Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/46

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The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

—were sent periodically to visit the various states subject or tributary to China. Their duty was to observe and note the different ways of speech, and manners, and popular sayings, and ballads of the towns and districts through which they passed. When they returned to court they made reports which were put on record. At the time of the Han dynasty the practice had ceased, and in the first century B. C. most of the tablets containing the reports were lost: even the nature of the duties of the "light carriage envoys" was almost forgotten. But attention was recalled to them by the labours of a recluse of Ssŭchuan, by name Chuang (al. Yen 嚴) Chun-p'ing (莊君平). He compiled from the old records a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words, and Lin Lü (林閭) al. Wêng (or Kung 公) Ju (翁子需), also a native of Ssŭchuan, made a summary. While Yang was in Ssŭchuan he came into very close relations with Lin Lü, and, liking his mode of procedure, he adopted it for his work. Thus he not only used the extracts available from the reports of former "light carriage envoys," but he also instituted similar investigations himself. For twenty-seven years he went on collecting and arranging his materials, and died, as the book seems to show, with his work still unfinished.

The "Fang-yen" is mainly a comparative vocabulary of a large number of the terms and phrases used in different states and districts. It tells the areas within which certain names and forms of expression prevailed. To some extent also it is simply a dictionary, explaining the meaning of certain terms, and giving synonyms. It does not give the sounds of the characters or any attempt at an analysis of them. From it, however, we learn many of the dialectical varieties which existed in the first

century B. C, and how certain words and phrases of that time have to be understood. Many of the words in it have long since become obsolete, or have continued to live only in the small circuit of a dialect. The text, as we have it now, is supposed to differ considerably from that left by Yang, and the work is said to have suffered otherwise in the course of transmission.