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A rime dictionary, rhyme dictionary, or rime book (simplified Chinese: 韵书; traditional Chinese: 韻書; pinyin: yùnshū) is an ancient type of Chinese dictionary that collates characters by rhyme and tone, instead of by radical. Extant rime dictionaries also record the pronunciation of characters by the fǎnqiè method, using a pair of characters to indicate the onset and remainder of the syllable respectively. In contrast, the later rime tables gave a significantly more precise and systematic account of the sounds of these dictionaries by tabulating syllables by their onsets, rhyme groups, tones and other properties.
The most important rime dictionaries are the Qieyun (601) and an expanded revision, the Guangyun (1007–1008). The phonological system inferred from these books is known as Middle Chinese, and incorporates most of the distinctions found in modern varieties of Chinese, as well as some that are no longer distinguished. It has also been used together with other evidence in the reconstruction of Old Chinese (1st millennium BC).
The earliest rime dictionary was the Shenglei (聲類 lit. "sound types") by Li Deng (李登) of the Three Kingdoms period, containing more than 11,000 characters grouped under the five notes of the ancient Chinese musical scale. The book did not survive, and is known only from descriptions in later works.
The most important rime dictionary was the Qieyun, published by Lù Fǎyán (陸法言) in 601, during the Sui Dynasty, based on five earlier rime dictionaries that are no longer extant. It quickly became popular during the Tang Dynasty, and revisions were produced by Zhǎngsūn Nèyán in 677, Wáng Rénxū in 706, Sūn Miǎn in 720 and 751, under the title Tángyùn, and Lǐ Zhōu in 763–784. In 1008, during the Song Dynasty, a group of scholars commissioned by the emperor produced an expanded revision called the Guangyun. The Jiyun (1037) was a greatly expanded revision of the Guangyun.
These rime dictionaries primarily served the composition of poems, as required by the Imperial Examination from the Tang Dynasty. Versifiers would rhyme a poem according to the standard rime book (characters within the same yun rhyme with each other), not the sounds of their own dialect or even those of the standard of their time. For many generations of Chinese versifiers, the standard work to consult is the so-called Pingshuiyun (平水韻) first compiled during the Jin Dynasty, a simplified version of Guangyun which reduced the 206 yun into 106, reflecting the contemporary pronunciations.
Until the mid-20th century, the only complete rime dictionaries known were the Guangyun and Jiyun, the latter marred by numerous transcriptions errors. Fragments of earlier dictionaries were found early in the century among the Dunhuang manuscripts, in Turfan and in Beijing. Then in 1947, an nearly complete copy of Wáng Rénxū's edition was discovered in the Palace Museum.
The Qieyun and its successors all had the same structure. The characters were first divided between the four tones. Because there were more characters of the "level tone" (平聲 píngshēng), they occupied two juan (卷 "fascicle", "scroll" or "volume"), while the other three tones filled one volume each. The last category or "entering tone" (入聲 rùshēng) consisted of words ending in stops -p, -t or -k, corresponding to words ending in nasals -m, -n and -ng in the other three tones. These final stops are generally preserved in modern southern dialects, but have disappeared in northern dialects, including the standard language.
Each tone was divided into rhyme groups (韻 yùn), traditionally named after the first character of the group. The following shows the beginning of the first rhyme group of the Guangyun, with first character 東 ("east"):
Each rhyme group was subdivided into homophone groups preceded by a small circle called a 紐 niǔ ("button"). The entry for each character gave a brief explanation of its meaning. At the end of the entry for the first character of a homophone group was a description of its pronunciation, given by a fǎnqiè formula, a pair of characters indicating the initial and final followed by the character 反 fǎn (in the Qieyun) or the character 切 qiè (in the Guangyun), followed by the number of homophonous characters. For example, the pronunciation of 東 was described using the characters 德 tok and 紅 huwng, indicating tuwng.[a] In the above sample, this formula is followed by the number 十七, indicating that there are 17 entries, including 東, with the same pronunciation.
