The History of The Chinese Language
The history of the Chinese language refers to various changes over time, which are the subject of the historical sciences: specifically, these historical changes involve the linguistic study of the Chinese language, in its various incarnations. Many linguists classify all of the variations of Chinese as part of the Sino-Tibetan language family and believe that there was an original language, called Proto-Sino-Tibetan, analogous to Proto-Indo-European, from which the Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages descended. The relations between Chinese and other Sino-Tibetan languages are an area of active research and controversy, as is the attempt to reconstruct Proto-Sino-Tibetan. The main difficulty in this effort is that, while there is very good documentation that allows us to reconstruct the ancient sounds of Chinese, there is no written documentation of the division between Proto-Sino-Tibetan and Chinese. However this is a common problem in historical linguistics, and one which perhaps can be overcome with the use of the comparative method. Unfortunately the use of this technique for Sino-Tibetan languages has not worked out, at least so far, perhaps because of such difficulties as that many of the languages that would allow us to reconstruct Proto-Sino-Tibetan are very poorly documented or understood. Therefore, despite their “affinity”, the common ancestry of Chinese and the Tibeto-Burman remains an unproven hypothesis.
Categorization of the development of Chinese is a subject of scholarly debate. One of the first systems was devised by the Swedish linguist Bernhard Karlgren in the early 1900s. The system was much revised, but always heavily relying on Karlgren’s insights and methods.
Old Chinese (simplified Chinese: 上古汉语; traditional Chinese: 上古漢語; pinyin: Shànggǔ Hànyǔ), sometimes known as “Archaic Chinese,” was the language common during the early and middle Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – 256 BC), texts of which include inscriptions on bronze artifacts, the poetry of the Shijing, the history of the Shujing, and portions of the Yijing (I Ching). The phonetic elements found in the majority of Chinese characters also provide hints to their Old Chinese pronunciations. The pronunciation of the borrowed Chinese characters in Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean also provide valuable insights. Old Chinese was not wholly uninflected. It possessed a rich sound system in which aspiration or rough breathing differentiated the consonants, but probably was still without tones. Work on reconstructing Old Chinese started with Qing dynasty philologists.
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