Dictionary of the Foochow Dialect

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Dictionary of the Foochow Dialect  (1929) 
R. S. Maclay, C. C. Baldwin and Samuel H. Leger


The Rev. R. S. MACLAY, D.D.
The Rev. C. C. Baldwin, D.D.





As two names appear on the title-page of this dictionary, it is proper to indicate our respective shares in its preparation; and the more so, as it is due to the Rev. Mr. Baldwin to state that the larger portion of the labor of authorship has been freely performed by him, and that to his correct scholarship, extensive knowledge of the Foochow dialect, and indomitable perseverance, the dictionary is mainly indebted for the degree of thoroughness and accuracy it may possess. The manuscript for that portion of the dictionary comprised in pp. 1-631[1] was originally prepared by myself, but it was subsequently very carefully revised and improved by Mr. Baldwin, and a considerable portion of it (pp. 403-631[2]) was entirely rewritten by him. The portion comprised in pp. 632-1014[3], together with the Introduction to the dictionary, was prepared by Mr. Baldwin, and, as it was impracticable for me to revise his manuscript, it was printed just as it came from his hands. The general plan of the work and the responsibility for the whole are mine.

The design and scope of the dictionary are so fully set forth in the Introduction, given no subsequent pages, that it is unnecessary to make any extended remarks on the subject in this place. The aim has been to present a work on the subject in this place. The aim has been to present a work that shall at once illustrate the Foochow dialect, and prove a valuable help to all students of the Chinese language. The definitions of the characters, and a large number of the phrases given under them will apply equally well to any dialect, through which the student seeks to acquire a knowledge of the general written language of China. Everything in the work that is peculiar to the Foochow dialect has been carefully marked, so that the student cannot be misled on this point. The large number of Romanized words appearing in the dictionary, and for which the written language furnishes no characters, is an interesting feature of this dialect, and indicates that modern Chinese thought is outgrowing the stereotyped forms of this ancient language. The same feature appears in other dialects.

It is difficult to assign exact geographical limits to the Foochow dialect, or to estimate with precision the amount of the population by whom it is spoken. In Foochow city, the capital of the Fukien province, and throughout the Foochow and Fooning prefectures, it is, with considerable variations, the vernacular of the people. Beyond these limits, it is spoken only by the Foochow merchants, artisans, etc., etc., who reside in most of the important cities of Fukien. Regarding Foochow city as the centre of the dialect, we may say that it extends, eastward to the sea, a distance of about thirty miles, northward, to the Chekiang province, two hundred miles, and southward, to the Hinghwa prefecture, seventy miles. It is probable the dialect is spoken by five millions of people. The only native work on the dialect is a small Tonic dictionary, named the Baik Ing (Eight sounds), and containing about 10,000 characters which are distributed, according to their tones, under what are called the Initials and Finals of the dialect. The work is noticed more at length in the Introduction which follows.

In the preparation of this dictionary, the results of the labors of Drs. Morrison, Medhurst, and Williams, in Anglo-Chinese lexicography, have been freely availed of, and this general acknowledgement of indebtedness is gratefully made. Sincere thanks are tendered to those members of the Missionary community in Foochow who have, in many ways, rendered valuable assistance – especially to the Rev. S. L. Baldwin, and Rev. L. N. Wheeler, whose opportune help made it possible to publish the work in Foochow, and under whose consecutive superintendence five hundred pages of it were printed. A large portion of the Mandarin[4] sounds which appear under the leading characters in the dictionary were kindly furnished by Walter T. Lay, Esq., of the Imperial Maritime Customs. Mr. Lay, however, is not responsible for nay typographic errors in this department, as it was impossible for him to correct the proof-sheets while the work was passing through the press.

A brief list of Additions[5] is placed at the end of the dictionary proper, and in it are given some additional uses of characters, and a few Romanized words and phrases which do not appear in the body of the work. A table of Corrections[6] is given at the close of the volume, in which the more important errors occurring in the dictionary have been noted: the errors not corrected in the table are thought to be of an unimportant character, and their appropriate correction is readily suggested by the connection in which they occur. In the Index of Characters, where brackets have been used, it will be noticed that frequently the same character is repeated once or twice. In these instances the character has different tones which affect its meaning. The figures indicate where each form is found.

The printing of the dictionary, in view of the limited and imperfect appliances at command, has been a difficult and tedious task: the type-setting and press-work have been performed by Chinese hands, and during the printing of the larger portion of the work, the supervision of the press and the drudgery of correcting the first “proofs,” have unavoidably devolved on myself. A consideration of these circumstances will, perhaps, mitigate the severity of criticism, with regard to the defects and errors that may be detected in the work. The expenses of publication have been defrayed by the Mission Press connected with the Foochow Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, U.S.A.; and it is hoped that the proceeds arising from the sale of the book may reimburse the Office for the heavy outlay.

