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《輶軒使者絕代語釋別國方言》has a couple of different names including《方言》and《揚子方言》.

In English it mostly just gets called Fangyan.

The entire Chinese text has been put up on ctext.

As

the first Chinese dictionary of dialectal terms

I imagined there would be an English translation.

Wikipedia does have a short translation:

(虎, 陳魏宋楚之間或謂之李父, 江淮南楚之間謂之李耳, 或謂之於菟. 自關東西或謂之伯都.) "Tiger: in the regions of Chen-Wei Song-Chu [Central China], some call it lifu; in the regions of Jiang-Huai Nan-Chu [Southern China], they call it li'er, and some call it wutu. From the Pass, east- and west-ward [Eastern and Western China], some call it also bodu." (adapted from Serruys 1967: 256)

Other than that I'm not seeing anything else on Wikipedia or in other references.

  • Has there ever been an English translation of 《輶軒》"Fangyan"?
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    I wonder if any books on Classical Chinese phonology is translated into English at all. Doesn't seem worth it. If someone is interested they would have learned Chinese, perhaps even the Old/Middle Chinese variants... Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 10:07
  • @WangDingwei That's a valid point.
    – Mou某
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 16:46
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    Have you looked into the work of Paul Serruys, "The Chinese dialects of Han time according to Fang yen." and/or Matsue Takashi, “Old Chinese dialects according to Fangyan”. I don't believe these are full translations, as WangDingwei pointed out, but look like in-depth dissertations.
    – blackgreen
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 22:40
  • I think no translation of qiuxuanshizhejueduiyushibbieguo FangYan Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 4:53
  • @ XL _At_Here_There Both 漢典 and 國語辭典 say 輶軒 is pronounced as youxuan.
    – joehua
    Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 11:42

4 Answers 4

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partial explanation: OLD CHINESE DIALECTS ACCORDING TO FANGYAN

One example from the explanation,

(黨,曉,哲)all belong to the lexical item 知。

楚 uses 黨 and 曉。 齊 and 宋 use 哲。

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This question is pretty complex to answer, because even modern Chinese linguists cannot reach an agreement on how to explain the title of Fangyan.

Now, I'd pick explanation from Wang Li(王力) and He Jiuying(何九盈), but note there're also other explanations.

輶軒使者:

  • 輶軒: A kind of lightweight vehicles.
  • 使者: Officers sent by emperors to local places.
  • 輶軒使者: A special kind of officers sent by emperors in Zhou and Qin, who took youxuan(輶軒) vehicles to other places and recorded local dialects.

絕代語釋:

  • 絕代: (adjective) Something no longer exists(絕) in this era(代).
  • 絕代語: Speech no longer exists in this era.
  • 絕代語釋: Explanations to the speech no longer exists in this era.

輶軒使者絕代語釋: Explanations from youxuan officers to the speech no longer exists in this era.

About 輶軒使者: Now we know that 輶軒使者 is a proper noun refers to those officers sent by emperors of Qin and Zhou to record dialects. These officers are called youxuan(輶軒) officers because their main feature is that they took lightweight vehicles called youxuan(輶軒) to go to local areas. Take this in mind, even if you want to translate this word 輶軒使者, I'd recommend just translate it to something like "Youxuan Officers".

About 絕代語釋: The author Yang Xiong(揚雄) lived in Han Dynasty, to whom the materials from Youxuan Officers were historical materials, and their explanations to dialects at that time(Qin and Zhou) had become "絕代語釋"(explanations to the speeches no longer exists in this era).

Therefore, the title in fact consists of two parts: 輶軒使者絕代語釋 and 別國方言(That's why Tangshu(《唐書》) abbreviated it to 《別國方言》 while Chen Zhensun(陳振孫) abbreviated it to 《輶軒使者絕代語》). If you'd like translate it, it should be something like:

Legacy Explanations to Ancient Speech from Youxuan Officers and Explanations to Regional Speech

It is roughly like:

Dictionary of Historical and Dialect Words

It make sense cause historical words can be maintained in some dialects but disappear in others. These words are dialect words synchronically and also historical words diachronically. Even more complicated, they had been dialect words historically but the distributions of them are different now.

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It doesn't make sense to translate this book. It is a dictionary of dialects that had died even about two thousand years ago, or at least the title of the book suggested these dialects no longer existed. Except for scholars who study ancient Chinese dialects, this dictionary is not much of use. It explains words that have changed in meaning during centuries before Qin.

Actually some of the words and usages are not dead. Among the very first three words, 黨, 曉, 哲, at least 黨 and 曉 are still in use today to mean 'understood'. In fact in Shanghainese, the word 曉 is spoken everyday by everyone in normal conversations. 曉得了 means 'got it' or 'I know'.

Scholars over the years have debated if 揚雄 was the real author of the book. But because of lack of evidence of otherwise, 揚雄 is regarded as the author of the book.

Because the title of the book is long, when it is referenced in other books, it is referred as simply 方言. There is no confusion because there were no other books like this. 揚子方言 simply indicates that the book was authored by 揚雄. 子 is a word used to address a gentleman. Later it became a common way of addressing a man. Much like we use mister to address man, e.g., Mr. Smith.

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"You xuan jue dai yu ; 輶軒絶代語", is a rare Chinese book (about 他國方言?), written by "Yang Xiong" in the Han dynasty. Here is a copy collected by the library of Harvard University, which can be viewed here.

Creator/Author: Yang Xiong (揚雄), 53 B.C.-18 A.D.

For lack of usefulness, I doubt there exists an English translation.

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