Middle Chinese

Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese
Spoken in China
Region Medieval China
Extinct Evolved into Proto-Mandarin and other Chinese dialects apart from Min
Language family
Writing system Seal Script, Clerical Script, Kaishu, Semi-cursive script, Grass script, Phagspa, Hangul
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ltc

Middle Chinese (simplified Chinese: 中古汉语; traditional Chinese: 中古漢語; pinyin: zhōnggǔ Hànyǔ), 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[citation needed]. The term "Middle Chinese", in contrast to Old Chinese and Modern Chinese, is usually used in the context of historical Chinese phonology, which seeks to reconstruct the pronunciation of Chinese used during these times.

Middle Chinese can be divided into an early period, generally called Early Middle Chinese (EMC, c. 5th–7th century AD), and a later period, Late Middle Chinese (LMC, c. 10th–12th century AD). EMC is usually connected with the Sui dynasty and early Tang dynasty rime dictionaries, especially the Qieyun (601 AD), while LMC is usually connected with Song dynasty rime tables, especially the Yunjing (c. 1150 AD). The transition point between EMC and LMC is often associated with the development of labiodental initials /f v mv/ from earlier bilabial initials /p pʰ b m/ in particular phonological environments (see below). Because the Chinese writing system does not reflect phonological changes, it is unclear when exactly this change happened, although labiodentals are already present in the Jiyun rime dictionary (1037 AD).



The reconstruction of Middle Chinese by different modern linguists varies slightly. The differences are minor and fairly uncontroversial in terms of consonants; however there is a more significant difference as to the vowels. (Middle) Chinese is not written using an alphabetic script; therefore, sounds cannot be derived directly from writing.

Methods of reconstruction

The sounds of Middle Chinese must instead be inferred from a number of sources, including the modern Chinese varieties; the pronunciation of Chinese words borrowed during Middle Chinese times into other languages, especially the Sino-Xenic languages (Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese), which borrowed large amounts of Chinese vocabulary; the transliterations of foreign words into Chinese characters; evidence from classical Chinese poetry composed during the Middle Chinese period; and above all, the native Chinese grammatical tradition, encoded in what are termed rime dictionaries and rime tables.

Ancient Chinese philologists devoted a great amount of effort in summarizing the Chinese phonetic system, which was done especially to aid in the correct composition of poetry. Chinese poetry abounded during the Tang era, with a rigid verse structure that relied on the rhyme and tone of the final characters in lines of poetry. The rime books (the spelling "rime" is normally preferred in this context) were a primary aid to authors in composing this poetry.

However, the rime books did not break syllables down into phonemes, as a modern analysis would do, but only into "initials" and "finals". The syllable structure of Middle Chinese and modern Chinese consists of the following components, in order: an initial consonant, or "initial"; an optional glide or "medial" (either a true semivocalic glide, such as /j/ or /w/, a vocalic "glide" such as /i/ in a diphthong /ie/, or a combination such as /jw/ or /wi/); a main vowel or "nucleus"; and an optional final consonant or "coda" (/j/, /w/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /p/, /t/ or /k/; sometimes additional codas such as /wk/ or /wŋ/ are reconstructed). The combination of medial, nucleus and coda is collectively termed a "final", while the combination of nucleus and coda is termed a "rime", which is an older spelling of "rhyme" and is indeed the unit that serves in the formation of rhyming poetry.

The evidence from different sources work to complement each other. The rime books directly indicate the categories of phonetic distinctions, but do not in general indicate the actual pronunciation of these distinctions. Evidence from the modern varieties can help determine the pronunciation, but this requires reconstruction work; in addition, most modern varieties descend from a Late Middle Chinese koine and cannot very easily be used to determine the pronunciation of Early Middle Chinese. Much of the Sino-Xenic vocabulary, on the other hand, descends from Early Middle Chinese, but again, reconstruction work in required, and in addition many distinctions were inevitably lost in mapping Chinese phonology onto foreign phonological systems.

Although the evidence from Chinese transcriptions of foreign words is much more limited, and is similarly obscured by the mapping of foreign pronunciations onto Chinese phonology, it serves as direct evidence of a sort that is lacking in all the other types of data, since the pronunciation of the foreign languages borrowed from – especially Sanskrit – is known in great detail. For example, the Sanskrit word Dravida was translated by religious scribes into a series of characters 達羅毗荼 that are now read in Standard Mandarin as /ta˧˥ luo˧˥ pʰi˧˥ tʰu˧˥/ (Pinyin: Dáluópítú). This suggests that Mandarin /uo/ (Pinyin -uo) is the modern reflex of an ancient /a/-like sound, and that the Mandarin tone /˧˥/ is a reflex of ancient voiced consonants.

The Qieyun

The Qieyun (601 AD), is the oldest of the rime dictionaries and the main source for the pronunciation of characters in Early Middle Chinese (EMC). At the time of Bernhard Karlgren's seminal work on Middle Chinese in the early 20th century, only fragments of the Qieyun were known, and scholars had to rely on later, expanded rime dictionaries such as the eleventh-century Song Dynasty Guangyun and Jiyun, which mix earlier and later pronunciations. However, significant sections of a copy of the Qieyun itself were subsequently discovered in the caves of Dunhuang, and a complete copy was found in the Palace Library in 1947.

