Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/66

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52
The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

thus communicated was afterwards turned to account by native authors in the study of Chinese. We now read for the first time of tzŭ-mu (字母), letters, alphabet, or, in the narrowest use of the term, characters employed as initials. We are told that the first occurrence of the term is in the translation of a sutra, the "Wên-chu-wên-ching" (文殊問經) that is, the Mañjusri Pariprichchhā Sūtra, by Pu-k'ung (不空), Amoghavajra. This celebrated monk, originally a Brahman of North India, lived in the eighth century and spent many years at Ch'ang-an in China. But the use of certain Chinese characters to serve for the transcription of the Sanskrit alphabet seems to have been known some centuries before his time.

In this period, also, Shên-kung (神珙), an Indian monk of great learning, taught the use of the tones and the art of analysing and compounding the sounds of human speech. His diagrams illustrating his teachings are to be found as an appendix to the "Yü pien." Shên-kung is also said to have selected thirty characters, kien (見), etc., to represent the Sanskrit consonants and serve as initials. This achievement, however, is also ascribed to Shê-li (舍利) another Indian missionary, if these two names do not indicate only one individual. To the thirty characters thus selected six more were added by Shou-wên (守温), a learned monk of China or Corea and the author of a small treatise on the finals. The system of thirty-six initials which this Buddhist introduced is known in literature as the Chung-yin-tzŭ-mu (中音字母) or Standard Alphabet, Initials for the Sounds of Correct Chinese. These characters, sometimes with slight changes, are in use at present as initials, and they are to be found so employed in Kanghsi's Dictionary and in many other treatises.[1]

We must needs also reckon the "I-ch'ie-ching-yin-i" (一切經音義), or Sounds and Meanings of all the Buddhist Sacred Books, as a contribution to the cultivation of the language. This great work was founded on others of the same kind which have

  1. "Li-shi-yin-chien," chap. ii.; 同文韻統, chap. vi.; Catalogue of Bud. Trip. by Bunyiu Nanjio, Col. 444.; "Yü-pien," vol. iii. Appx.