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Abstract

How do we know what Shakespeare’s plays sounded like in his time, or Sappho’s verses, or the tales of ancient Sumer? As they were written in phonetic scripts, modern historical linguists have largely been able to reconstruct the sounds of these works. Written Chinese has always been a logographic and not a phonetic script, and with the rapid pace of phonetic variation and change, many of the euphonic patterns in ancient Chinese texts of ritual and history have been lost for millennia. While very general categories of rhyme and correlations between characters based on ancient rhyming poetry have been proposed by Chinese scholars throughout the ages, until developments in Western historical linguistics were applied to Chinese over the past century, the sounds of this ancient language remained obscure. However, thanks to modern advances in computer database technology, digital texts and digital tools, a wide variety of phonological data for ancient Chinese (including several recently-developed systems for reconstructed pronunciations) can now be employed to provide empirical documentation and analysis of the lost euphony and phonorhetorical structures in these ancient texts for the first time. In this study I utilize a tripartite framework for philological inquiry, grounded in the equal consideration of semantics, metrics and acoustics. In general, over the past two millennia, most Chinese philological studies have focused upon detailed exegeses of the semantics of a word, passage or text. Metrical features and sentence prosody have also received some attention, as various forms of literary expression in Chinese have been governed by conventions of style and form; this is particularly true of poetry, but also of patterned and parallel prose. This study argues that analyses of the phonetic patterns in a text should also play a significant role in any significant philological study, as it is often in the pairing of acoustic devices with metric and semantic structures that the true breadth, depth and beauty of literary expression can be felt most acutely. This framework represents a methodological shift in Chinese philology: until recently it was extremely difficult to accurately assess phonetic and acoustic structures in early Chinese texts; this was particularly true for compositions from the distant past. However, thanks to modern technology and recent advances in the field of Chinese phonology, it is now possible for any scholar to efficiently evaluate the acoustic structures of any Chinese text with as much accuracy as the aggregate of available phonological evidence can provide and thereby gain a more complete understanding of its acoustic constitution, its aesthetic and performative features, and the more subtle aspects of literary artistry which informed its composition and transmission. The phonological foundation of this study has been facilitated by a digital suite of lexical tools which I designed and which are the first method by which the hurdles to large-scale Chinese lexical spadework in the service of phonological analysis can efficiently be overcome: The Digital Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (available online at edoc.uchicago.edu ), via which one can programmatically retrieve a wide range of phonological data, from both ancient and modern resources, for every character in any Chinese text. For this study, I used it to compile and evaluate proposed Old Chinese pronunciations for each graph in three of the earliest corpora of Chinese narrative texts: inscriptions longer than fifty graphs preserved on bronze vessels dating to the Western Zhou dynasty (1045-771 B.C.E.), the ten chapters of the Classic of Documents《尚書》 which scholars now generally believe were likely originally composed during the Western Zhou, and speeches of over one hundred graphs preserved in the Zuo Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals《春秋左傳》. From these results, I chose four representative inscriptions from the Western Zhou inscriptional corpus, two representative chapters from the Classic of Documents, and three representative speeches from the Zuo Commentary as the basis for the analyses in chapters two through four. In these case studies, complete charts of each text (including a full transcription in Chinese, an Old Chinese phonological reconstruction for each graph, and an English translation) are provided, followed by detailed evaluations of the euphonic patterns and phonorhetorical devices employed within each text. The concluding chapter presents a brief overview of the main types of euphonic patterns and phonorhetorical devices evidenced within each corpus followed by general remarks on the euphonic and phonorhetorical characteristics common to all three corpora, and finds that there are demonstrable commonalities yet each corpus exhibits a unique range of euphonic and phonorhetorical devices which distinguishes it from the others, and from other early Chinese literary genres.

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