The Qieyun indexes Chinese characters by their pronunciation, according to a rigorous hierarchy of initial, final and tone. Characters with identical pronunciations are grouped into homophone classes, and each class is described according to two fanqie characters, one of which matches the initial sound of the characters in the homophone class and one of which matches the final. The use of fanqie is an important innovation of the Qieyun and allowed the pronunciation of all characters to be described exactly; earlier dictionaries simply described the pronunciation of unfamiliar characters in terms of the most similar-sounding familiar character. The Qieyun appears to use multiple synonymous fanqie characters to represent each particular initial; likewise for finals. Determining the number of categories actually represented for initials and finals thus took a good deal of careful work on the part of Chinese linguists. The way this was done was by equating two fanqie whenever one is used in the fanqie spelling of the pronunciation of the other, and then using transitive closure to create larger groups. (For example, if the pronunciation of a particular character is defined using the fanqie spelling AB, and the pronunciation of character A is defined using the fanqie spelling CD, and the pronunciation of character C is defined using the fanqie spelling EF, then characters A, C and E are all equivalent fanqie characters for the same initial sound.) The Qieyun classifies homonyms under 95 tables, one per rhyme, describing a phonological system with 167 separate finals. Multiple finals grouped into a single rhyme class generally differ only in the medial (especially when it is /w/) or in so-called chongniu doublets (see below).

The Yunjing

The Yunjing (c. 1150 AD) is the oldest of the so-called rime tables, which provide a more detailed phonological analysis of the system contained in the Qieyun. It is important to note that the Yunjing was created centuries after the Qieyun, and that the authors of the Yunjing were attempting to interpret a phonological system that differed in significant ways from that of their own Late Middle Chinese (LMC) dialect. They were aware of this, and attempted to reconstruct Qieyun phonology as well as possible through a close analysis of regularities in the system and co-occurrence relationships between the initials and finals indicated by the fanqie characters. However, the analysis inevitably shows some contamination by LMC, which needs to be taken into account when interpreting difficult aspects of the system.

The Yunjing is organized into four sections, one per tone (shēngdiào 聲調 "sound intonation"), using the traditional four-tone system. Within each section are 43 tables, each containing 4 rows and 23 columns. Each square in a table contains a character corresponding to a particular homophone class in the Qieyun, if any such character exists. From this arrangement, each homophone class can be placed in the following categories:

  1. Tone (shēngdiào 聲調 "sound intonation"), using the traditional four-tone system in which finals ending in /p/, /t/ or /k/ are considered to be entering tone variants of finals ending in /m/, /n/ or /ŋ/ rather than separate finals in their own right.
  2. Table number (1 to 43). Each table corresponds to one or more of the 95 Qieyun rhyme classes, and no rhyme class is split across two tables. It should be noted that 34 of the 95 Qieyun rhyme classes end in /p/, /t/ or /k/ and as a result are considered in the Yunjing to be tonal variants rather than classes in their own right; i.e. finals in these classes are located in the entering tone section, in the same table as the corresponding finals ending in /m/, /n/ or /ŋ/ would be placed in the sections for the other tones. The assignment of the remaining 64 rhyme classes to tables is done in one of two ways. One way is by combining cases where two rhyme classes differ only their medial; note that in many cases the Qieyun rhyme classes already group finals by medial. The other way is by grouping rhyme classes with similar main vowels (e.g. /ɑ/, /a/, /ɛ/) that do not co-occur with the same initials, so that homophone conflation does not occur. (Such cases often reflect situations where a single Old Chinese vowel later split.) Note also that rhyme classes that differ in the presence or absence of medial lip rounding (e.g. /w/ vs. no /w/, or /y/ vs. /i/) are never combined into the same table.
  3. Grade (děng 等 "class", "grade" or "group"), either I, II, III or IV, corresponding to the row. The category is related to differences in palatalization of the syllable's initial (e.g. retroflex vs. palatal vs. alveolar) or medial (e.g. /i/, /j/, /ji/ or none, according to Edwin Pulleyblank). The exact significance of this category is difficult to interpret, however, and is strongly debated; see below.
  4. Initial (shēngmǔ 聲母 "sound mother"), corresponding to the column. Note that the Yunjing distinguishes 36 initials but uses only 23 columns; it does this by combining palatals, retroflexes, and dentals under the same column. This does not lead to cases where two homophone classes are conflated, as the grades (rows) are arranged so that all would-be minimal pairs distinguished only by the retroflex vs. palatal vs. alveolar character of the initial end up in different rows.

Each initial is further classified as follows:

  1. Place of articulation: labials (chún 脣 "lip"), alveolars (shé 舌 "tongue"), velars ( 牙 "back tooth"), affricates and sibilants (chǐ 齒 "front tooth"), and gutturals (hóu 喉 "throat")
  2. Phonation: voiceless (qīng 清 "clear"), voiceless aspirated (cìqīng 次清 "secondary clear"), voiced (zhuó 濁 "muddy") or nasal or liquid (qīngzhuó 清濁 "clear muddy")

Each of the 43 tables is further classified as follows:

  1. One of 16 shè classes. These appear to correspond to LMC rhyme classes.
  2. "inner" (nèi ) or "outer" (wài ). The meaning of this is debated but it has been suggested that it refers to the height of the main vowel, with "outer" finals having a low vowel (/ɑ/ or /a,æ/) and "inner" finals having a non-low vowel.
  3. "open mouth" (kāikǒu 開口) or "closed mouth" (hékǒu 合口), indicating whether lip rounding is present. "Closed" finals either have a rounded vowel (e.g. /u/) or rounded glide.

Reconstructed phonology


Early Middle Chinese (EMC) had three types of stops: voiced, voiceless, and voiceless aspirated. Syllables could end with stops. EMC had more vowels than its descendants, such as /æ/, which merged into similar phonemes later on. There were eight series of coronal obstruents, including a three-way distinction between dental (or alveolar), retroflex and palatal among fricatives and affricates, and a two-way dental/retroflex distinction among stop consonants. Old Chinese had a simpler system with no palatal or retroflex consonants; the more complex system of EMC is thought to have arisen from a combination of Old Chinese obstruents with a following /r/ and/or /j/ (Baxter, 1992). By LMC, the palatal consonants had merged with the retroflex consonants; the current set of palatal consonants in modern Mandarin Chinese is a later development, unconnected with the earlier palatal consonants.

