Introduction: The Primacy of Sound in Chinese Poetry
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The Primacy of Sound in Chinese Poetry

“The sound must seem an echo to the sense.”1 This famous line by Alexander Pope is often cited concerning the roles of sound in Western poetry. In Chinese poetry too, sound is an echo to the sense, and much more. However, the primacy of sound in Chinese poetry has long been overlooked. A demonstration of the pivotal roles of sound in various major genres is the primary goal of this special issue. Each article explores the aural dimensions of Chinese poetry from a unique perspective and sheds new light on the interplay of sound and sense in one or more particular genres.

We begin with two articles that investigate the symbiotic relationship between sound and sense in the earliest ancient-style shi poetry: the tetrasyllabic poems of the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Poetry) and the pentasyllabic poems of the Han dynasty Jonathan Smith begins from linguists’ observations of nonarbitrary relationships between sound and meaning in many languages: in English, for instance, consider the /gl/ of glare, glow, and gleam and its persistent relationship to the intensity of light. Focusing on the reduplicative words of two identical syllables (dieyinci 疊音詞) so common in the Shijingzang-zang 牂牂, jiu-jiu 糾糾, and the like—Smith suggests the existence of a comparable “sound symbolic” phenomenon in the Old Chinese language. While not carrying any firm conceptual meanings in themselves, these reduplicatives tend to be highly descriptive, effectively conveying often-elusive impressions of various aspects of sensory experience. Smith argues that this is due in large part to the sound-meaning connections these words exploit, and he suggests that such words are [End Page 251] rightly classed as what some modern linguists call “expressives” insofar as their primary function is to express via sound an emotive response to an external scene. A recognition of these sound-symbolic effects, Smith argues, shall inspire readers to a more nuanced appreciation of ancient Chinese poetry.

Zhao Minli and Benjamin Ridgway’s article demonstrates a close relationship between prosodic rhythm and linguistic change in the formation of pentasyllabic shi poetry. What distinguishes the pentasyllabic shi poetry from the Book of Poetry and the Chuci 楚辭 (Lyrics of Chu) is its unique prosodic rhythm of a “balanced foot” (two syllables) plus an “unbalanced foot” (three syllables). As compared with 2 + 2 rhythm in a typical Shijing line or the top-heavy 3 + 兮 (or a connective) +2 rhythm in a typical Chuci line, Zhao and Ridgway maintain, the 2 + 3 rhythm of pentasyllabic shi poetry allows for an unprecedented grammatical flexibility within a line and a smooth flow from one line to the next. In addition, this new rhythm facilitates greater use of parallel syntax between two lines in a couplet and lays the ground for a tonal regulation of pentasyllabic and heptasyllabic shi poetry centuries later.

After exploring the roles of sound in the ancient-style poetry, we investigate the development of tonal regulation in the ensuing dynasties, from the Wei (220–65) through the Liang (502–57). The origin, in both time and space, of tonal regulation is an issue with which both traditional and modern critics have been consumed. In probing this enduring issue, four contributors, Chenqing Song, Hongming Zhang, and Du Xiaoqin and Li E, adopt an almost identical approach without any prior mutual consultation. They all employ quantitative analysis to accomplish a twofold goal: to challenge certain widely held views concerning a particular stage in the development of tonal regulation, and to formulate an original view of their own based on hard statistical evidence.

Chenqing Song’s article takes issue with the claim by Wang Li 王力 (1900–1986), Xu Qing 徐青, and others that pre-Yongming poets had already attempted to create tonal contrast effects in pentasyllabic poems. To assess the validity of this claim, Song undertakes a quantitative analysis of tonal contrasts in three early collections: the “Nineteen Ancient Poems” and Cao Zhi’s 曹植 (192–232) and Xie Lingyun’s 謝靈運 (385–433) works. In interpreting the ratios of the tonal contrast in these three collections, Song compares them with two sets of data: the ratios of tonal contrast in narrative texts written during the same period and...