edited by Yang Xiong, was the first Chinese dictionary
Chinese dictionaries date back over two millennia to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which is a significantly longer lexicographical history than any other language. There are hundreds of dictionaries for Chinese, and this article will introduce some of the most important...
of dialectal terms. The full title is Yóuxuān shǐzhĕ juédài yǔ shì biéguó fāngyán
(輶軒使者絕代語釋別國方言) "Local speeches of other countries in times immemorial explained by the Light-Carriage Messenger," which alludes to a Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...
tradition of imperial emissaries who made annual surveys of regional vocabulary throughout China. Yang's preface explains that he spent 27 years collating and editing the Fangyan
, which has some 9000 characters in 13 chapters (卷).
definitions typically list regional synonyms. For instance, chapter 8, which catalogs animal names, gives regional words for hu
(虎 "tiger") in Han times.
(虎, 陳魏宋楚之間或謂之李父, 江淮南楚之間謂之李耳, 或謂之於菟. 自關東西或謂之伯都.) "Tiger: in the regions of Chen-Wei Song-Chu [Central China], some call it lifu; in the regions of Jiang-Huai Nan-Chu [Southern China], they call it li'er, and some call it wutu. From the Pass, east- and west-ward [Eastern and Western China], some call it also bodu." (adapted from Serruys 1967: 256)
Comparative linguists have used dialect data from the Fangyan
in reconstructing how Chinese was pronounced during the 1st century CE, which is an important diachronic stage between Old Chinese
The earliest known written records of the Chinese language were found at a site near modern Anyang identified as Yin, the last capital of the Shang dynasty, and date from about 1200 BC....
and Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese , also called Ancient Chinese by the linguist Bernhard Karlgren, refers to the Chinese language spoken during Southern and Northern Dynasties and the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties...
. In the above example, Serruys reconstructs "tiger" as Old Chinese *blxâg
The Chinese word fangyan
is a compound
In linguistics, a compound is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem. Compounding or composition is the word formation that creates compound lexemes...
方 "direction; locality; side; place; region; area" and yan
言 "speech; talk; language; word; saying". Fangyan
semantically ranges across "language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...
", "regional language
A regional language is a language spoken in an area of a nation state, whether it be a small area, a federal state or province, or some wider area....
In sociolinguistics a variety, also called a lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, accents, registers, styles or other sociolinguistic variation, as well as the standard variety itself...
", and "dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...
" in comparative linguistics
Comparative linguistics is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages to establish their historical relatedness....
terminology, which involve criteria of mutual intelligibility
In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is recognized as a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or extraordinary effort...
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...
, and pronunciation
Pronunciation refers to the way a word or a language is spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If one is said to have "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both within a particular dialect....
. Chinese fangyan
is usually, but problematically, translated as English "dialect". Regarding the differences between fangyan
, Victor H. Mair
Victor Henry Mair is a Philologist specializing in Sinitic and Indo-European languages, and holds the position of Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States...
It is no wonder that massive confusion results when one is used as a translational equivalent of the other. The abuse of the word fangyan in its incorrect English translation as "dialect" has led to extensive misinformation concerning Chinese language(s) in the West. (1991:6)
Two English neologisms have been coined to remedy this mistranslation of fangyan
. John DeFrancis
John DeFrancis was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa....
(1984:57) suggests regionalect
for the mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese, leaving dialect
for the mutually intelligible sub-varieties. Mair (1991:7) suggests topolect
, which is fully Greek
The Greek language has contributed to the English vocabulary in three ways:#directly as an immediate donor,#indirectly through other intermediate language, as an original donor , and#modern coinages using Greek roots....
in derivation and size-neutral in regard to the speech area. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is an American dictionary of the English language published by Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin, the first edition of which appeared in 1969...
). Although these fangyan
distinctions may seem like pedantic hair-splitting, this word is crucial in some political, social, and linguistic arguments whether Chinese
Chinese comprises many regional language varieties sometimes grouped together as the Chinese dialects, the primary ones being Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, and Min. These are not mutually intelligible, and even many of the regional varieties are themselves composed of a number of...
consists of "dialects" or "languages". Julie M. Groves (2008) analyzes attitudes among native speakers of Cantonese and Putonghua whether Cantonese
Cantonese, or Standard Cantonese, is a language that originated in the vicinity of Canton in southern China, and is often regarded as the prestige dialect of Yue Chinese....
is a language or a dialect, or whether it in fact fits the concept of a 'topolect' better.
Dialectology is the scientific study of linguistic dialect, a sub-field of sociolinguistics. It studies variations in language based primarily on geographic distribution and their associated features...
- Shuowen Jiezi
The Shuōwén Jiězì was an early 2nd century CE Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary , it was still the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them , as well as the first to use the...
- List of Chinese dictionaries