Early Middle Chinese

The following table shows the consonants of Early Middle Chinese (EMC), according to current consensus. All of these consonants can appear at the beginning of a syllable, but only /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ and arguably /j//w/ can occur at the end of a syllable.

Early Middle Chinese initials, with Guangyun frequency[1]
Nasal Lateral Fricative/
Bilabial 重唇 p 3.40% 2.58% b 4.41% m 4.38%
Alveolar 舌頭/半舌 t 2.42% 2.13% d 4.04% n 1.20% l 3 6.85%
Retroflex 舌上 ʈ 1.59% ʈʰ 1.22% ɖ 1.90% ɳ 0.87%
Palatal 半齒/喉 ɲ 1.59% j 2 3.81%
Alveolar 齒頭 ts 3.06% tsʰ 2.30% dz 2.16% s 3.67% z 0.88%
Retroflex 正齒 0.92% tʂʰ 0.97% 0.94% ʂ 1.76% ʐ 0.03%
Palatal 正齒 2.33% tɕʰ 0.95% 1.40% ɕ 1.28% ʑ 0.31%
Velar 牙/喉 k 8.01% 4.23% ɡ 2.83% ŋ 3.28% x 2 4.39% ɣ 2 5.18%
Glottal ʔ 2 5.39% (ɦ) 1 2 1.32%

^1 [ɦ] is not a separate phoneme, but an allophone of /ɣ/ before /j/. However, because [ɦ]) was later lost, causing syllables with this initial to be interpreted in the rime tables as having an initial /j/, a separate rime-table initial is usually assigned for [ɦ].

^2 晓, 匣, 喻, 云 and 影 are considered as '喉音'.

^3 来 is considered as '半舌音'

Bernhard Karlgren, who developed the first modern reconstruction of Middle Chinese, reconstructed a somewhat different system. The following table shows Karlgren's equivalents of the above sounds, along with the "ASCII-friendly" notation used by William H. Baxter, for sounds where either Karlgren's version or Baxter's ASCII version differs noticeably from the IPA version.[2] Note that ȶ and ȡ are non-IPA symbols that indicate alveopalatal stops. Using IPA, they would likely be notated as palatal stops /c/ /ɟ/ or palatalized alveolar or dental stops /tʲ/ /dʲ/.

The main differences between Karlgren and current reconstructions are:

  • The reversal of /ʑ/ and /dʑ/. Karlgren based his reconstruction on the Song Dynasty rime tables. However, because of mergers between these two sounds between Early and Late Middle Chinese, the Chinese phonologists who created the rime tables could rely only on tradition to tell what the respective values of these two consonants were; evidently they were accidentally reversed at one stage.
  • Karlgren also assumed that the EMC retroflex stops were actually palatal stops based on their tendency to co-occur with front vowels and /j/, but this was later shown to be incorrect.
  • Karlgren assumed that voiced consonants were actually breathy voiced. This is now assumed only for LMC, not EMC.
initial William H. Baxter,
"ASCII-friendly" notation
Bernhard Karlgren
b b
d d
ʈ tr ȶ
ʈʰ trh ȶʰ
ɖ dr ȡʱ
ɳ nr n
dz dz dzʱ
tʂʰ tsrh tʂʰ
dzr dʐʱ
ʂ sr ʂ
ʐ zr dʐʱ
tɕʰ tsyh tɕʰ
dzy ʑ
ɕ sy ɕ
ʑ zy dʑʱ
ɲ ny ȵʑ
ɡ g ɡʱ
ŋ ng ŋ
ʔ ' ʔ
x x x
ɣ h ɣ
[ɦ] h (none)
j y (none)

Late Middle Chinese

The following table shows the consonants of Late Middle Chinese (LMC), according to current consensus. As with Early Middle Chinese, all can appear at the beginning of a syllable, but only /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/ and arguably /j//w/ can occur at the end of a syllable. The changes were:

  1. Palatal sibilants merged with retroflex sibilants.
  2. /ʐ/ merges with /dʐ/ (hence /dʐ/ ends up reflecting four separate EMC phonemes).
  3. Palatal nasal /ɲ/ also becomes retroflex, but turns into a new phoneme /ɻ/ rather than merging with any existing phoneme.
  4. A new series of labiodentals emerges from labials in certain environments, typically where both fronting and rounding occurs (e.g. /j/ plus a back vowel in William Baxter's reconstruction, or a front rounded vowel in Chan's reconstruction).
  5. Voiced obstruents gain phonetic breathy voice (still reflected in the Wu Chinese varieties).
  6. [ɦ] (allophone of /ɣ/ before /j/) lost.
Late Middle Chinese initials
Nasal Lateral Fricative Approximant


Bilabial p b m
Labiodental (p)f (p)fʰ 1 (b)v mv 2
Alveolar t d n l
Retroflex ʈ ʈʰ ɖ ɳ ɻ[citation needed]
Palatal j
Alveolar ts tsʰ dz s z
Retroflex 穿 tʂʰ ʂ (ʐ) 3
Velar k ɡ ŋ x ɣ
Glottal ʔ

^1 Theoretical form corresponding to EMC syllables with /pʰ/; not synchronically distinct from /(p)f/.

^2 An unusual initial. Different scholars have variously speculated on the actual pronunciation of this segment, e.g. [ɱ], [w̃] or [ʋ]. (As noted by various authors, however, according to Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson,[3] the sound [ɱ] rarely if ever occurs as a phoneme.) It shows up today in various varieties as either [w], [v]/[ʋ] or [m].

^3 Theoretical form that attempts to preserve the EMC distinction between voiced affricate and voiced fricative. In reality, both sounds merged into LMC /dʐ/.


