Full Text

Chinese written language


Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Extract

For many centuries China's classical literary language wényán was the medium of literature not only in China but also in adjacent countries - Vietnam, the Korean peninsula and, in particular, Japan. During its formative epoch from the warring states period (445-221 bce ) to the early Han period (206 bce to 25 ce ) it was not very different from spoken Chinese. However, as of the late Han period the relationship between the spoken and written language was characterized by increasing divergence. This was partly a result of the canonization of the five classics of Confucianism, The Book of Changes (Yi jing), The Book of Documents (Shu jing), The Book of Odes (Shi jing), The Book of Rites (Li ji) and The Spring and Autumn Annals (Chun qiu) . It became customary to put the study of these texts at the centre of one's education. They also came to form the basis of the civil service examinations in China, the backbone of selecting the bureaucratic elite. These examinations, which were held until the end of the nineteenth century, did much to perpetuate the use of wényán and uphold its status. As a result, the classical language which was far removed from vernacular speech was the primary medium of literary prose throughout the centuries. Vernacular varieties of Chinese were also written, especially beginning in the Tang dynasty (608-906), many of them Buddhist scriptures. However, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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