culture ofChina'', vol.3, 2008 and vol.5, 2009).

In China, the books on the subject are not numerous, too. The main of them to bementioned are Liu 1992 and Qian 1986.

So, the authors' undertaking is a pioneering one. It is the first fundamentalmonograph on the subject, incomparable with its predecessors in scope andvolume. It is the first work that opens up the history of Chinese lexicographyto non-Chinese scholarly world.

The scope of the book is very broad. It covers a time period of more than twomillennia and gives information on more than 170 dictionaries: the date ofcreation, authorship, macro- and microstructure. Some of the dictionaries arediscussed briefly, and some in much greater depth, with cited examples suppliedwith English translation and a detailed commentary.

The value of the book is increased by the fact that it puts the information onthe dictionaries in a broad socio-cultural context. It explains how the need forthe book emerged and whom it was intended for. The authors do not limitthemselves to just only linguistic information.

The research is carried out within the context of the history of worldlexicography and within the theoretical frame of contemporary linguistics.

However, some parallels between European and Chinese lexicography drawn by theauthors may seem too straightforward. In my opinion, it is rather misleading tobegin the chapter devoted to ''Fangyan'' (''The Dictionary of Dialectal Words'')with remarks on the emergence of sociolinguistics in America (p. 76).

This also refers to parallels drawn between the first European etymologicaldictionary published by Thomas Blount in 1656 and ''Shi ming'' (''The Dictionary ofChinese Characters and Terms'') (p. 114). ''Shi ming'' can hardly be categorized asan etymological dictionary in the strict sense of the term. It is true that itssemantic interpretations are based on the principle of phonetic interpretation('shengxun'), that is, on words that sound similarly. But it is not etymologyper se that was the aim of ''Shi ming''; its aim was, according to the citationfrom its Preface given by the authors, 'to discuss and point out the realreference of the names' (p. 118).

A few crictical remarks concerning the reference apparatus of the book.

Unfortunately there is no subject index (including, among other, Chinese termssuch as 'fanqie' - a method for giving phonetic notation to Chinese charactersin ancient China, 'xungu' - 'exegesis' and others). It would be better if thename index included all the names mentioned in the book, not only the Chinese ones.

The book would be more informative for sinologists if it gave all the originalChinese terms for key concepts, not only their English equivalents: e.g., wefind only 'phonetic interpretation' (original Chinese terms 'shengxun' and'yinxun' are not given in the book).

A serious shortcoming of the bibliography is that for publications in Chinese,only the English translation of the title is given (no original Chinese title);and as the titles from the bibliography are not represented in the appendices(which include the titles of the dictionaries and some other works that are theobject of description of the book), the original title is nowhere to be found.This makes the book much less useful for sinologists (who might want to find thebook in Chinese and read it in Chinese). The authors declared that their aim wasto ''adopt a style more appealing to western readers'' (p.7); but why not be alittle more friendly to sinologists?

When the scope of the book is so broad, it would be impossible to include in thebibliography all the works concerning the subject. Nevertheless, it is a pitythat some very important works are missing. E.g., as far as ''Erya'' (''The ReadyGuide'') and ''Shuo wen jie zi'' ''An Explanatory Dictionary of Chinese Characters'')are concerned, these are Gu and Wang 1990, Guan 1996, Dou 2004, and Winter 1998,to name just a few.

There is one regrettable mistake to be mentioned. The title ''Guo yu'' iserroneously translated as ''The National Language'' (pp. 36, 72, 135, 416, 427).Actually, it has nothing to do with the concept of national language; the titlecoincides with the term coined centuries later and first applied to Chinese asthe national language in 1910 (Norman 1988: 133-134). ''Guo yu'' is the title ofthe historic Confucianist writing that throws light on the events that occurredin eight ancient Chinese kingdoms during the period of the 10th-5th cent. BC.Orthodox Chinese scholarship attributes the work to Zuo Qiuming and states thatit was written with materials left over from the ''Zuo zhuan''. Russian sinologistV.S.Taskin renders the title into English as ''Discourses of Kingdoms'' (Kuo Yü(Discourses of Kingdoms) 1987: 469-470; Imber 1975; The Indiana Companion toTraditional Chinese Literature (1986): 524-525).

However, these shortcomings are not decisive and can be easily corrected in thesecond edition.

The book is by far the most systematic and exhaustive study available. It is amust for anyone interested in the subject. Studying and teaching of Chineselexicography, Chinese traditional philology and Chinese culture will be raisedwith it to a new level.

It would not be a big exaggeration to say that this work is an introduction intoChinese culture through the gates of lexicography.

It will certainly help to remove barriers between Chinese and Westernlexicography, initiate new forms of comparative research in the global context,and converge the history of Chinese lexicography into the general flux of thehistory of world lexicography.

We hope that the authors' work will continue and they will prepare the nextvolume devoted to Chinese lexicography from 1911 to present, for nowadaysChinese lexicography is a vast and actively developing area.


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Ksenia V. Antonyan is senior research fellow at the Department of East and Southeast Asian Languages at the Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow). Her field of research is Modern Chinese grammar, verb compounds and the phenomenon of grammaticalization. She published a book 'Morphology of Resultative Constructions in Chinese' (Moscow, 2003; in Russian, English summary). She has taught two courses: 'Theory of Chinese Grammar' and 'History of Chinese Grammar' at Russian State University for Humanities.

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