Reconstruction of the pronunciation of finals is much more difficult than initials due to the combination of multiple phonemes into a single class. There is no consensus on the reconstruction of finals, although there are a number of points on which there is general agreement, and the reconstructions of certain scholars, such as William H. Baxter, are widely used in practice. Because of this lack of consensus, understanding of the reconstruction of finals requires delving into the details of rime tables and rime dictionaries; see the discussion above for an introduction.

Grade vs. division

When two or more Qieyun rhyme classes are combined into a single table, different rhyme classes usually end up on different rows (grades). Three situations have been identified in which a single rhyme class is split over more than one row.

  1. Five rhyme classes appear to be split according to the absence or presence of medial /j/: 戈(closed) –wa –jwa (grades 1 and 3); 麻 –æ, -jæ (grades 2 and 3); 庚 –æng, -jæng (grades 2 and 3); 东 –uwng, -juwng (grade 1 and 3); 屋 –uwk, juwk (grade 1 and 3). In this case, the different grades correspond to different EMC finals.
  2. Some so-called chóngniǔ 重纽 "repeated button" rhyme classes that combine two EMC finals have the finals split so that one final is placed in grade 3 and the other in grade 4. In all such cases, the paired finals have identical outcomes in all modern Chinese dialects as well as in Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean borrowings; however, they are reflected differently in Sino-Vietnamese borrowings. The outcomes in the modern Chinese dialects are generally palatalized; however, in Sino-Vietnamese only the grade-4 finals have such palatalization. Karlgren ignored the difference, but all modern linguists consider distinction important. Modern reconstructions generally include a higher degree of palatalization in the grade-4 finals than the grade-3 finals (e.g. medial /j/ vs. /i/, /ji/ vs. /j/, or /ji/ vs. /i/).
  3. It was noted above that palatal, retroflex and alveolar affricates are combined into the same column. When a particular final occurs with more than one of these initials, the final is split across rows so that retroflex initials go into row 2, palatal initials in row 3, and alveolar initials in row 4. Note that in this case, not only a single Qieyun rhyme class but in fact a single EMC final has been split in three.

In the last case mentioned, the split into different rows is clearly artificial. In addition, in the case of chóngniǔ pairs, both finals appear to have palatalization, which in general is a characteristic of grade 3 but not grade 4. As a result, linguists generally assume that all of the finals involved "should" be in grade 3 and have been placed elsewhere simply to make the tables more compressed; otherwise, additional columns or tables would need to be created to avoid homophone conflation.

To handle these cases, a distinction is made between the "grade" (the actual row that the homophone class is placed in) and the "division" (the row that the class properly belongs in). This article distinguishes grades by Arabic numerals 1 2 3 4 and divisions by Roman numerals I II III IV. In addition, chóngniǔ finals in division III but grade 4 are notated in the table of final outcomes below as III/4.

Co-occurrence relationships between initials and divisions

The following table lists the co-occurrence relationships between initial consonants of various classes and the various divisions.


  • Finals that appear as chongniu doublets are identified as either III-chongniu (if they appear in grade 3) or III/4-chongniu (if they appear in grade 4).
  • III-mixed finals are those finals that do not appear in chongniu pairs but are split across different grades with a sibilant initial, according to the quality of the initial (retroflex, palatal or alveolar).
  • III-indep finals, so-called "independent" finals, are all others.
Division P T Tr K TS TSr TSy l y
I yes yes yes yes (not /z/) yes --
II yes yes yes marginally --
III-indep yes yes --
III-mixed, III-chongniu yes yes yes yes (grade 4) yes (grade 2) yes (grade 3) yes --
III/4-chongniu yes yes --
IV yes yes yes yes yes yes

Significance of the division

There are correspondences between certain divisions and the presence or absence of medial glides in later dialects, in ways that differ depending on the class of the initial (e.g. velar, labial, retroflex, etc.). There are also clear co-occurrence restrictions between initials and divisions, in that initials from certain of these same classes can occur with finals only from certain divisions. The LMC authors of this system appear to have been aware of these classes of initials, and seem to have determined the separation into divisions partly on the basis of the co-occurrence relationships and partly on the medial glides, although it is debated how the exact classification was made. It is important to remember that the authors of this system were attempting to use LMC phonology to reconstruct EMC phonology (although they probably thought of it more in terms of trying to harmonize the way that words were normally pronounced with the rather different system of rhymes and homophones as laid out in the Qieyun).

The clearest difference is between division III and other divisions, with division III generally corresponding to palatal initials and/or finals with palatal (i.e. high-front) vowels or glides. In addition, divisions I and IV allow exactly the same set of initials in EMC, suggesting that the distinction between the two postdates the EMC period. Division-IV syllables are commonly thought to reflect a diphthong containing a vocalic glide /i/ in LMC, corresponding to an EMC mid-front monophthong, variously reconstructed as /ɛ/, /e/ or ɪ. Beyond this, there is no consensus.

Karlgren, and many authors following him, suggest that neither divisions I nor II had any medial other than /w/ or /u/, with division I corresponding to back vowels and division II to front vowels. Some authors have suggested that division II corresponded not so much to front vowels as to centralized vowels. Many authors have recently suggested that division-II syllables consistently had a medial /r/ in Old Chinese, although this appeared to have already disappeared by EMC, so it's unclear exactly how this would have been carried forward into LMC. (Some have suggested that the system of divisions dates back at least to the time of the Qieyun (c. 600 AD), and reflects a medial /ɣ/ present very early on in the EMC period.)