The lexicographic elucidation of, at least, the more prominent dialects of China may, perhaps, be regarded as a pressing demand of the times. A knowledge of the proverbs, peculiar idioms, and common speech of a people so numerous as the Chinese will throw important light on questions connected with the general laws of language; and is absolutely necessary to all who seek to influence the Chinese mind, or form a correct estimate of Chinese character. The materials for the following dictionary have gradually accumulated in our hands, from various sources, during twenty years of ordinary study and labor as Missionaries. It has been our cherished hope that ultimately they might assume a permanent form, so as to be of service to others who may follow us in the study and use of the Chinese language; and it is with much satisfaction that we are now permitted, in the providence of God, to realize that hope; at the same time we recognize the entire truthfulness of Dr. Johnson’s remark, that while “every other author may aspire to praise, the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach.”

The work is now offered to the public, with the earnest desire that it my be useful to students of the Chinese language; that it may be tend to facilitate friendly intercourse between Western nations and China; and above all, that it may promote the cause of Christian Mission among the Chinese.

R. S. Maclay

Foochow, June 14th, 1870.


The first edition of this useful Dictionary having become exhausted, the Foochow Missionary Union appointed the Rev. C. C. Baldwin, D.D., and the Revs. R. W. Stewart and W. H. Lacy, a committee to revise and publish a second edition. Fortunately, in pursuance of this object, Dr. Baldwin, before his return to the United States, was able to revise the text, correcting various mistakes found in it. Mr. Lacy, in charge of the Methodist Mission Press, undertook to provide for the publishing of the work, in which it was not expected that there would be much financial benefit. Mr. Stewart aided in this undertaking by securing beforehand the sum of seven hundred dollars towards the expense, and some others subscribed in advance for copies of the Dictionary. By this arrangement the Mission Press was enabled to assume the work of publication.

As the new system of Romanizing the sounds of the Foochow Dialect, introduced by Mr. Stewart, had become generally used in the Foochow Romanized form of printing it was decided that the new edition of the Dictionary should conform to this mode of Romanization. This necessitated a change in the spelling of many Romanized words in the Dictionary, and a rearrangement in the order of them in various parts to correspond with the English alphabet. These changes have been made by the Chinese typesetter as he did his work, he having been trained previously in printing Romanized colloquial by Messrs, Stewart and Peet in connection with the Foochow Romanized Press. The proof reading has been a laborious work, shared at first by Mrs. W. Banister and Mr. and Mrs. Lacy, but performed for the most part by Rev. Ll. Lloyd and Mrs. G. B. Smyth. In view of the difficulties in reprinting the Dictionary, it is too much to claim that no errors can be found in its execution, but it is believed it will be found in a high degree well and accurately done. The printing of the Dictionary for over a year past has been in charge of the Rev. N. J. Plumb.

The Rev. Ll. Lloyd has revised the “Introduction” to make it conform to the new Method of Romanization, and the Rev. G. H. Hubbard has prepared the “Index of Characters” at the end of the volume, introducing some original features to increase facility in the use of the Dictionary.

We confidently expect that this second edition, like the first, will prove a great aid to missionaries and others learning the Foochow spoken language, and the Foochow mode of reading the Book Language of the Chinese Empire.

Charles Hartwell

Foochow, China, 26th June, 1897.


Nearly ten years ago the Second Edition of this Dictionary was exhausted. It was quite evident that a revision and the addition of new terms was needed if the third edition were to be as useful in its time as the first and second had been in theirs. The reviser began work after less than two years in China with no thought of publication, but merely as a “project” useful in his own language study. Gradually it became apparent that the work should be carried through for the benefit of other students of the Foochow Dialect as well. The preparation and revision of the manuscript and later the proof reading has absorbed most of the “marginal time” in the busy life of a missionary for nearly ten years. During that time practically all of the manuscript has been read over either three or four times, each time consulting various authorities on doubtful points. In addition practically all of it has been gone over at least once by other people familiar with the Foochow Dialect. The language itself has been continually growing and although a few new terms have even been added while proof reading, it has not been possible to bring the work as a whole entirely up to date. For example the early part of the work was printed before the Nationalist Movement with its new terminology came to Foochow. Nevertheless there are nearly twice as many phrases as in the second edition. The reviser is probably more conscious of mistakes and faults than most other readers, and can only hope that the book may be useful in spite of them.

It is impossible to mention all the persons who have assisted in this task. Such a list if inclusive would contain the names of nearly half the missionaries in the Foochow speaking area and an equal number of Chinese friends. I will only mention the Rev. D. MacGillivray, D.D., of Shanghai, who kindly gave permission to follow the arrangement of his Mandarin Dictionary, Mr. Iong Ung Gi of Foochow who did most of the clerical work of preparing the manuscript, the Rev. E. M. Norton of Foochow who gave special assistance in preparing the manuscript for the H-K section, Mr. Dūng Nguòng-cóng of Foochow, who spent one whole summer on the same section, and the Presbyterian Mission Press of Shanghai without whose efficient cooperation the publication of the work might have been impossible.

It is the sincere hope of the reviser that this work may help promote friendliness and mutual understanding between the people of East and West and bring nearer the day when “all within the four seas are brothers,” children of the same Father, working together with one another and with Him to achieve an ideal world.

Samuel H. Leger,

Foochow, July 17, 1929.



