This is a preprint
Old Chinese in the Excavated Late Archaic Script: Problems of Working with Competing Ideas In Old Chinese Reconstruction
Abstract

Excavated bamboo or wooden manuscripts dating from the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE have now become important new sources of data for Old Chinese phonology. The ways these sources are interpreted are necessarily based on methodological assumptions for Old Chinese reconstruction. So when debated issues in the latter are involved, disparate observations about the same materials turn out to manifest differences in the methodologies themselves. The study of Old Chinese through excavated manuscripts seems to become further complicated by considerations of the nature of the ‘pre-Qin’ archaic script and the provenances of the manuscripts. In response to these problems, as argued in this article, it is essential to recognize that the writings from the ancient Chu and Qin regions, notwithstanding the impressive range of graphic variability reaffirm the logographic nature of the Chinese writing system. The imperial ‘script-unification’ of the Qin dynasty was primarily an orthographic standardization in accordance with the norms of the old Qin region, whereby distinct regional variants were purged and preexisting internal variants were diminished. This by no means implicated such a drastic change in the writing system as a syllabary transforming to a logography. It is therefore necessary that the principles of OC reconstruction should be applied consistently to both the excavated archaic-script writings and transmitted early Chinese textual sources. It should be maintained first of all that the xiesheng (shared-phonophorics) and Shijing (the Book of Odes) rhymes in principle converge on a single phonological system, even though the actual history of the former is most probably older than the latter. This leads us to suppose about the OC vowel system that the Rounded Vowel Hypothesis does not hold, and that excavated texts have not yielded any data suggesting otherwise. Instead, this article suggests an alternative analysis of Middle Chinese (MC) -w- < *-w- which can explain the problem in the conventional OC rhyme classification concerning the Hypothesis. In the same vein, Chu and Qin writings in each case exhibit the early Chinese xiesheng series which had been received until that time; the regional variants thereof can complement each other as evidence for the Old Chinese phonology. When elements of dialects are found sporadically in the late archaic script, whether in Chu or Qin manuscripts, one may reasonably suspect that they reflect dialect-borrowings layered within the Old Chinese language.


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