Table of Early Middle Chinese finals

The following table lists Early Middle Chinese (EMC) reconstructed "finals" (i.e. all of the syllable other than the initial consonant), according to different authors. It also lists the corresponding Late Middle Chinese (LMC) outcomes according to Pulleyblank, and the Standard Mandarin outcomes using Pinyin spelling. The table does not explicitly list finals ending in /p/, /t/ or /k/ (the so-called "entering tone" syllables), but these can easily be derived by substituting /p/ for /m/, /t/ for /n/, and /k/ for /ŋ/. Note also that some columns are not strictly in IPA.

Late Middle Chinese (LMC) outcomes

Codes for initial classes:

  • G = guttural (velar or laryngeal, i.e. a back consonant)
  • P = labial (includes labiodental)
  • PG = labial or guttural (i.e. a grave consonant)
  • A = acute consonant (anything not in PG)
  • SR = EMC retroflex sibilant
  • ST = alveolar sibilant
  • M = /m/
  • RXLʔ = EMC retroflex, EMC palatal sibilant, /l/ or /ʔ/
Standard Mandarin outcomes

The modern outcomes are listed using the following codes:

  • P = bilabial stops (p, b)
  • PM = bilabials (p, b, m)
  • F = labiovelars (f, w < /m-/)
  • T = alveolar stops (t, d)
  • S = alveolar sibilants (c, z, s)
  • Š = retroflex sibilants (ch, zh, sh)
  • ŠR = retroflex (ch, zh, sh, r)
  • K = velars (k, g, h)
  • Q = palatal sibilants (q, j, x); they occur in place of either velars or alveolar sibilants when i or ü follows
  • G = gutturals (velars or no initial; in the latter case, stemming from MC ʔ- or ŋ-/ng- and sometimes written w- or y- in Pinyin)
  • J = "jutturals" (same as gutturals but with palatal sibilants in place of velars; occurs before i or ü)

The outcomes are written either as individual outcomes in Pinyin, or combined outcomes in "pseudo-Pinyin" (when the outcome begins with a "-" or uppercase letter). "Pseudo-Pinyin" uses Pinyin conventions but without any of the abbreviations normally in use in Pinyin. Examples:

  • "-uei" indicates the pronunciation /uei/, normally spelled -ui or wei
  • "-üe" indicates the pronunciation /ye/ [ɥɛ], normally spelled -ue (after q-, j-, x-); -üe (after l-, n-); or yue
  • "-i" indicates the pronunciation /i/ (usually [i], but [ɨ] after alveolar or retroflex sibilants); normally spelled -i or yi

When not indicated, the choice of whether a velar or palatal occurs is determined by the following vowel: palatals before -i or , velars elsewhere.

Example: A listed outcome like -uo, Ge, PMo; also Ta, occ. wo means that the outcome is -e for a guttural (i.e. ge, ke, he, e); -o for a labial (i.e. po, bo, mo); -uo elsewhere; but for alveolar stops, -a also appears (i.e. either tuo, duo or ta, da), and wo occasionally appears instead of e as the outcome of MC ʔ- or ŋ- (the outcome of both is a "null initial", which is counted as a "guttural" in the modern outcomes).

These outcomes assume the normal correspondences between EMC initials and Standard Mandarin initials:

  • EMC voiced stops and fricatives become unvoiced in Mandarin; stops in syllables with tone 1 become aspirated, otherwise unaspirated.
  • EMC palatal sibilants and retroflex stops become Mandarin retroflex sibilants.
  • EMC nasal changes: nr- becomes Mandarin n-; ny- becomes Mandarin r-, or sometimes the syllable er; ng- is dropped.
  • EMC guttural /ʔ-/ is dropped, and h- is dropped in the sequence hj-.
  • EMC velars and alveolar sibilants become Mandarin palatal sibilants before Early Mandarin -i- or -ü- (/y/).
  • With certain finals, EMC labial stops become Mandarin f-, and EMC m- usually becomes Mandarin w-; this is indicated by F-. Lowercase f- appears in finals where EMC labial stops become Mandarin f-, but either there are no known examples of EMC m- with the same final, or EMC m- with that final becomes Mandarin m- rather than w-.

In a couple of situations where two different EMC initials have merged, the modern outcome is nonetheless different depending on the EMC initial:

