Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Well, perhaps it's not too suprising, but the more I learn about classical Chinese (wenyanwen 文言文), the more I like it! I say this is not too surprising because, a) I'm a bit of a polymath (sans the savant ability or a genius faculty), so nearly everything interests me, and b) I take it to be a basic metaphysical truth that knowledge of the real stokes love for the real. An old Latin adage (are there any new Latin adages, I wonder?) has it that "nihil amatum nisi prius cognitum" (nothing is loved without first being known). My boss in my first year of university insisted, perhaps in vain to freshman undergrads, that some things seem boring because of our ignorance of them. He was "an atheist ... [pause] for aesthetic reasons" but still acknowledged this deep metaphysical truth: to encounter the real is to encounter the good, and to encounter the good is to love it. The more a thing 'is', therefore, the more it merits our humble adoration, just as the ocean merits fearful infatuation more than a kiddy pool does.

In any case, I think my character makes it easy for me to love what I learn and keep learning what I love. In my usual fashion, I am picking through various resources on 文言文 and even with a rudimentary grasp of some high-frequency words and core function words [基本虚词] (e.g., 乎,也,夫,于,与,etc.), I am finding 文言文 much less inscrutable, dare I say a hair scrutable?

So let me refer you to a brief post at 无不为 about "an ambiguity in Confucius" and another brief post there about 也,也者,and 者也。 I am not competent to make a decision about the ambiguity in Confucius, but I do find Daan's reading more coherent. As for the differences between 也,也者,and 者也, I have a hunch which can only possibly claim a Zen-ish value as coming from a "beginner's mind." I have had Daan's question about these three phrases on my mind ever since I saw the post a couple weeks ago, so my feelers have been out for them in any Chinese I read. While I was reading the third or fourth chapter of Pulleybank's Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar earlier this week, I noticed he said 也 can sometimes be used as an adverbial marker of continuation. (I will have to provide specific citations if and when I find them later at home.) I also notice he says some words appear frequently in some authors and almost never in others, the difference being based on dialects. My hunch is that instances of 也,也者,and 者也 must be parsed as either i) suggesting a sustained or, perhaps, especially emphatic belief or description of a state of affairs, or ii) simply reflections of ancient phonology in the author's (and readership's) respective dialects. But again, I am far too incompetent to offer more than this hunchwork.

In any case, for my pleasure and perhaps for the good of some equally novice learners, I would like to explain the title of this post: 來!予與爾言。 It comes from the passage Daan cites (at the Chinese Text Project website) for the ambiguity in Confucius. 來!-- a request for someone to come. 予 yu2 -- I, me. 與 yu3 -- with or to. 爾 er3 -- you (thou). 言 yan2 -- speak or talk. Literally, "來!予與爾言" says, "Come! I with/to thou speak," and means, "Come, let me speak with you!"

I would like to point out, however, that the CTP note for 予 explains it as yu2 and meaning "I, me," but I was inclined to read it as yu3 meaning "to give, bestow." For example, yu3 is part of 給予 gei3yu3, which means give/grant, and 准予 zhun3yu3, meaning grant/allow. (So much for Mandarin helping me with 文言文!) Even so, the only reference for 予 in the index of Pulleybank's Outline write it as yu3. So which is it, yu2 or yu3? If it is yu3, 予與爾言 does not exactly roll off the tongue as far as the tones go (yu3 yu3 er3 yan2), though I'm sure it sounded more mellifluous in Ancient Chinese phonology.

You might notice I sometimes use simplified characters 简体字, even though I have learned traditional (or standard) characters 繁体字 all this time in Taiwan (and don't much like simplified characters). This is because it's just too slow for me to peck at 注音符号 Zhu4yin Fu2hao4 on the office computers I can use, so I have activated 汉语拼音 Han4yu3 Pinyin for their keyboards (tee hee hee, aren't I sneaky?). That way I can actually get some blogging done about Chinese now and then. Depending how I feel, I might convert simplified characters into standard characters. It's nice to know standard texts in 文言文 all use 繁体字!

No comments: