Old Mandarin (Chinese: 古官話; pinyin: Gǔ Guānhuà) or Early
Mandarin (Chinese: 早期官話; pinyin: Zǎoqí Guānhuà) was the
speech of northern China during the Jin and Yuan dynasties (12th to
14th centuries). New genres of vernacular literature were based on
this language, including verse, drama and story forms, such as the qu
The phonology of
Old Mandarin has been inferred from the 'Phags-pa
script, an alphabet created in 1269 for several languages of the
Mongol empire, including Chinese, and from two rime dictionaries, the
Menggu Ziyun (1308) and the
Zhongyuan Yinyun (1324). The rhyme books
differ in some details but show many of the features characteristic of
modern Mandarin dialects, such as the reduction and disappearance of
final stops and the reorganization of the four tones of Middle
7 Further reading
8 External links
The name "Mandarin", as a direct translation of the Chinese Guānhuà
(官話, "language of the officials"), was initially applied to the
lingua franca of the Ming and Qing dynasties, which was based on
various northern dialects. It has since been extended to both Standard
Chinese and related northern dialects from the 12th century to the
The language was called Hàn'ér yányǔ (漢兒言語, "Hàn'ér
language") or Hànyǔ in the Korean Chinese-language textbook
Nogeoldae, after the name Hàn'ér or Hànrén used by the
their subjects in the northern area formerly ruled by the Jin, in
contrast to Nánrén for those formerly under the Southern Song
A page of the
Menggu Ziyun covering the syllables tsim to lim (written
'Phags-pa script at the top)
China had a strong and conservative tradition of phonological
description in the rime dictionaries and their elaboration in rime
tables. For example, the phonological system of the 11th-century
Guangyun was almost identical to that of the
Qieyun of more than four
centuries earlier, disguising changes in speech over the period.
A side-effect of foreign rule of northern China between the 10th and
14th centuries was a weakening of many of the old traditions. New
genres of vernacular literature such as the qu and sanqu poetry
appeared, as well as descriptions of contemporary language that
revealed how much the language had changed.
The first alphabetic writing system for Chinese was created by the
Tibetan Buddhist monk and leader
Drogön Chögyal Phagpa
Drogön Chögyal Phagpa (Wylie: 'gro
mgon chos rgyal 'phags pa) on the orders of the Mongol emperor Kublai
Khan. His 'Phags-pa script, promulgated in 1269, was a vertical
adaptation of the
Tibetan alphabet initially aimed at Mongolian but
later adapted to other languages of the empire, including Chinese. It
saw limited use until the fall of the
Yuan dynasty in 1368. The
alphabet shows some influence of traditional phonology, in particular
including voiced stops and fricatives that most scholars believe had
Mandarin dialects by that time. However, checked
tone syllables (ending in the stops /p/, /t/ or /k/ in Middle Chinese)
were all written with a glottal stop ending. (Other tones are not
marked by the script.)
Zhongyuan Yinyun rhyme group 侵尋 (-im, -əm), divided into four
Menggu Ziyun was a Chinese rime dictionary based on 'Phags-pa. The
prefaces of the only extant manuscript are dated 1308, but the work is
believed to be derived from earlier 'Phags-pa texts. The dictionary is
believed to be based on
Song dynasty rime dictionaries, particularly
the Lǐbù yùnlüè (禮部韻略) issued by the Ministry of Rites in
1037. The front matter includes a list of 'Phags-pa letters mapped to
the 36 initials of the
Song dynasty rime table tradition, with further
letters for vowels. The entries are grouped into 15 rime classes
corresponding closely to the 16 broad rime classes of the tables.
Within each rime class, entries are grouped by the 'Phags-pa spelling
of the final and then by the four tones of Middle Chinese, the last of
which is not indicated by the 'Phags-pa spelling.
A more radical departure from the rhyme table tradition was the
Zhongyuan Yinyun, created by Zhōu Déqīng (周德清) in 1324 as a
guide to the rhyming conventions of qu, a new vernacular verse form.