  • EMC retroflex and palatal sibilants merged in LMC, but sometimes the modern outcomes are different. For example, under -ip, the notation -i, Še < SR- means that EMC syip > shi but EMC srip > she.
  • EMC ng- and ʔ- both disappear, but sometimes with different results. For example, -ai, ya < ʔ-, Qie means that the modern result is ya when the EMC syllable began with ʔ- but ai when the EMC syllable began with ng- /ŋ-/. On the other hand, -ao, ao < ʔ-, Jiao means that the modern result is ao when the EMC syllable began with ʔ- but yao when the EMC syllable began with ng- /ŋ-/ (since J- includes original velars); likewise for -uo, wo < ʔ-, Jüe, indicating wo vs. yue.
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
果 (outer) I open ɑ ɑ a [ɑ] a [ɑ], Pua [ɑ] a ɑ ɐ -uo, Ge, PMo; also Ta, occ. wo
I closed wa [wɑ] ua [uɑ] wa -uo; also Ge
III-mixed open i̯ɑ ɨa [ɨɑ] ia [iɑ] ja ɑ œ Qie
III-mixed closed i̯wɑ iuɑ ua [uɑ] ya [yɑ] jwa Qüe
假 (outer) II open a a aɨ (ɛɨ) aː [ɑː], Gjaː [Gjɑː] æ æ ɛ -a, Jia
II closed wa ua waɨ (wɛɨ) waː [wɑː] -ua
III-mixed open i̯a ia ia [iɑ] ia [iɑ] Jie, ŠRe
遇 (inner) I closed uo o ɔ uǝ̆ [uɔ] u u ə -u
III-mixed closed i̯wo ɨǝ̆ iǝ̆ [iɛ], SRəǝ̆ [SRɤ] (yǝ̆ [yɛ], SRuǝ̆ [SRuɔ]) jo œ ø -ü, Fu, ŠRu
III-mixed closed i̯u io uǝ̆ yǝ̆ [yɛ], SRuǝ̆ [SRuɔ] ju ø ø
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
蟹 (outer) I open ɑ̌i ɒi əj aj oj əj əj -ai, Pei
I closed uɑ̌i uɒi wəj uaj woj ʏj ʏj -uei, PMei, lei, nei
I open ɑi ɑi aj aj aj ɑj ɐj -ai, Pei
I closed wɑi uɑi waj uaj waj wɑj wɐj -uei
II open ǝ̆i ɛi əɨj aːj, Gjaːj ɛj ɑj ɛj -ai, Qie; also Pei
II closed wǝ̆i uɛi wəɨj waːj wɛj wɑj wɛj Kuai
II open ai ɛ aɨj aːj, Gjaːj ɛ (ɛɨ)2 ɛ ɛj -ai, ya < ʔ-, Qie; also Pa
II closed wai waɨj waːj wɛ (wɛɨ)2 wɛj -ua; also wai
II open ai ai aɨj(s)3 aːj, Gjaːj æjH3 æj ɛj -ai, Qie
II closed wai uai waɨj(s)3 waːj wæjH3 wæj wɛj Kuai
III-chongniu open i̯ɛi iɛi iaj iaj jej ej ej -i
III/4-chongniu open jɛi jiaj PGjiaj jiej jej jej
III-chongniu closed i̯wɛi iuɛi wiaj yaj jwej wej wej -uei
III/4-chongniu closed juɛi jwiaj PGjyaj jwiej wjej wjej
III-indep open i̯æi iɐi ɨaj iaj joj øj øj fei, yi
III-indep closed i̯wæi iuɐi uaj yaj jwoj wøj wøj Kuei
IV open iei ei ɛj PGjiaj, Aiaj ej ɐj ɪj -i
IV closed iwei uei wɛj Gjyaj wej wɐj wɪj Kuei
止 (inner) III-chongniu open ie iǝ̆ i, SRṛ, STẓ je e i -i, er < ny-; occ. Pei
III/4-chongniu open je jiǝ̆ PGji jie je ji
III-chongniu closed wiě iue wiǝ̆ yj, SRuj jwe we wi -uei, lei
III/4-chongniu closed jue jwiǝ̆ PGjyj jwie wje wji
III-chongniu open i i i i, SRṛ, STẓ ij i i -i, er < ny-; occ. PMei
III/4-chongniu open ji ji PGji jij ji ji
III-chongniu closed wi ui wi yj, SRuj wij wi wi -uei, lei, yi?
III/4-chongniu closed jui jwi PGjyj jwij wji wji
III-mixed open i ɨ i, SRṛ, STẓ i i e -i, er < ny-
III-indep open ěi iəi ɨj i jɨj yj yj Ji, Fei
III-indep closed wěi iuəi uj yj jwɨj wyj wyj Guei
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
效 (outer) I open ɑu ɑu aw (u)aw aw ɑw ɐw -ao
II open au au aɨw aːw, Gjaːw æw ɛw ɛw -ao, ao < ʔ-, Jiao
III-chongniu open i̯ɛu iɛu iaw iaw jew ew ew -iao, ŠRao
III/4-chongniu open jɛu jiaw PGjiaw jiew jew jew
IV open ieu eu ɛw PGjiaw, Aiaw ew ɪw ɪw
流 (inner) I open ə̆u u əw əw uw ʉ u -ou; also mu
III-mixed open iə̆u iu uw iw, SRəw, Məw juw y y -iou, fou, mou, ŠRou; also Sou < Š-
III/4-chongniu open i̯ĕu iĕu jiw jiw jiw iw iw -iou
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
咸 (outer) I open ɑ̌m ɒm əm am om ɔm ɔm -an -a, Ke
I open ɑm ɑm am am am ɑm ɐm
II open ǝ̆m ɐm əɨm aːm, Gjaːm ɛm ɛm ɛm -an, Jian Jia, Ša
II open am am aɨm aːm, Gjaːm æm æm ɛm
III-chongniu open i̯ɛm iɛm iam iam jem øm øm -ian, ŠRan -ie, Še
III/4-chongniu open jɛm jiam PGjiam jiem jøm? jøm?
III-indep open i̯æm iɐm ɨam iam jæm em em -ian, fan -ie, fa
III-indep closed i̯wæm iuɐm uam iam jom/jwom? œm øm
IV open iem em ɛm PGjiam, Aiam em ɪm ɪm -ian Qie
深 (inner) III-chongniu open i̯əm iəm im im, SRəm im im im -in, ŠRen; also Sen < Š- -i, Še < SR-
III/4-chongniu open jəm jim PGjim jim jim jim
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
山 (outer) I open ɑn ɑn an an an ɑn ɐn -an -a, Ge, PMo
I closed uɑn uɑn wan uan wan wɑn wɐn -uan -uo
II open an an aɨn aːn, Gjaːn æn æn æn -an, Jian -a, Jia
II closed wan uan waɨn waːn wæn wæn wæn -uan Kua
II open ǝ̆n ɛn əɨn aːn, Gjaːn ɛn ɛn ɛ -an, Jian -a, Jia
II closed wǝ̆n uɛn wəɨn waːn wɛn wɛn wɛn Kuan Gua
III-chongniu open i̯ɛn iɛn ian ian jen en en -ian, ŠRan -ie, ŠRe
III/4-chongniu open jɛn jian PGjian jien jen jen
III-chongniu closed i̯wɛn iuɛn wian yan jwen wen wen -uan, Jüan; also lian Jüe, lie, Šuo
III/4-chongniu closed juɛn jwian PGjyan jwien wjen wjen
III-indep open i̯æn iɐn ɨan ian jon øn øn Jian, Fan Jie, fa
III-indep closed i̯wæn iuɐn uan yan jwon wøn wøn Jüan, fan Jüe
IV open ien en ɛn PGjian, Aian en ɪn ɪn -ian -ie
IV closed iwen uen wɛn jyan wen wɪn wɪn Jüan Qüe
臻 (inner) I open ən ən ən ən on ən ən Gen Ke
I closed u̯ən uən wən un won ʏn ʏn -uen, PMen -u, PMo, ne
III-chongniu open i̯ɛn iɛn in SRən in in in -in, ŠRen; also Sen < Š- -i, Še < SR-
III-chongniu open i̯ēn iēn in in, SRən in in in
III/4-chongniu open jēn jin PGjin jin jin jin
III-chongniu closed i̯wēn iuēn win yn win win win -uen, Jün
III-chongniu closed i̯uēn iuēn win yn win win win
III/4-chongniu closed juēn jwin PGjyn jwin jwin jwin
欣(殷?) III-indep open i̯ən iən ɨn in jɨn in yn Jin Ji
III-indep closed i̯uən iuən un yn, yt, SRut jun yn yn Jün, Fen Jü, Fu
Yunjing rhyme class Qieyun rhyme class division rounding Bernhard Karlgren Li Rong Edwin G. Pulleyblank 1 William H. Baxter Abraham Y.S. Chan Standard Mandarin pronunciation
EMC LMC Jinling Luoyang normal Final -p/t/k
宕 (outer) I open ɑŋ ɑŋ aŋ [ɑŋ] aŋ [ɑŋ] ɑŋ ɐŋ -ang -uo, Ge, PMo; also lao; occ. Sao
I closed wɑŋ uɑŋ waŋ [wɑŋ] uaŋ [uɑŋ] waŋ wɑŋ wɐŋ Kuang Kuo
III-mixed open i̯aŋ iaŋ ɨaŋ [ɨɑŋ] iaŋ [iɑŋ], SRaːŋ [SRɑːŋ] jaŋ œŋ œŋ -iang, Fang, ŠRang; also Šuang < SR- -üe, ŠRuo; also Jiao
III-mixed closed i̯waŋ iuaŋ uaŋ [uɑŋ] yaŋ [yɑŋ] jwaŋ wœŋ wœŋ Kuang Qüe
江 (outer) II open ɔŋ ɔŋ aɨwŋ aːwŋ, RXLʔwaːwŋ, Gjaːwŋ æwŋ ɔŋ ɔŋ Qiang, Pang, Šuang < TR- -uo, wo < ʔ-, Jüe, Pao; also Qiao, Po
曾 (inner) I open əŋ əŋ əŋ əǝ̆ŋ [ɤŋ] -eng -e, PMo; also Sei, lei
I closed wəŋ uəŋ wəŋ uǝ̆ŋ [uɔŋ] woŋ woŋ woŋ Kong Kuo
III-mixed open i̯əŋ iəŋ iǝ̆ŋ [iɛŋ], iǝ̆k [iɛk], SRəǝ̆k [SRɤk] -ing, ŠReng -i, Še < SR-; also Se < SR-
III-mixed closed i̯wəŋ iuəŋ wiŋ yǝ̆ŋ [yɛŋ] wiŋ wiŋ wiŋ unobserved
梗 (outer) II open æŋ ɐŋ aɨjŋ aːjŋ, Gjaːjŋ æŋ æŋ ɛŋ Jing, -eng; also Keng -ai, Ge; also PMo, Se < Š-
II closed wæŋ uɐŋ waɨjŋ waːjŋ wæŋ wæŋ wɛŋ Keng unobserved
II open ɛŋ ɛŋ əɨjŋ aːjŋ, Gjaːjŋ ɛŋ ɛŋ ɛŋ Jing, -eng; also Keng -ai, Ge; also Se < Š-
II closed wɛŋ uɛŋ wəɨjŋ waːjŋ wɛŋ wɛŋ wɛŋ Kong Kuo
III-chongniu open i̯æŋ iɐŋ iajŋ iajŋ jæŋ jɛŋ -ing, Šeng -i
III-chongniu closed i̯wæŋ iuɐŋ wiajŋ yajŋ jwæŋ weŋ wjɛŋ Qiong unobserved
III-chongniu open i̯ɛŋ iɛŋ iajŋ iajŋ jeŋ -ing, Šeng -i
III/4-chongniu open jɛŋ jiajŋ PGjiajŋ jieŋ jeŋ jeŋ
III-chongniu closed i̯wɛŋ iuɛŋ wiajŋ yajŋ jweŋ weŋ weŋ Qiong, ying yi
III/4-chongniu closed juɛŋ jwiajŋ jyajŋ jwieŋ wjeŋ wjeŋ
IV open ieŋ ɛjŋ PGjiajŋ, Aiajŋ ɪŋ ɪŋ -ing -i
IV closed iweŋ ueŋ Kwɛjŋ jyajŋ weŋ wɪŋ wɪŋ Qiong unobserved
通 (inner) I closed əwŋ əwŋ uwŋ ʉŋ uwŋ -ong, weng, PMeng; occ. Seng -u; also wo
I closed uoŋ awŋ əwŋ owŋ
III-mixed closed iuŋ iuŋ uwŋ iwŋ, SRəwŋ, Məwŋ juwŋ -ong, Jiong, feng; also Kong -u, Jü; also liu, ŠRou
III-mixed closed i̯woŋ ioŋ uawŋ ywŋ jowŋ øŋ øŋ