The order of the rhyme groups within each volume does not seem to follow any rule, except that similar groups were placed together, and corresponding groups in different tones were usually placed in the same order. Where two rhyme groups were similar, there was a tendency to choose exemplary words with the same initial. Early in the Tang dynasty, the fine distinctions made by the Qieyun no longer reflected common speech, and were found overly restrictive by poets. Xu Jingzong and others suggested more relaxed rhyming rules. Similarly the preface of the Guangyun marks sets of rhyme groups as tóngyòng (同用), meaning they could rhyme in regulated verse. In the above sample, under the entry for the rhyme group 刪 in the last part the table of contents (on the right page) is the notation "同用山", indicating that this group could rhyme with the group 山 which follows it in the dictionary.
The following are the rhyme groups of the Guangyun, with their modern names and the finals they include (see next section). A few entries are re-ordered to place corresponding rhyme groups of different tones in the same row, and darker lines separate the tongyong groups:
|Rhyme groups by tone||Finals by distribution class|
|平 level[b]||上 rising[c]||去 departing[d]||入 entering[e]||I/IV||II||mixed||pure III|
|1-1. 東 dōng||3-1. 董 dǒng||4-1. 送 sòng||5-1. 屋 wū||-uwng/k||-juwng/k|
|1-2. 冬 dōng||4-2. 宋 sòng||5-2. 沃 wò||-owng/k|
|1-3. 鍾 zhōng||3-2. 腫 zhǒng||4-3. 用 yòng||5-3. 燭 zhú||-jowng/k|
|1-4. 江 jiāng||3-3. 講 jiǎng||4-4. 絳 jiàng||5-4. 覺 jué||-æwng/k|
|1-5. 支 zhī||3-4. 紙 zhǐ||4-5. 寘 zhì||-j(w)(i)e|
|1-6. 脂 zhī||3-5. 旨 zhǐ||4-6. 至 zhì||-(j)(w)ij|
|1-7. 之 zhī||3-6. 止 zhǐ||4-7. 志 zhì||-i|
|1-8. 微 wēi||3-7. 尾 wěi||4-8. 未 wèi||-j(w)ɨj|
|1-9. 魚 yú||3-8. 語 yǔ||4-9. 御 yù||-jo|
|1-10. 虞 yú||3-9. 麌 yǔ||4-10. 遇 yù||-ju|
|1-11. 模 mú||3-10. 姥 mǔ||4-11. 暮 mù||-u|
|1-12. 齊 qí||3-11. 薺 jì||4-12. 霽 jì||-(w)ej|
|4-13. 祭 jì||-j(w)(i)ejH|
|4-14. 泰 tài||-(w)ajH|
|1-13. 佳 jiā||3-12. 蟹 xiè||4-15. 卦 guà||-(w)ɛɨ|
|1-14. 皆 jiē||3-13. 駭 hài||4-16. 怪 guài||-(w)ɛj|
|4-17. 夬 guài||-(w)æjH|
|1-15. 灰 huī||3-14. 賄 huì||4-18. 隊 duì||-woj|
|1-16. 咍 hāi||3-15. 海 hǎi||4-19. 代 dài||-oj|
|4-20. 廢 fèi||-j(w)ojH|
|1-17. 真 zhēn||3-16. 軫 zhěn||4-21. 震 zhèn||5-5. 質 zhì||-(j)in/t|
|1-18. 諄 zhūn[f]||3-17. 準 zhǔn[f]||4-22. 稕 zhùn[f]||5-6. 術 shù[f]||-(j)win/t|
|1-19. 臻 zhēn||5-7. 櫛 zhì||-in/t|
|1-20. 文 wén||3-18. 吻 wěn||4-23. 問 wèn||5-8. 物 wù||-jun/t|
|1-21. 欣 xīn[g]||3-19. 隱 yǐn||4-24. 焮 xìn||5-9. 迄 qì||-jɨn/t|
|1-22. 元 yuán||3-20. 阮 ruǎn||4-25. 願 yuàn||5-10. 月 yuè||-j(w)on/t|
|1-23. 魂 hún||3-21. 混 hùn||4-26. 慁 hùn||5-11. 沒 méi||-won/t|
|1-24. 痕 hén||3-22. 很 hěn||4-27. 恨 hèn||-on/t|
|1-25. 寒 hán||3-23. 旱 hàn||4-28. 翰 hàn||5-12. 曷 hé||-an/t|
|1-26. 桓 huán[f]||3-24. 緩 huǎn[f]||4-29. 換 huàn[f]||5-13. 末 mò[f]||-wan/t|
|1-27. 刪 shān||3-25. 潸 shān[h]||4-30. 諫 jiàn||5-15. 鎋 xiá||-(w)æn/t|
|1-28. 山 shān||3-26. 產 chǎn||4-31. 襉 jiàn||5-14. 黠 xiá||-(w)ɛn/t|
|2-1. 先 xiān||3-27. 銑 xiǎn||4-32. 霰 xiàn||5-16. 屑 xiè||-(w)en/t|
|2-2. 仙 xiān||3-28. 獮 xiǎn||4-33. 線 xiàn||5-17. 薛 xuē||-j(w)(i)en/t|
|2-3. 蕭 xiāo||3-29. 篠 xiǎo||4-34. 嘯 xiào||-ew|
|2-4. 宵 xiāo||3-30. 小 xiǎo||4-35. 笑 xiào||-j(i)ew|
|2-5. 肴 yáo||3-31. 巧 qiǎo||4-36. 效 xiào||-æw|
|2-6. 豪 háo||3-32. 晧 hào||4-37. 號 hào||-aw|
|2-7. 歌 gē||3-33. 哿 gě||4-38. 箇 gè||-a||-ja|
|2-8. 戈 hū[f]||3-34. 果 guǒ[f]||4-39. 過 guò[f]||-wa||-jwa|
|2-9. 麻 má||3-35. 馬 mǎ||4-40. 禡 mà||-(w)æ||-jæ|
|2-10. 陽 yáng||3-36. 養 yǎng||4-41. 漾 yàng||5-18. 藥 yào||-j(w)ang/k|
|2-11. 唐 táng||3-37. 蕩 dàng||4-42. 宕 dàng||5-19. 鐸 duó||-(w)ang/k|
|2-12. 庚 gēng||3-38. 梗 gěng||4-43. 映 yìng||5-20. 陌 mò||-(w)æng/k||-j(w)æng/k|
|2-13. 耕 gēng||3-39. 耿 gěng||4-44. 諍 zhèng||5-21. 麥 mài||-(w)ɛng/k|
|2-14. 清 qīng||3-40. 靜 jìng||4-45. 勁 jìng||5-22. 昔 xī||-j(w)ieng/k|
|2-15. 青 qīng||3-41. 迥 jiǒng||4-46. 徑 jìng||5-23. 錫 xī||-(w)eng|
|2-16. 蒸 zhēng||3-42. 拯 zhěng||4-47. 證 zhèng||5-24. 職 zhí||-(w)ing/k|
|2-17. 登 dēng||3-43. 等 děng||4-48. 嶝 dèng||5-25. 德 dé||-(w)ong/k|
|2-18. 尤 yóu||3-44. 有 yǒu||4-49. 宥 yòu||-juw|
|2-19. 侯 hóu||3-45. 厚 hòu||4-50. 候 hòu||-uw|
|2-20. 幽 yōu||3-46. 黝 yǒu||4-51. 幼 yòu||-jiw|
|2-21. 侵 qīn||3-47. 寢 qǐn||4-52. 沁 qìn||5-26. 緝 qì||-(j)im/p|
|2-22. 覃 tán||3-48. 感 gǎn||4-53. 勘 kàn||5-27. 合 hé||-om/p|
|2-23. 談 tán||3-49. 敢 gǎn||4-54. 鬫 kàn||5-28. 盍 hé||-am/p|
|2-24. 鹽 yán||3-50. 琰 yǎn||4-55. 豔 yàn||5-29. 葉 yè||-j(i)em/p|
|2-25. 添 tiān||3-51. 忝 tiǎn||4-56. 㮇 tiàn||5-30. 帖 tiē||-em/p|
|2-26. 咸 xián||3-53. 豏 xiàn||4-58. 陷 xiàn||5-31. 洽 qià||-ɛm/p|
|2-27. 銜 xián||3-54. 檻 kǎn||4-59. 鑑 jiàn||5-32. 狎 xiá||-æm/p|
|2-28. 嚴 yán||3-52. 儼 yǎn[i]||4-57. 釅 yàn[i]||5-33. 業 yè||-jæm/p|
|2-29. 凡 fán||3-55. 范 fàn||4-60. 梵 fàn||5-34. 乏 fá||-jom/p|
The rime dictionaries have been intensively studied as important sources on the phonology of medieval Chinese, and the system they reveal has been dubbed Middle Chinese. Since the Qieyun itself was believed lost until the mid-20th century, most of this work was based on the Guangyun.
The books list the syllables of the language and give pronunciations, but do not describe the phonology of the language. This was first attempted in the rime tables, the oldest of which date from the Song dynasty, but which may represent a tradition going back to the late Tang dynasty. Though not quite a phonemic analysis, these tables analysed the syllables of the rime books using lists of initials, finals and other features of the syllable. The initials are further analysed in terms of place and manner of articulation, suggesting inspiration from Indian phonology. However the rime tables were compiled in a different part of China some centuries after the Qieyun, and many of its distinctions must have been obscure. Some scholars treat the rime tables as describing a Late Middle Chinese stage, in contrast to the Early Middle Chinese of the rime dictionaries.
In his Qièyùn kǎo (1842), the Cantonese scholar Chen Li set out to identify the initial and final categories underlying the fanqie spellings in the Guangyun. The system was clearly not minimal, employing 452 characters as initial spellers and around 1200 as final spellers. However no character could be used as a speller for itself, and one could assume, for example, that since 德 was used as an initial speller for 東 that these words must have had the same initial. By following chains of such equivalences Chen was able to identify categories of equivalent initial spellers, and similarly for the finals. More common segments tended to have the most variants. Words with the same final would rhyme, but a rhyme group might include between one and four finals with different medial glides, as seen in the above table of rhyme groups. The inventory of initials Chen obtained resembled the 36 initials of the rime tables, but with significant differences. In particular the "light lip sounds" and "heavy lip sounds" of the rime tables were not distinguished in the fanqie, while each of the "proper tooth sounds" corresponded to two distinct fanqie initial categories.
Unaware of Chen's work, the Swedish linguist Bernard Karlgren repeated the analysis identifying the initials and finals in the 1910s. The initials could be divided into two broad types: grave initials (labials, velars and laryngeals), which combine with all finals, and acute initials (the others), with more restricted distribution. Like Chen, Karlgren noted that in syllables with grave initials, the finals fell into two broad types, now usually referred to (following Edwin Pulleyblank) as types A and B. He also noted that these types could be further subdivided into four classes of finals distinguished by the initials with which they could combine. These classes partially correspond to the four rows or "divisions", traditionally numbered I–IV, of the later rime tables. The observed combinations of initials and finals are as follows:
|Type A||Type B|
|grave||velars and laryngeals||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Rows of the rime tables||I||IV||II||II–IV||III|
Some of the "mixed" finals are actually pairs of type B finals after grave initials, with two distinct homophone groups for each initial, but a single final after acute initials. These pairs, known as chongniu, are also marked in the rime tables by splitting them between rows III and IV, but their interpretation remains uncertain. There is no also consensus regarding which final of the pair should be identified with the single final occurring after acute initials.