The entries are grouped into 19 rhyme classes each identified by a
pair of exemplary characters. The rhyme classes are subdivided by tone
and then into groups of homophones, with no other indication of
pronunciation. The even tone (平 píng) is divided in upper and lower
tones called 陰平 yīnpíng and 陽平 yángpíng, respectively.
Syllables in the checked tone are distributed between the other tones,
but placed after the other syllables with labels such as
入聲作去聲 (rùshēng zuò qùshēng "entering tone makes
The phonology of
Old Mandarin is most clearly defined in the Zhongyuan
'Phags-pa script and the
Menggu Ziyun tend to retain more
traditional elements, but are useful in filling in the spartan
description of the Zhongyuan Yinyun. The language shows many of the
features characteristic of modern Mandarin dialects, such as the
reduction and disappearance of final stop consonants and the
reorganization of the
Middle Chinese tones.
In Middle Chinese, initial stops and affricates showed a three-way
contrast between voiceless unaspirated, voiceless aspirated and voiced
consonants. The voicing distinction disappeared in most Chinese
varieties, with different effects on the initials and tones in each of
the major groups. In Old Mandarin,
Middle Chinese voiced stops and
affricates became voiceless aspirates in the "even" tone and voiceless
non-aspirates in others, a typical feature of modern Mandarin
With the exception of the retroflex nasal, which merged with the
dental nasal, the Late
Middle Chinese retroflex stops and retroflex
sibilants merged into a single series.
Initials of the Zhongyuan Yinyun
The initial /ʔ/ denotes a voiced laryngeal onset functioning as a
zero initial. It was almost in complementary distribution with the
initial /ŋ/, and the two have merged in most modern dialects as a
zero initial, [ŋ], [ɣ] or [n]. The initial /ʋ/ has also merged
with the zero initial and the /w/ medial in the standard language.
The distinction between the dental and retroflex sibilants has
persisted in northern Mandarin dialects, including that of Beijing,
but the two series have merged in southwestern and southeastern
dialects. A more recent development in some dialects (including
Beijing) is the merger of palatal allophones of dental sibilants and
velars, yielding a palatal series (rendered j-, q- and x- in
Middle Chinese rime tables divide finals between 16 rhyme
classes (shè 攝), each described as either "inner" (nèi 內) or
"outer" (wài 外), thought to indicate a close or open vowel
respectively. Each rhyme group was divided into four "divisions"
(děng 等), crosscut with a two-way division between "open mouth"
(kāikǒu 開口) or "closed mouth" (hékǒu 合口), with the latter
indicating labialisation of the syllable onset.
Although these categories are coarser than the finals of the Early
Middle Chinese of the Qieyun, they are sufficient to account for the
development to Old Mandarin. The LMC divisions are reflected in Old
Mandarin by variation in the vowel, as well as the presence or absence
of palatalization. Palatalization and lip rounding are represented by
a medial glide, as in modern varieties. Divisions III and IV are
not distinguished by any of the varieties, and are marked with a
palatal glide, except after refroflex initials. Palatal glides also
occur in open division II syllables with velar or laryngeal initials.
For example, the rhyme classes with nasal codas yield the following
Old Mandarin finals:
Old Mandarin reflexes of Late
Middle Chinese rhymes with nasal codas
The dàng and jiāng rhyme classes had merged by the 11th century.
The merger of the zēng and gěng classes is a characteristic feature
of Mandarin dialects.
The two sources yield very similar sets of finals, though they
sometimes differ in which finals were considered to rhyme:
Finals of the
Zhongyuan Yinyun and Menggu Ziyun
Finals by medial class
In syllables with labial initials,
Middle Chinese -m codas had already
dissimilated to -n before the
Old Mandarin period. The remaining
-m codas merged with -n before the early 17th century, when the late
Ming standard was described by European missionaries
Matteo Ricci and
Nicolas Trigault. However, the language still distinguished mid
and open vowels in the pairs -jɛw/-jaw, -jɛn/-jan and -wɔn/-wan.
For example, 官 and 關, both guān in the modern language, were
distinguished as [kwɔn] and [kwan]. These pairs had also merged by
the time of Joseph Prémare's 1730 grammar.
In Middle Chinese, syllables with vocalic or nasal codas could have
one of three pitch contours, traditionally called "even", "rising" and
"departing". Syllables ending in a stop consonant /p/, /t/ or /k/
(checked syllables) had no tonal contrasts but were traditionally
treated as a separate "entering" tone category, parallel to syllables
ending in nasals /m/, /n/, or /ŋ/. Syllables with voiced initials
tended to be pronounced with a lower pitch, and by the late Tang
dynasty, each of the tones had split into two registers conditioned by
the initials. When voicing was lost in all dialect groups except Wu
and Old Xiang, this distinction became phonemic.
Zhongyuan Yinyun shows the typical Mandarin rearrangement of the
first three tone classes into four tones:
the upper even tone, conditioned by
Middle Chinese voiceless initials
the lower even tone, conditioned by
Middle Chinese voiced or nasal
the rising tone (except for syllables with
Middle Chinese voiced
the departing tone, including rising tone syllables with Middle
Chinese voiced initials
Checked syllables are distributed across syllables with vocalic codas
in other tones determined by the
Middle Chinese initial:[g]
tone 2 in syllables with voiced obstruent initials
tone 3 in syllables with voiceless initials except the glottal stop
tone 4 in syllables with sonorant or glottal stop initials
Such syllables are placed after others of the same tone in the
dictionary, perhaps to accommodate Old
Mandarin dialects in which
former checked syllables retained a final glottal stop as in modern
northwestern and southeastern dialects.
The flourishing vernacular literature of the period also shows
distinctively Mandarin vocabulary and syntax, though some, such as the
third-person pronoun tā (他), can be traced back to the Tang
^ -jam occurs only in syllables with
Middle Chinese velar and
^ -jan occurs only in syllables with
Middle Chinese velar and
^ a b This final occurs in the
Zhongyuan Yinyun but not in
^ a b Palatalization was lost after retroflex initials, so -jɛ and
-ɥɛ become -ɛ and -wɛ after retroflex initials.
^ ẓ following dental sibilants, ŗ following retroflex sibilants
^ The additional vowels in this rhyme group may reflect contrasts in
Zhou Deqing's speech that were no longer distinguished in rhyming
^ This differs somewhat from the standard language, in which syllables
Middle Chinese voiceless initials are distributed across tones 1,
3 and 4 without pattern.
^ Norman (1988), p. 23, 136.
^ Kaske (2008), p. 46.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 25, 49.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 49–50.
^ Coblin (2006), pp. 1–3.
^ a b Norman (1988), pp. 51–52.
^ Coblin (2006), pp. 6, 9–15.
^ a b Norman (1988), p. 49.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 34–36, 52–54.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 65, 69.
^ Norman (1988), p. 50, based on Dong (1954).
^ Pulleyblank (1991), pp. 7–8.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 42, 238.
^ Hsueh (1975), p. 38.
^ Norman (1988), p. 193.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 31–32.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), p. 47.
^ a b Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 127–128.
^ a b Pulleyblank (1984), p. 127.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 126–127.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 125–126.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), p. 125.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 122–125.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 117–118.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 118–120.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 113–116.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), pp. 121–122.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), p. 121.
^ Norman (1999), pp. 198, 201–202.
^ Norman (1988), p. 50.
^ a b Pulleyblank (1971), pp. 143–144.
^ Pulleyblank (1991), pp. 8–9.
^ Pulleyblank (1991), p. 9.
^ Pulleyblank (1984), p. 237.
^ Hsueh (1975), p. 65.
^ Stimson (1977), p. 942.
^ Coblin (2000), p. 539.
^ Coblin (2000), pp. 538–540.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 34–36.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 52–54.
^ Pulleyblank (1978), p. 192.
^ Pulleyblank (1978), p. 193.
^ Pulleyblank (1991), p. 10.
^ Stimson (1977), p. 943.
^ Norman (1988), pp. 111–132.
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