The arrangement of the main body of this dictionary is strictly alphabetic except that ch and ng are treated as separate letters. The spelling follows the accepted spelling of Foochow Romanized which is described below. Each group of Romanized words identical in spelling is subdivided according to the tones, and within each tone group subdivided according to the different Chinese characters. The arrangement of the Chinese characters of the most phrases being first.

For each new character introduced the Romanized pronunciation is first given. If followed by “Coll.,” this is the colloquial and not the reading pronunciation. If followed by another Romanized word in parentheses, the same character will be found with that spelling elsewhere in the dictionary. Next comes the radical and then the character itself, sometimes in more than one form. The National (Mandarin) pronunciation then appears in the phonetic script. Tone marks are omitted but the proper Mandarin tone with rare exceptions can be calculated from the Foochow tone as follows: Foochow 1st tones become Mandarin 1st tones; Foochow 2nd tones become Mandarin 4th tones; Foochow 4th and 8th tones become Mandarin 5th tones; Foochow 5th tones become Mandarin 2nd tones. If the phonetic is followed by a small 文 this character and the phrases under it are literary and not used much, if at all, in spoken discourse. If on the other hand it is followed by a small 俗 the character itself and all its phrases are unused outside of Foochow. Such characters are of course not permitted in literary compositions even in Foochow. Next come the most important meanings of the character in English. Additional meanings are sometimes found under the phrases below. Additional Romanized words in parenthesis either after the single characters or after the phrases are to be taken as cross references. They may mean another word or phrase of equivalent or related meaning, or merely an important expression found elsewhere in which this character appears. All such cases are to be decided by looking up the expression in its proper place in the dictionary. Where no character is available, a circle takes its place. All such words are of course purely colloquial and limited to Foochow. S. indicates a surname; Num. indicates a numerative adjective or classifier; R. a radical.

Under each main character introduced the phrases are arranged alphabetically. The use of Coll. or 文 or 俗 is the same above. Words and phrases not marked are common to the written and spoken languages; N. was originally used to indicate new terms and O. for obsolescent terms belonging to the old regime, but it was found impracticable to always make such distinctions.


Chinese characters may be thought of as the result of combining two different and parallel “alphabets.” One “alphabets” consists of 214 “letters” or units, known as radicals or cê-buô 字部. A complete list of these is given with their chief meanings immediately following the main body of the dictionary. Most of these were probably originally crude pictures, and the resourceful students can usually find without difficulty some association which makes them not difficult to remember. In most Chinese dictionaries characters are arranged according to these radicals, as is done in the index of characters in the back of this dictionary. The student should begin with the very common radicals, which are easily located by noting which have the most characters listed under them in this index of characters. The common practice of memorizing the number of the radical with it is of doubtful utility. One should learn to recognize the radical whether separately or in combination, to know its meaning and what is generally indicates in the characters of which it forms a part. The radical used in a given character usually gives some clue – albeit often a vague one – to the meaning of the character.

The other “alphabet” consists of a larger number of “primitives” or “phonetics,” i.e., parts of a character which give a more or less distinct clue to the sound of the character which they form a part. There are said to be about 1,700 primitives in the whole language. For example the characters 愛 噯 曖 嬡 靉 僾 and 瞹 are all pronounced “ái” because they all have the same primitive which in this case is itself a character. They have different meanings, as shown by their different radicals. Comparison of the meanings as given in the dictionary is suggestive. Often the clue to the sound thus given is far from exact as the same primitive may be used to represent different tones or even different Romanization.

In short a radical may be a separate character or part of a character; a primitive likewise. The typical Chinese character is, however, made up of one radical and one primitive, the one giving an inexact clue to meaning and the other an inexact clue to sound. Books on character analysis, such as the pioneer work or Weiger, the work of Dr. Wilder and Dr. Ingram from the Peking Language School, and the work of Prof. R. B. Blakeney published by the Commercial Press help the student by analysis of characters to establish associations which make the characters easier to remember. The important thing in learning is that some kind of association is made, and no matter how ridiculous it may be, if it assists in connecting the sound, the meaning, and the visual image of the character, it is not to be despised. A comparative study of characters in the back of the dictionary and a comparative study of characters of like sound based on the main body of the dictionary is of real assistance to the student in making these associations.

The chief use of the Index of Characters is to enable the user of the dictionary to find the desired character from the radical in case the pronunciation is unknown. “Many of the most common characters are the most difficult to find in this Index; they are generally placed under the simple radicals, where they should be looked for first. For instance 以, 仝, 令, 仄, are all under 人; 井, 亞 are under 二; 兒, 先 are under 儿; all of which are referred to these radicals chiefly because they are prominent parts of the characters, and likely to catch the eye. Such anomalous instances amount to about two hundred, all of them primitives or “phonetics,” while the remainder will give less trouble in ascertaining the proper radical. About one half (108) of the radicals are places on the right or left of the primitive – constituting one half of the character and easily recognized. Others like 二, 勹, 匚, 匸, 囗, 行, 門 and 鬥 embrace the primitive and give no trouble. About forty of them are places on the top of the primitive, a few of which enter into combination with it, as in 奉, 夷, 彜 in such manner as to give some hesitation as to the radical; while others as 宀, 广, 疒, 爪, 穴, 竹, 囬, 艹, 虍 and 雨 are more apparent. For many of the remainder, where the radical is either in combination, or the character is formed of two or three radicals as 相, 聾 or 現 practice will soon give the necessary facility in finding. In counting the number of strokes in a character, the radical is not counted. After becoming familiar with the radicals themselves, and having a general acquaintance with the primitives, the number of strokes can be quickly ascertained by inspection. For instance the character 鬻 found under the radical 鬲 is made up of 弓, 米 and 弓, which severally number 3, 6, and 3 strokes, or 12 in all; the character 灔 placed under the radical 水 is composed of Ⅹ, 豆, 刀 and 巴 numbering 11, 7, 2, and 4 strokes or 24 in all. The number of characters formed of so many strokes as these is very few. In most case a glance at the word is sufficient to see how many make it.”


The traditional method of indicating the pronunciation in Chinese dictionaries (for example in Kang Hsi’s famous dictionary which was long the standard or in the Sṳ̀ Nguòng 辭源 published by the Commercial Press which is commonly accepted by Chinese scholars today), is by the use of two characters, the first of which gives the sound of the initial and the second the sound of the final parts of the character in question. Another character of the same sound and tone is usually added as an extra help, and still another character with which it rhymes to assist the person writing poetry according to the Chinese rules. Thus the character 己 in the Sṳ̀ Nguòng has after it in parenthesis 基 矣 切 音 紀 紙 韻 which means and é put together making gī 紀 and belonging to the 紙 rhymes. Sometimes the combination of the two characters gives a different tone from the character given as of the same sound, as in the example given above, where the two characters spell while the one character is gī which in this case is correct. When the student understands that such dictionaries are used throughout China and that various local dialects as well as the Mandarin commonly use this as a guide for pronunciation, he will not be surprised to know that the dictionary pronunciation and the traditional Foochow pronunciation sometimes differ.

In order to standardize pronunciation for all China, the National Board of Education has formally adopted a national phonetic system known in Foochow as the guók-ĭng-ció-ĭng-cê-mō̤ 國音注音字母. This is a scientifically constructed alphabet of thirty-nine letters. One, two, or at most three of these symbols will represent the sound of any Chinese character. An official dictionary giving the pronunciation of all common characters is available, and this phonetic is used widely in Foochow schools in promoting and standardizing the national (Mandarin) pronunciation.

Foochow scholars have long used a small tonic dictionary call chék lìng báik ĭng 戚林八音 to supplement the larger dictionaries in giving the Foochow local pronunciation. This is the work of two men Chék and Lìng, and has passed through many editions. It was in general the standard of pronunciation used in the first edition of this dictionary. In it the commonly used characters are systematically arranged according to their sounds. Each simple word has three elements, an initial sound, called cê-tàu 字頭, a final sound called cê-mō̤ 字母 and a tone. With two exceptions all words in the Foochow dialect are made up of an initial combined with a final, inflected into one of the eight tones. These exceptions are ng which is used separately without a final, and ngiau which uses two finals. With fifteen initials, thirty-three finals and seven tones in use, there are theoretically a possible 3,467 vocables or word sounds. Probably less than half this number are actually used. In the Báik-ĭng the characters are arranged under the 33 finals, each final being used with the different initials in turn, and each initial-final combination being inflected through the seven tones.

Foochow Romanized is a system of orthography adopted by the early missionaries to represent sounds heard in Foochow. It has varied at different times, but is now standardized. The letters can of course only represent an approximation to the real sound, and the system is quite unlike the international phonetic alphabet or the Romanized systems used elsewhere in China. The Bible, a hymnbook and quite a number of booklets and tracts are printed in the Romanized. This system is, however, little known outside of Church circles and is by no means universally understood even by Christians. While it may be a useful help in language study it is not to be taken as a substitute for learning the Chinese character itself. When used independently the Romanized system uses capitals and other punctuation marks the same as in English. In this Dictionary capitals have been omitted altogether in the interest of uniformity, since type was not available for capitals with tone marks above them.

Foochow Phonetic Script (ṳ̀ng-kiŏng-ció-ĭng-cê-mō̤ 榕腔注音字母) is an adaptation of the National Phonetic to represent Foochow sounds. With a few exceptions a given symbol represents the same sound in Foochow that it does in Mandarin. Part of the New Testament, an abridged hymnal and some tracts are printed in this form. The beginning student may find it useful in the representation of Foochow sounds and it is a useful stepping stone in learning the National Phonetic.


The Table gives first the name of the initial or final in Romanized and in the Character, then their approximate alphabetic value in Roman letters, and finally the Foochow Phonetic equivalent. The 11th initial (ĕng) denotes merely the absence of any initial consonant; hence the blank on the right in the column of alphabetic values.



The letters used do not convey to the Western student an accurate idea of the Foochow sound. Many Western speakers of the Foochow Dialect have had wrong pronunciations permanently fixed in habit by too exclusive attention to the Romanized early in their language study. The sound should first be learned from the teacher. Only after it is heard and reproduced with some accuracy should the Romanized be learned.

The Initials require relatively less explanation, although the above caution applies. The sounds are quite similar to the sounds given the same letters in English, except for the 8th which is nearly like the English letter j as in jaw. The 13th may cause difficulty as most Western languages use the ng sound only as a final and not as an initial. By saying rapidly “singing” and then omitting the first two letters the right sound is approximated. Practice will soon make the sound seem less strange to the ear and vocal organs. The phonetic script if read according to the National (Mandarin) pronunciation will give the Foochow sounds with a fair degree of accuracy except in the 3rd, 4th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 28th, 29th and 30th finals in which the national pronunciation of the script must be more or less modified to fit the Foochow sounds. In the Wade system of Romanization in common use in the North, the second initial would be represented by p, the 3rd by k, the 4th by k’, the 5th by t, the 6th by p’, the 7th by t’, the 8th by ch, and the 14th by ch’.

The thirty-three Finals make use of nine vowels which are sometimes followed by the ng or in the oblique[7] tones (3rd, 4th, and 7th tones) by k or h. The suggestions given below may assist the student but cannot take the place of drill with the teacher.

a is pronounced as in father, in No. 2, 5, 7, 9, 27, 31, and in the oblique tones of 21 and 29. Followed by i it forms a diphthong pronounced as ai in aisle in 6, 32 and oblique tones of 14. Followed by u it forms a diphthong au pronounced like ou in house in No. 22 and in the oblique tones of No. 19.

e is pronounced nearly as in men in No. 14, 26, 30, 33, and in oblique tone of No. 8. It is scarcely audible in 17 and approaches a as in say in the oblique tones of No. 4 and No. 20.

i is nearly the i in machine in No. 3, 4, 12, 16, 17, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31. In No. 8 it approaches i as in pin. For ai see above.

o is pronounced as in old in No. 3, 19, 28, and in the oblique tones of No. 1, 13, 16. It is scarcely audible in 12. It is more like u in up in No. 15, 23, and 25.

u is nearly like oo in moon in No. 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 32, 33, and in the oblique tones of No. 4 and 19.

is much like a in care (No. 24) but varies considerably in the oblique tones, approaching ae̤ where a is as in father and as in her.

is similar to e in her in No. 21 and 29. When followed by as in the oblique tones of No. 11 and 18, it requires special attention.

is like aw in law in No. 10 and in the oblique tone of No. 28.

is the French u in lune or German ü as in für, in No. 11 and 18. The organs of speech are in the same position as for e in he, except for the lips which are rounded as for o in go.


The tone is an essential part of every word in Chinese, and tones are even more important in the Foochow Dialect than in Mandarin. The most important elements in the tone are pitch, time, and inflection. The classification of characters into tone groups is practically uniform all over China, five such groups being universally recognized and utilized in poetic composition. The names given these are as follows:

  1. siông bìng 上平 or ĭng bìng 陰平 (Foochow 1st).
  2. hâ bìng 下平 or iòng bìng 陽平 (Foochow 5th).
  3. siōng 上 or 賞 (Foochow 2nd).
  4. ké̤ṳ 去 (Foochow 3rd and 7th).
  5. ĭk 入 (Foochow 4th and 8th).

It is noted that the first two of these are given as the upper and lower or masculine and feminine varieties of the bìng 平 tone. In similar fashion Foochow has two varieties each of the ké̤ṳ 去 and ĭk 入, and in theory recognizes two varieties of the siōng 上tone, the unused Foochow 6th tone being the one added.

The tones of Chinese characters are indicated in the Phonetic Script and sometimes on the character itself by a dot placed at the proper corner of the word. A dot at the lower left indicates the平 at upper left the 上 at upper right the 去 and at lower right the 入. In Mandarin the 1st tone omits the dot. In Foochow phonetic a dot is used for the first four tones and a dash for the last four.

In Foochow the eight tones are divided into what may be called a first series 上聲 and second series 下聲. The names may have been descriptive of the sounds once, but are no longer so. In order the names are (1) siông bìng 上平. (2) siông siông 上上. (3) siông ké̤ṳ 上去. (4) siông ĭk 上入. (5) hâ bìng 下平. (6) hâ siông (unused). (7) hâ ké̤ṳ 下去. (8) hâ ĭk 下入. The Romanized method of marking these tones and characters illustrating the tones are given below:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
dăng dāng dáng dák dàng unused dâng dăk

The Finals as modified by tones are given in Table Ⅲ.


Note. The eng initial is placed at the head of this table. It denotes the absence of any initial consonant, and therefore gives the simplest form of all the finals through each tone. Hence all words spoken without an initial consonant, are classed under this initial.

The sound of the tones can only be learned from the living voice of the teacher. The following brief descriptions and diagrams on the musical staff are taken with slight modification from the Second Edition of the Dictionary. It is credited there for the most part to Rev. M. C. White, M.D., formerly of the Methodist Mission and to Rev. Charles Hartwell, formerly of the American Board Mission.

