Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/51

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37
The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

its language. This must have appeared to them, when compared with their own, barbarous and ungainly, and incapable of reproducing accurately either the sounds or the teachings of their books. They accordingly tried to introduce their own alphabet and have it brought into use in China, but in this they completely failed. They succeeded, however, in teaching the Chinese, or at least in giving popularity among them to an art of spelling, which, though rude and inaccurate, is better than none. This is the procedure known as Fan-ch'ie (反切), from fan, to turn back, and ch'ie, to rub, an appropriately hazy designation. By this method the sound of a character is given by two other characters, of which one forms the initial and the other the final; these two are manipulated in such a way as to yield the sound required, the tone being given by the final. The process was at first called fan (反), and when this character was taboo and unlucky, ch'ie was substituted: but this was in time replaced by the phrase now in use. It appears, also, that before any of the foreign missionaries came into China its scholars had to some extent a system of spelling like the fan-ch'ie. Many instances of this are given, and it is probable that many more might be added. One or two examples may be here presented. The word p'o (叵), cannot, was spelled pu-k'o (不可), as the character p'o in the old writing indicates, the character being self-spelling, and self-explaining. So also ho (盇) was spelled by ho-pu (何不); and chu (諸) by chĭ-hu (之乎). The first marking and describing of the four tones at a later date, and the classification of human sounds according to the physical organs employed in their production, are also generally attributed to Buddhist missionaries. The times at which the above steps were taken cannot be exactly determined, nor, apparently, is any one of the innovations uniformly associated with any particular individual. All that we learn is that they originated with Buddhist monks from India, or at least obtained currency through their teaching.[1]

  1. 試筞箋註, chap, iii.; 顧氐學, "Yin-lun" 下; "Kanghsi's Dictionary," Preface.