^1 The table uses the notation in Pulleyblank (1991) (Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation), which differs in some ways from Pulleyblank (1984) (Middle Chinese), as indicated:

Middle Chinese Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation
ɨă ɨǝ̆
ǝă ǝǝ̆

^2 In Baxter (1992), these finals are indicated as ɛɨ and wɛɨ, but in Baxter & Sagart (2010), they have changed to simply ɛ and .

^3 These finals occur only in tone 3 (the "departing tone"). This is because they come from Old Chinese finals in -ts > -js, while the corresponding Old Chinese finals in -j lost the /j/. As a result, they often appear in Pulleyblank (1962) as e.g. aɨj(s) and in Baxter (1992) as e.g. æjH, where the s and H are the respective notations for tone 3.


Qieyun classified characters in four parts according to their tone: even tone (平聲), rising tone (上聲), departing tone (去聲), and entering tone (入聲). The first three are often notated as tones 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in modern publications. The "entering tone", also known as a "checked tone", actually refers to syllables characterized by a final stop consonant (/p/, /t/, or /k/) rather than a distinct pitch.

It is difficult to determine the exact contours of the other tones, although the names themselves suggest level, rising and falling pitches, respectively. In 《元和韻譜》 is written 「平聲哀而安,上聲厲而舉,去聲清而遠,入聲直而促」, which approximately translates (somewhat cryptically) as "Level tone, sad but safe; rising tone, vigorous and moving; departing tone, clear and far; entering tone, straight and promoting."

Changes from Old Chinese to Middle Chinese to modern varieties

Middle Chinese had a structure much like many modern varieties (especially conservative ones such as Cantonese), with largely monosyllabic words, little or no derivational morphology, three tones, and a syllable structure consisting of initial consonant, glide, main vowel and final consonant, with a large number of initial consonants and a fairly small number of final consonants. Not counting the glide, no clusters could occur at the beginning or end of a syllable.

Old Chinese, on the other hand, had a significantly different structure. There were no tones, a lesser imbalance between possible initial and final consonants, and a significant number of initial and final clusters. There was a well-developed system of derivational and possibly inflectional morphology, formed using consonants added onto the beginning or end of a syllable. This system is similar to the system reconstructed for Proto-Sino-Tibetan and still visible, for example, in the written Tibetan language; it is also largely similar to the system that occurs in the more conservative Mon–Khmer languages, such as modern Khmer (Cambodian).

The main changes leading to the modern varieties have been a reduction in the number of consonants and vowels and a corresponding increase in the number of tones (typically through a pan-East-Asiatic tone split that doubled the number of tones while eliminating the distinction between voiced and unvoiced consonants). This has led to a gradual decrease in the number of possible syllables. In Standard Mandarin, this has progressed to a farther extent than elsewhere, with only about 1,200 possible syllables. The result, in Mandarin especially, has been the proliferation of the number of two-syllable compound words, which have steadily replaced former monosyllabic words, to the extent that the majority of words in Standard Mandarin are now composed of two syllables.

For more specifics, see historical Chinese phonology.

See also


  1. ^ Guangyun wordlist (7 April 2007) by polyhedron, zgheng and blankego (in Chinese).[1]
  2. ^ Baxter, William H. III 1992. A Handbook of old Chinese phonology. Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs 64. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Stimson, Hugh M. 1976. T'ang Poetic Vocabulary. Far Eastern Publications, Yale University.
  3. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8. 


  • Baxter, William H. (1992), A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-012324-1. 
  •   ; Sagart, Laurent (20 February 2010), Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstruction, Version 1.00, http://lodel.ehess.fr/crlao/document.php?id=1217. 
  • Chen, C.-Y. (2001), Tonal evolution from pre-Middle Chinese to modern Pekinese: three tiers of changes and their intricacies, Berkeley, CA: Project on Linguistic Analysis, University of California, ISBN 0774803665. 
  • Gong, Hwang-cherng (1980), "A Comparative Study of the Chinese, Tibetan, and Burmese Vowel Systems", Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology (Academia Sinica) 51: 455–489. 
  • Karlgren, Bernhard (1923), Analytic dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese, Paris: Paul Geuthner, ISBN 978-0-486-21887-8. 
  •    (1957), Grammata Serica Recensa, Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, OCLC 1999753. 
  • Li, Fang-Kuei (1974–75), "Studies on Archaic Chinese", Monumenta Serica 31: 219–287  (translated by Gilbert L. Mattos).
  • Mei, Tsu-lin (1970), "Tones and prosody in Middle Chinese and the origin of the rising tone", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 30: 86–110, JSTOR 2718766. 
  • Newman, J.; Raman, A. V. (1999), Chinese historical phonology: a compendium of Beijing and Cantonese pronunciations of characters and their derivations from Middle Chinese, LINCOM studies in Asian linguistics, 27, Munich: LINCOM Europa, ISBN 3895865435. 
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (1962), "The Consonantal System of Old Chinese", Asia Major 9: 58–144, 206–265. 
  •    (1992), "How do we reconstruct Old Chinese?", Journal of the American Oriental Society 112 (3): 365–382, JSTOR 603076. 
  •    (1984), Middle Chinese: a study in historical phonology, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, ISBN 0774801921. 
  •    (1991), Lexicon of reconstructed pronunciation in early Middle Chinese, late Middle Chinese, and early Mandarin, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, ISBN 0774803665. 
  • Ulving, T.; Karlgren, B. (1997), Dictionary of old and middle Chinese: Bernhard Karlgren's Grammata serica recensa alphabetically arranged, Orientalia Gothoburgensia, 11, Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, ISBN 9173462942. 
  • Wilkinson, Endymion (2000), Chinese history: a manual (2nd ed.), Harvard Univ Asia Center, ISBN 978-0-67400249-4. 

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