“The first tone is a uniform even sound, enunciated a little above the ordinary speaking key, neither elevated nor depressed from the commencement to the close of the word. It is in this respect like the enunciation of a note in music; it may therefore be called the singing tone, or the musical monotone. It is long in time.

“The second tone is enunciated in the ordinary speaking key, and the voice usually falls a note at the close, as in English at the end of a sentence in unimpassioned discourse. When closely combined with a following word, however, the second tone is sustained, and turns upward, like the vanishing stress of unaccented words in common conversation. It is also long in time.

“The third tone is what elocutionists call the rising third is heard in English on the emphatic word in a direct question, as ‘Does it rain?’ where the voice turns upward through the interval of two notes of the octave. In time it, too, is long.

“The fourth tone turns the voice upward through the same interval as the third tone, but it terminates abruptly as though the voice was suddenly interrupted in an effort to pronounce a final h. In words which in other tones end in ng the abrupt close of the fourth tone sounds somewhat like a suppressed or half-uttered k, but the clicking sound of the k is not heard. It is pronounced more quickly than the third tone but is properly long in time.

“The fifth tone is a quick forcible enunciation, commencing about two notes above the ordinary speaking pitch of the voice and suddenly dropping down to the keynote. It is what is called by elocutionists the falling third or when emphatic the falling fifth. It is sometimes called the scolding tone.

“The sixth tone is identical with the second and no words are arranged under it. In other words it is unused and exists in theory only.

“The seventh tone is a guttural downward circumflex. It begins on the key-note of the voice, rises to the pitch of a second with strong emphasis, and descends with thorough stress to about a fifth a fifth below. It is long in time.

“The eighth tone is an abrupt termination of the first tone in the same manner as the fourth tone is an abrupt termination of the third. It is short in time, and ends more abruptly than the fourth tone.

The following diagrams show on the musical staff the approximate pitch and length of the tones. The middle line is designed to represent the key-note of the speaker’s voice:

When two or more words are closely connected as in compound names or terms, the tone of the first word of the term or phrase may be radically changed by this fact. The only exception to this rule seems to be that when the following word is a mere suffix or unimportant word the leading word usually retains its original tone unmodified.

The first tone when it appears as the first character in a combination is usually spoken with a strongly marked accent.

The second tone (leading) cannot be distinguished from the first tone leading.

The third tone (leading) cannot be distinguished from the first tone leading.

The fourth tone (leading) when ending in h has the quality of the first tone leading; when ending in k it has the quality of the second tone leading.

The fifth tone (leading) is spoken in a low or depressed tone of the voice without marked emphasis. This “suppressed fifth” requires special attention as it is in marked contrast to the emphatic full form of the fifth tone.

The seventh tone (leading) like the third tone (leading) is pronounced exactly like the first tone (leading).

The eighth tone (leading) is pronounced in Foochow like the fifth tone (leading). In some country districts it is emphasized and pronounced like the first tone (leading).


There are many ways of learning a foreign language, because individual minds work differently in the acquisition of knowledge. While it is hoped that this Dictionary may be of assistance to the language student no matter what method is used, a few practical suggestions are offered embodying the results of the experience and observation of a number of competent students of the language.

1. For those whose experience in language study consists chiefly of school Latin or French learned largely from text-books and by rules of grammar, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that learning to understand and speak a language is primarily a matter of drill. The problem is that of making new nerve connections and making them accurate and habitual. Ideas which the adult student already has must be connected with certain vibrations of the auditory nerve on the one hand, and with certain muscular reactions of the organs of speech on the other.. Neither of these connections is at first accurate, in other words, at first one can neither hear nor speak accurately. Great care should be taken to correct these inaccuracies as rapidly as possible, or bad habits will result. Once accurate, they require a considerable amount of sheer drill before they become easy and natural. Wise drill used with discrimination where it is most needed, is the secret of rapid progress in the use of language.

2. Read carefully the material on pronunciation and tones, noting the description of the sounds of the initials and finals and tones. The first week’s work should be largely listening. In trying to learn the tones and first phrases, the teacher should say them over several times before the student attempts them. The ear should be trained to hear correctly before the student is confused by the use of western symbols which are apt to mislead. Few of the Romanized symbols which are used accurately represent to the Western ear the desired sound, so it is probably best not to use the Romanized at first until one has learned the sound from the Chinese teacher directly. If desired, the Foochow Phonetic Script might be used, thus avoiding the western association of the Romanized. Some students find it instructive at first to make up their own Romanized. When the student is ready for the visual representation of the sounds, however, the regular Romanized script which is used in this Dictionary will be found better than any system a new student could work out for himself.

3. Tone drill should be used with discrimination, emphasizing the difficult sounds. It should be supplemented at an early date by drill on tones in combination, which require special attention since they involve important changes in sound. Definite drill on phrases and short sentences repeated after the teacher are equally important. Such drill should be at normal conversational speed, at first using short phrases. The phrases may later be lengthened to ten or more words at a time. This helps in acquiring rhythm and speed which are important elements in speaking. Mimic the phrase as a whole, as accurately as possible at this stage. If studying character at the same time, the eye may sometimes follow the Chinese character during this drill, thus helping to connect the idea with both auditory and visual symbols.