Karlgren also sought to determine the phonetic values of the abstract categories yielded by the formal analysis, by comparing the categories of the Guangyun with other types of evidence, each of which presented their own problems. The Song dynasty rime tables applied a sophisticated featural analysis to the rime books, but were separated from them by centuries of sound change, and some of their categories are difficult to interpret. The so-called Sino-Xenic pronunciations, readings of Chinese loanwords in Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese, were ancient, but affected by the different phonological structures of those languages. Finally modern varieties of Chinese provided a wealth of evidence, but often influenced each other as a result of a millennium of migration and political upheavals. After applying a variant of the comparative method in a subsidiary role to flesh out the rime dictionary evidence, Karlgren believed that he had reconstructed the speech of the Sui-Tang capital Chang'an.
Later workers have refined Karlgren's reconstruction. The initials of the Qieyun system are given below with their traditional names, categorized according to the rime table analysis and with approximate values:
|Stops and affricates||Nasals
|脣||Labials[k]||幫 [p]||滂 [pʰ]||並 [b]||明 [m]|
|舌||Dentals[l]||端 [t]||透 [tʰ]||定 [d]||泥 [n]|
|Retroflex stops[m]||知 [ʈ]||徹 [ʈʰ]||澄 [ɖ]||娘 [ɳ]|
|齒||Dental sibilants||精 [ts]||清 [tsʰ]||從 [dz]||心 [s]||邪 [z]|
|Retroflex sibilants||莊 [ʈʂ]||初 [ʈʂʰ]||崇 [ɖʐ]||生 [ʂ]||俟 [ʐ][n]|
|Palatals[o]||章 [tɕ]||昌 [tɕʰ]||禪 [dʑ][p]||日 [ɲ]||書 [ɕ]||船 [ʑ][p]||以 [j][q]|
|牙||Velars||見 [k]||溪 [kʰ]||群 [ɡ]||疑 [ŋ]|
|喉||Laryngeals[r]||影 [ʔ]||曉 [x]||匣/云 [ɣ][q]|
In most cases, the simpler inventories of initials of modern varieties of Chinese can be treated as varying developments of the Qieyun initials. The voicing distinction is retained in Wu Chinese dialects, but has disappeared from other varieties. Except in the Min Chinese dialects, a labiodental series has split from the labial series, a development already reflected in the Song dynasty rime tables. The retroflex and palatal sibilants had also merged by that time. In Min dialects the retroflex dentals have merged with the dentals, while elsewhere they have merged with the retroflex sibilants. In the south these have also merged with the dental sibilants, but the distinction is maintained in most Mandarin Chinese dialects. The palatal series of modern Mandarin dialects, resulting from a merger of palatal allophones of dental sibilants and velars, is a much more recent development.
The Chinese linguist Li Rong published a study of the early edition of the Qieyun found in 1947, showing that the expanded dictionaries had preserved the phonological structure of the Qieyun almost intact. For example, although the number of rhyme groups increased from 193 in the earlier dictionary to 206 in the Guangyun, the differences are limited to splitting rhyme groups based on the presence or absence of a medial glide /w/.
However the preface of the recovered Qieyun suggests that it represented a compromise between northern and southern reading pronunciations.[s] Most linguists now believe that no single dialect contained all the distinctions recorded, but that each distinction did occur somewhere. For example, the Qieyun distinguished three rhyme groups 支, 脂 and 之 (all pronounced zhī in modern Chinese), although 支 and 脂 were not distinguished in parts of the north, while 脂 and 之 rhymed in the south. The three groups are treated as tongyong in the Guangyun and have merged in all modern varieties. Although Karlgren's identification of the Qieyun system with a Sui-Tang standard is no longer accepted, the fact that it contains more distinctions than any single contemporary form of speech means that it retains more information about earlier stages of the language, and is a major component in the reconstruction of Old Chinese phonology.
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