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A Handbook of 'Phags-Pa Chinese

W. South Coblin

Publication Year: 2007

Phags-pa Chinese is the earliest form of the Chinese language to be written in a systematically devised alphabetic script. It is named after its creator, a brilliant thirteenth-century Tibetan scholar-monk who also served as political adviser to Kublai Khan. 'Phags-pa's invention of an alphabet for the Mongolian language remains an extraordinarily important accomplishment, both conceptually and practically. With it he achieved nothing less than the creation of a unified script for all of the numerous peoples in the Mongolian empire, including the Central Asian Turks and Sinitic-speaking Chinese. 'Phags-pa is of immense importance for the study of premodern Chinese phonology. However, the script is difficult to read and interpret, and secondary materials on it are scattered and not easily obtained. The present book is intended as a practical introduction to 'Phags-pa Chinese studies and a guide for reading and interpreting the script. It consists of two parts. The first part is an introductory section comprising four chapters. This is followed by a glossary of 'Phags-pa Chinese forms and their corresponding Chinese characters, together with pinyin and stroke order indexes to those characters.The first introductory chapter outlines the invention of the 'Phags-pa writing system, summarizes the major types of material preserved in it, and describes the historical and linguistic contexts in which this invention occurred. Following chapters detail the history of 'Phags-pa studies, the alphabet and its interpretation, and the salient features of the underlying sound system represented by the script, comparing it with those of various later forms of Chinese that have been recorded in alphabetic sources. A Handbook of 'Phags-pa Chinese will be of special interest to Chinese historical phonologists and scholars concerned with the history and culture of China and Central Asia during the Yuan period (A.D. 1279–1368).

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. ix

During the compilation of this work I have received help and encouragement from many friends and colleagues. Particularly notable among these are David P. Branner, Victor Mair, Jerry L. Norman, and Axel Schuessler. I am also grateful to an anonymous reviewer for a number of suggestions and corrections. I am of...


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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

China is blessed with one of the oldest continuously used writing systems in the world. But this unique script has been the bane of historical phonologists, because it is logographic rather than alphabetic. Due to this peculiarity, the script effectively conceals from phonologists the pronunciations that underlie it. This is not to say...

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I. The 'Phags-pa Chinese Script: Its Invention, Textual Attestation, and Historical Background

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pp. 1-22

The full name of the 'Phags-pa Lama (which epithet is actually a title rather than a name) was 'Gro-mgon 'Phags-pa Blo-gros rgyal-mtshan. There exists a surprisingly large corpus of biographical information on him in Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian sources. A...

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II. A Brief Review of 'Phags-pa Chinese Studies

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pp. 23-31

The single most informative source on the history of 'Phags-pa studies in general and of the Chinese 'Phags-pa field in particular is the introduction to Nakano (1971), especially pages 8-23. Also of considerable interest are the bibliographical notes and annotations in Ligeti (1956; 1961), Hashimoto (1978; ...

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III. Analysis and Interpretation of the 'Phags-pa Alphabet

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pp. 32-68

The analysis and interpretation of the 'Phags-pa alphabet involves four different but interrelated issues. Of these, the one about which there is the most agreement is the mechanical functioning of the script. The second area comprises the basic assumptions of the investigator about the historical and sociolinguistic nature of the...

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IV. A Structural and Historical Consideration of the 'Phags-pa Chinese Sound System

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pp. 69-103

The Comparative and Historical Study of Standard Forms of Pronunciation. The types of language which serve as koines are invariably those which have some sort of wider application in an extended speech community. And of these, the ones which are reduced to writing and come to serve as standard written languages...

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Glossary of 'Phags-pa Chinese Forms

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pp. 105-175

This Glossary contains a selection of Chinese characters from the MGZY, arranged according to the format of that text. The material is not intended as an actual edition of the MGZY. The facsimile editions already published by Luo and Cai (1959) and Jiinast and Yang (1987) should be used in formal textual studies. We have excluded...

PInyIn Index to Chinese Characters in the Glossary

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pp. 177-211

Stroke Order Index to Chinese Characters in the Glossary

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pp. 213-285

Index of Transliterated 'Phags-pa Orthographic Forms in the Glossary

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pp. 287-297


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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861261
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830007

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 256489834
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Handbook of 'Phags-Pa Chinese

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Subject Headings

  • Mongolian language -- Alphabet -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • 'Phags-pa alphabet -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • Mongolian language -- Phonology -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
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