4. Observe how the final consonants h, k, and ng, and some of the initials as l, n, and d, are often half-suppressed, interchanged, or seem wholly to disappear in the easy, native mode of speaking. Very close attention to these phonetic changes is essential to ease and accuracy in public address and common conversation. The standard is not the pronunciation of single isolated words, nor the way the expression is written in Romanized, but the way the whole phrase or sentence is used in ordinary conversation.

5. In listening to a sermon or address in Chinese, in the early stages of language study, it is better to concentrate attention for two or three minutes, then rest for a few minutes, than to attempt to pay strict attention all the time. It is useful to keep a notebook and write out new phrases heard in conversation or in addresses. This is a help to memory and calls attention to many important words or particles which otherwise might not be learned for years. Listening to translated addresses is another useful way to acquire new expressions.

6. While the spoken language comes first in importance, there is every reason for urging an early start on the written language. There is a limit to the amount of time that can profitable be spent in listening and vocal drill, and for the average student five hours a day is probably a maximum. An early start on the written language need not therefore interfere with rapid progress in the spoken language.

Most of the early missionaries took it for granted that they must learn the Chinese written language. In spite of difficulties many times as great as those now met with, the achievements of Morrison, Legge and many others in mastering the Chinese written language and using it to interpret China to the West and the West to China put to shame most of the work done in later years when the task has been so much easier. As missionaries have spread over China, the attitude towards the use of Chinese character seems to have differed in the coast provinces where there are local dialects from that in the Mandarin speaking North, Central and Western provinces. Where Mandarin is spoken, although many different Romanized systems have been used at different times, missionaries have generally attained a fair standard of reading and writing of simple Chinese characters. In the dialect regions where Romanized has been more extensively used, missionaries have too often contented themselves with the Romanized, perhaps without realizing that lack of ability to read Chinese Character cuts them off from the other parts of China and from life outside of the immediate church circle. Many have had an exaggerated idea of the difficulty because of the experience of the pioneers. It is not necessary to learn as many characters as formerly. The style is no longer so far removed from the ordinary colloquial. There are books and dictionaries in abundance. All that is necessary in addition to ordinary mental endowments is a good method and persistence. Some suggestions as to method will be given later. The persistence must be provided by the student himself.

Some of the reasons why every person who lives and works in China should know as much as possible of the written language are given below. (1) It unlocks the door to the world in which your Chinese friends live. Anyone living in English or America who had read nothing in the English language, and could not read street signs or newspapers would find it difficult to understand Britain or America. This is no less true of China. (2) Knowledge of the written language gives one a feeling of independence. You can read your own letters and if necessary send a line in reply without waiting until your teacher comes. You are not so easily imposed upon, as you can read price marks in shops, get current market prices from newspapers, and get current items of interest for yourself. (3) Your vocabulary is constantly growing in quantity and accuracy and you are in touch with new terminology and modern ideas in the same way and at the same time as your Chinese friends. This is especially important when all sorts of ideas from every nation are being introduced into China. (4) You have opened up to you one of the great cultures and literatures of the world. It is both ancient and modern, and certainly means at least as much to the world as the culture of ancient Greece or Rome. (5) Three is a constantly increasing wealth of material translated from English, French, German, Russian, and Japanese, as well as original work of great value. Much of this is not available in English. (6) A fair knowledge of the written language gives one an opportunity for contacts on equal terms with educated people, and makes it possible to understand their ordinary conversation and perhaps to join in it. One is not limited to “cooly talk.” (7) A good knowledge of the written language will cut in half the time necessary for acquiring a working knowledge of Mandarin, which can be sued in all parts of China. Meanwhile a pen or pencil will enable one to communicate with educated Chinese or Japanese.

There are three kinds of Chinese literary style in common use in Foochow. While using for the most part of the same characters with the same meanings, they have peculiarities of pronunciation, diction, and syntax.

a. Foochow colloquial character is used in the commonest version of the Bible, in simple tracts, and in some of the (often vulgar) novels which circulate among the common people. Its basis is Wenli or classical insofar as that is used in common speech. In style and diction it is the same as the spoken language. Characters have been borrowed or invented to represent purely colloquial terms, so books written in this style are only partially intelligible to people from other parts of China. The use of this style seems to be decreasing.
b. Wenli (ùng lī 文理) or classical is the “universal Latin” of all China. It was standardized by the old examination system, so the only difference between different dialect regions is in pronunciation. In Foochow many characters have a classical and a colloquial pronunciation, such characters appearing in this Dictionary in two or more places. Often both pronunciations are used in conversation, the classical pronunciation being especially common in new terms or polite phrases. Formerly in imitation of the classics the style was very condensed and abstruse (ciáng ùng 正文) but in modern books there is a tendency towards simple and clearer expression (chiēng ùng 淺文) and even towards the Mandarin style.
c. Mandarin or the National Language (guók ngṳ̄ 國語) is the language spoken with variations by three-fourths of the people of China. In its written form it is now in common use throughout China including Foochow, in books and newspapers, though it tends to become a little less colloquial and more literary in the process. It uses the same characters as Wenli, but with some expressions peculiar to itself. It is also much less condensed than the Wenli. As a written language, it is intelligible to anyone conversant with Wenli, even though he may not know the Mandarin pronunciation. The best translation of the Bible in Chinese, and most modern magazines and books are in this style.

