Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/234

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218
[LANGUAGE
CHINA

intonation in the dialects. Theoretically, four tones have been distinguished—the even, the rising, the sinking and the entering—each of which falls again into an upper and a lower series. But only the Cantonese dialect possesses all these eight varieties of tone (to which a ninth has been added), while Pekingese, with which we are especially concerned here, has no more than four: the even upper, the even lower, the rising and the sinking. The history of the tones has yet to be written, but it appears that down to the 3rd century B.C. the only tones distinguished were the 平 “even,” 上 “rising” and 入 “entering.” Between that date and the 4th century A.D. the 去 sinking tone was developed. In the 11th century the even tone was divided into upper and lower, and a little later the entering tone finally disappeared from Pekingese. The following monosyllabic dialogue gives a very fair idea of the quality of the four Pekingese tones—1st tone: Dead (spoken in a raised monotone, with slightly plaintive inflection); 2nd tone: Dead? (simple query); 3rd tone: Dead? (an incredulous query long drawn out); 4th tone: Dead! (a sharp and decisive answer). The native learns the tones unconsciously and by ear alone. For centuries their existence was unsuspected, the first systematic classification of them being associated with the name of Shên Yo, a scholar who lived A.D. 441-513. The Emperor Wu Ti was inclined to be sceptical, and one day said to him: “Come, tell me, what are these famous four tones?” “They are 天 子 聖 哲 whatever your Majesty pleases to make them,” replied Shên Yo, skilfully selecting for his answer four words which illustrated, and in the usual order, the four tones in question. Although no native is ever taught the tones separately, they are none the less present in the words he utters, and must be acquired consciously or unconsciously by any European who wishes to be understood. It is a mistake, however, to imagine that every single word in a sentence must necessarily be given its full tonic force. Quite a number of words, such as the enclitics mentioned above, are not intonated at all. In others the degree of emphasis depends partly on the tone itself, partly on its position in the sentence. In Pekingese the 3rd tone (which is really the second in the ordinary series, the 1st being subdivided into upper and lower) is particularly important, and next to it in this respect comes the 2nd (that is, the lower even, or 2nd division of the 1st). It may be said, roughly, that any speaker whose second and third tones are correct will at any rate be understood, even if the 1st and 4th are slurred over.

It is chiefly, however, on its marvellous script and the rich treasures of its literature that the Chinese language depends for its unique fascination and charm. If we take a page of printed Chinese or carefully written manuscript The characters. and compare it with a page, say, of Arabic or Sanskrit, the Chinese is seen at once to possess a marked characteristic of its own. It consists of a number of wholly independent units, each of which would fit into a small square, and is called a character. These characters are arranged in columns, beginning on the right-hand side of the page and running from top to bottom. They are words, inasmuch as they stand for articulate sounds expressing root-ideas, but they are unlike our words in that they are not composed of alphabetical elements or letters. Clearly, if each character were a distinct and arbitrarily constructed symbol, only those gifted with exceptional powers of memory could ever hope to read or write with fluency. This, however, is far from being the case. If we go to work synthetically and first see how the language is built up, it will soon appear that most Chinese characters are susceptible of some kind of analysis. We may accept as substantially true the account of native writers who tell us that means of communication other than oral began with the use of knotted cords, similar to the quippus of ancient Mexico and Peru, and that these were displaced later on by the practice of notching or scoring rude marks on wood, bamboo and stone. It is beyond question that the first four numerals, as written with simple horizontal strokes, date from this early period. Notching, however, carries us but a little way on the road to a system of writing, which in China, as elsewhere, must have sprung originally from pictures. In Chinese writing, especially, the indications of such an origin are unmistakable, a few characters, indeed, even in Pictorial characters. their present form, being perfectly recognizable as pictures of objects pure and simple. Thus, for “sun” the ancient Chinese drew a circle with a dot in it: MarkeRingSchwarz.svg, now modified into 日; for “moon” 月-oracle.svg, now 月; for “God” they drew the anthropomorphic figure EB1911 天-ancient.jpg, which in its modern form appears as 天; for “mountains” 山-oracle.svg, now 山; for “child” EB1911 子-ancient.jpg, now 子; for “fish” EB1911 魚-ancient.jpg, now 魚; for “mouth” a round hole, now 口; for “hand” EB1911 手-ancient.jpg, now 手; for “well” EB1911 井-ancient.jpg, now written without the dot. Hence we see that while the origin of all writing is pictographic, in Chinese alone of living languages certain pictures have survived, and still denote what they had denoted in the beginning. In the script of other countries they were gradually transformed into hieroglyphic symbols, after which they either disappeared altogether or became further conventionalized into the letters of an alphabet. These picture-characters, then, accumulated little by little, until they comprised all the common objects which could be easily and rapidly delineated—sun, moon, stars, various animals, certain parts of the body, tree, grass and so forth, to the number of two or three hundred. The next step was to a few compound pictograms which would naturally suggest themselves to primitive man: 旦 the sun just above the horizon = “dawn”; 林 trees side by side = “a forest”; 舌 a mouth with something solid coming out of it = “the tongue”; 言 a mouth with vapor or breath coming out of it = “words.”

But a purely pictographic script has its limitations. The more complex natural objects hardly come within its scope; still less the whole body of abstract ideas. While writing was still in its infancy, it must have occurred to the Chinese Suggestive compounds. to join together two or more pictorial characters in order that their association might suggest to the mind some third thing or idea. “Sun” and “moon” combined in this way make the character 明, which means “bright”; woman and child make 好 “good”; “fields” and “strength” (that is, labour in the fields) produce the character 男 “male”; two “men” on “earth” 坐 signifies “to sit”—before chairs were known; the “sun” seen through “trees” 東 designates the east; 家 has been explained as (1) a “pig” under a “roof,” the Chinese idea, common to the Irish peasant, of home, and also (2) as “several persons” under “a roof,” in the same sense; a “woman” under a “roof” makes the character 安 “peace”; “words” and “tongue” 話 naturally suggest “speech”; two hands (友, in the old form EB1911 友-ancient.jpg) indicate friendship; “woman” and “birth” 姓 = “born of a woman,” means “clan-name,” showing that the ancient Chinese traced through the mother and not through the father. Interesting and ingenious as many of these combinations are, it is clear that their number, too, must in any practical system of writing be severely limited. Hence it is not surprising that this class of characters, correctly called ideograms, as representing ideas and not objects, should be a comparatively small one. Up to this point there seemed to be but little chance of the written language reaching a free field for expansion. It had run so far on lines sharply distinct from those of ordinary speech. There was nothing in the character per se which gave the slightest clue to the sound of the word it represented. Each character, therefore, had to be learned and recognized by a separate effort of memory. Phonetic characters. The first step in a new, and, as it ultimately proved, the right direction, was the borrowing of a character already in use to represent another word identical in sound, though different in meaning. Owing to the scarcity of vocables noted above, there might be as many as ten different words in common use, each pronounced fang. Out of those ten only one, we will suppose, had a character assigned to it—namely 方 “square” (originally said to be a