It's here! The A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese dictionary is finally out!

Language Log says:

A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese

All of the people associated with this dictionary are excellent scholars, so I'm sure that it will be reliable and of the highest quality. Naturally, I am pleased that it is arranged alphabetically by Pinyin and has a radical plus stroke order index.

This is like a dream come true for me, since I myself — starting over a quarter of a century ago — tried to organize the compilation of such a dictionary, and even arranged for the late Gilbert L. Mattos to prepare several hundred entries, and I also enlisted the help of Paul Kroll. I am so happy that Professor Kroll has gone forward with this project and created this wonderful tool. Certainly every student and scholar with a serious interest in premodern China will want to own a copy for him/herself.

This is a major event in the history of Western Sinology. I have not yet seen the dictionary with my own eyes, but from the description on the Brill website and from my familiarity with the work of the contributors over the past fifty years, I am sure that this dictionary will immediately become an essential tool for all Sinologists.

[Hat tip Petya Andreeva]

Where leoboiko in the comments says:

Also, the transcription is… well… the MC for 寵 chŏng is given as trhjowngX. Is it one of those transcriptions where Roman letters are used as digraphs for various sounds, or merely abstract symbols for the various known relationships? While I sympathize with the linguistically sound reasons to do that, I can't help but fear that it will confuse nonlinguists (like the Baxter/Sagart reconstruction, available online, which a lot of random people on the net seem to have mistaken as literally phonetic – and I can't blame them, honestly). Of course, we should be technical and precise and conservative in proposing hypothetical reconstructions; but hey, we live in a typographically rich era; do we really need to represent tones and such as Roman capitals? (Compare Kroll's MC for zhuǎn, trjwenX, with Schuessler's, tjwänᴮ.)

But if I re-read the previous paragraph, I feel like the dictionary I'm looking for is just Schuessler. Since we already have Schuessler (albeit for a limited lexicon), Kroll et al's should work great as a complement. We're focusing on what's missing, but if we look instead to what's present, the sample entries are rich and bountiful in semantics, interpretations, nuances, and specialized meanings (medical, biological, Buddhist etc.). Dated locus classicus and other philological data will be missed, but I know I've wanted something just like Kroll's since forever – especially as a Japanese scholar with no knowledge of modern Chinese languages.

  • How does the medieval transcriptions of Chinese work?
  • How would one go about pronouncing something like trhjowngX?
  • How do, aforementioned, Kroll and Schuessler differ?
  • 1
    Medieval refers to a period in European history, namely from the fall of Western Rome and the rise of the christian theology to the great plague and the rise of the Renaissance. It has very little to do with China and its langauges. Maybe you are thinking about Middle Chinese?
    – user4452
    Dec 21, 2014 at 9:39
  • 1
    @倪阔乐 Medieval Chinese is what the book above calls your so-called Middle Chinese, Classical Chinese would also be an appropriate name.
    – Mou某
    Dec 21, 2014 at 11:30
  • 1
    second these questions - i'm mainly interested in the dict as a reference for nettlesome pronunciation problems. Dec 21, 2014 at 13:05
  • 1
    Take your opinions up with the editors of the dictionary, it really has nothing to do with the actual question here...
    – Mou某
    Dec 21, 2014 at 15:29
  • 3
    may i suggest everyone just leave it at that with the 'medieval'? it's completely besides the point of the OP. V Mair for one did not complain about it in his review of the book. the ahdictionary says: "Of or relating to a historical period roughly coinciding with the European Middle Ages and characterized by feudal or aristocratic social structures, as in Japan or China." anyone having an issue with that definition pls write them.
    – flow
    Dec 21, 2014 at 15:46

1 Answer 1


Middle Chinese starting from the Sui dynasty (with the Qièyùn, 切韻, published in 601 CE) actually documented its phonology. These are called rime tables, and break down each character pronunciation into groups by tone and by final. These were employed by scholars in both reciting and composing verse. Using the fanqie 反切 spelling would also have aided scholars in pronouncing characters.

However, the compiling of the Qieyun's pronunciations means that it is unlikely to have been one single system of pronunciation from the outset. It was a group of scholars, who appear to have come from both northern and southern dialect backgrounds, who helped compile the Qieyun. Hence some contest that, much like General Chinese would come to be, the Qieyun system was a diasystem across several dialects. Other see it as the general koine of Sui China as spoken among the educated elite across the nation.

Kroll seems to have employed the Baxter transcription of Early Middle Chinese as based on the Qieyun. The monograph that outlines this transcription comes from his "A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology". He does say that:

The notation I introduce here is not intended as a reconstruction; rather it is a convenient transcription which adequately represents all the phonological distinctions of Middle Chinese while leaving controversial questions open.

The transcription system itself seems to be fairly pronounceable; whether I would distinguish it from several other finals is another question. That transcription above, trhjowngX is composed of the initial trh-, and the final -jowngX. The initial corresponds to a retroflex aspirate stop (not affricate). The final is an open final of the mixed third division in the Middle Chinese rising tone. I'd personally go for something like [ʈʰjowŋ˩˥] if I had to give some kind of idea of its 'original pronunciation'. But it's not something that is recommended!

The one used in Schuessler's work is the Karlgren-Li reconstruction, although with a different convention for notation of the tones, the glottal stop, the e, i and w medials, and a modification of the "strong palatal medial" in fourth division chongniu. The actual differences between the Baxter and the Karelgren-Li(-Schuessler) are significant, but are structurally similar, based as they are on the Qieyun.

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