There is room for considerable difference in methods of learning the written language. Probably most would agree that it should be begun as soon as possible. By starting with the colloquial character, the student will be able more quickly to make use of what he has learned, he will for the most part avoid the confusing classical pronunciation, and most of the characters he learns will be equally useful later on in the classical. After a few months of the colloquial character he will want to add some easy Wenli and simple Mandarin style, leaving the old high classical to the last. No matter what methods may be used, two psychological principles will be found useful. These are the principles of association and use.

The principle of association means that each new character is to be connected in the mind of the learner with something that is already known. If each separate character is learned as an unrelated unit, it is an almost impossible memory feat to memorize the four or five thousand characters needed. Having learned two or three hundred characters without making use of this principle of association, the student may fail to realize that each new character learned makes easier the learning of still others by enlarging his system of associations. Discouragement and despair at this stage have cut short the language study of many a student after the battle has been half won. The building up of a system of associations depends largely on the analysis of characters into radicals and primitives discussed above.

The principle of use simply means that it takes time and persistence and repetition to learn written Chinese. There are, however, some methods of drill that are more economical than others. It is important, for instance, to put ht drill where it is needed. A list should be kept of the characters you actually know, and those at various stages of learning. Those you know quite well may perhaps safely be allowed to rest for some months; others not quite so familiar can be kept usable by a look at them once a week; those you are just beginning with need to be seen in different contexts several times the first day. Some students secure the different contexts by having the separate characters written on cards which may be shuffled so that the characters come in random order; others write the characters in squares on a sheet of paper and secure variety by reading up, then down, then across to the left, across to the right, and diagonally. Others may secure variety by wide rapid reading skipping new characters for the time being, merely finding and identifying old friends on the way. Whatever method is used, however, drill is essential, and if the student can make a game of it keeping track of the increase of vocabulary, it will assist him to learn more rapidly. The old Chinese method of studying out loud has a good deal to commend it also. Many find that writing the character (either with a Chinese brush or a pen or pencil) is a useful method of calling attention to details and fixing the character in one’s memory. Each student will discover new devices for himself, but will probably find that the two principles of association and use or drill are essential parts of any really successful method of learning Chinese characters.

To write Chinese as a good Chinese penman writes it is a fine art, and is an ambition of doubtful utility for the ordinary Western student of the language. If the student wishes to undertake it, probably the best way is to secure copybooks with the characters outlined which the student must practice filling in with brush and ink. It is not, however, essential to write with a brush or to write beautifully in order to write Chinese. It is important to learn the proper order of strokes in writing, as otherwise hastily written characters will be illegible. While it is not likely that the student will learn to write as many characters as he can read, it is a real help in remembering the character to learn to write it. With the simpler modern styles of letter writing, it is by no means impossible for the Western student to learn to write simple letters, and this does much to make one independent of teachers.

The common square characters used in this Dictionary (kāi cê 楷字) are in the style ordinarily used both in printing and writing, though often with slight modification due to haste or carelessness. Special ancient forms such as the seal characters (diông cê 篆字) can be deferred until the advanced student is able to study them through the medium of Chinese books on the subject. The two kinds of writing which are most apt to trouble the Western student reading letters or documents are the running hand (chō̤ cê 草字) and the abbreviated forms (siēu siā 小寫). If the proper order of strokes is observed, many of the so-called chō̤ cê are easily understood, as merely the result of hurried writing where less essential movements of the pen drop out. Others seem to deliberately eliminate all but the main outline of the character. Most of the abbreviated forms which are in common use have been included in this Dictionary. They should be learned the same as other characters. As they are usually used only for complicated characters they are very useful and save much time. A few of the more common forms are appended, showing three different ways of writing each character. The first column shows the printed form. The second shows the running hand of a good Chinese penman, though it must be said that individuals differ considerably in writing this form. The third form given is the abbreviated form. If the students will learn to recognize the forms here given and gradually add others as he meets them, an ordinary Chinese letter will soon have no terrors for him.

7. The students should by no means confine himself to his books and teacher, but should mingle with the common people and observe carefully their modes of speaking. The union of study and observation will help to form a style, alike removed from coarseness and excessive refinement, while exclusive study with a teacher will tend to the formation of a bookish style, not fully or readily understood by the people at large.


  1. These figures apply to the First Edition only.
  2. These figures apply to the First Edition only.
  3. These figures apply to the First Edition only.
  4. These are found in the first edition only.
  5. These are found in the first edition only.
  6. These are found in the first edition only.
  7. In Chinese poetry the deflected or oblique tones (cáh siang 仄聲) are all except the 1st and 5th which are called bìng siang 平聲. The term “oblique” is here used for convenience in describing the tones where the vowels often change, which are 3rd, 4th, and 7th. See below.

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