Anyone here knows how old Chinese grammar is? In my memory, I never read the term "语法" in all the historical works, especially those of Tang and Song dynasties, the peak of Chinese literature achievement.

  • I was trying to come up with some snarky reply integrating the fact that you can't have a language without grammar, and that your question implies that the words themselves somehow predate their usage, alas, after reading your question I have no more snark left in me Sep 17, 2020 at 5:42
  • are you meaning to ask when the documentation of, and standardization of chinese grammar began? Sep 17, 2020 at 5:45
  • I wonder about the rationale for the 2 down votes. It is a legitimate question under the History Tag, (i.e. Questions related to the history of the Chinese language(s). It is a question that is answerable, be it academic, scholastic or empirical. Perhaps the rephrasing of OP's question by the previous commentator merits OP's attention in editing his Question? However, I contend that the fact that there is "grammar" in the Chinese language is not in dispute. To redefine grammar to mean, say, "word-order", "rules for forming admissible word-structure", etc, is a pedagogical choice. Sep 17, 2020 at 6:35
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    @WayneCheah I personally didn't downvote but I think the question with its original wording was not even capable of being answered, and some perhaps didn't feel it was even worth restructuring Sep 17, 2020 at 6:49
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    @WayneCheah the question is ill-posed. It's unclear whether it refers to the grammar as a subject of study (linguistics), to the term 语法, to the formalization of a set of rules, to a teaching device. If you take the question title at face value, it even subtly implies that grammar is something that can be added to a language as a-posteriori process. So I'm not sure what meaningful discussion can take place here.
    – blackgreen
    Sep 17, 2020 at 8:54

2 Answers 2


As a modern Chinese word, the age of "语法" is about 100 years. Because modern Chinese originated from the May 4th Movement, which took place on May 4, 1919. But there was also the word "语法" in ancient Chinese, for example:

《左传·昭公二十年》:“尔其勉之!相从为愈” 。 

It can be seen that the word "语法" was used in the Tang Dynasty,about 1200 years ago. In ancient Chinese, there are two words: "语脉" and "文理",they are similar in meaning to the word "语法" in modern Chinese.Here are some examples:

Case1:宋-朱弁 《曲洧旧闻》卷三:“ 王临川 语脉与 南丰 绝不相类。” 
Case2:明-胡应麟 《少室山房笔丛·丹铅新录六·笨字义》:“凡读古人文字,务须平心易气,熟察上下语脉,得其立言本意乃可。” 
Case3:清-张尔岐 《蒿庵闲话》卷一:“今详语脉,首句自为一事,重在无出乡。”
Case1:《三国志·吴志·张严程阚薛传论》:“ 张紘文理意正,为世令器, 孙策 待之亚於 张昭 ,诚有以也。”
Case2: 宋-司马光《进通志表》:“文理迂疏,无足观采。”
Case3: 明-谢谠《四喜记·双桂联芳》:“圣旨到来,宋祁文理精通,第一甲进士。”

Whether it is "语法" or "语脉" or "文理" in ancient Chinese; Neither of them is quite equivalent to "语法(grammar)" in modern Chinese. Because there is no such thing as grammar in Chinese, it is only the comparison of modern Chinese people that gives rise to this concept.The grammar of ancient Chinese is mainly reflected in the use of vocabulary and sentence structure.The most prominent feature of standard Chinese grammar is that there is no morphological change in strict meaning. Nouns have no case, also have no part of speech and singular or plural.Verbs are not personal and have no tense. This characteristic, which is different from that of European languages, makes Chinese regarded by many linguists as having neither grammar nor part of speech for a long period of time in history.
《马氏文通》is the first systematic work on Chinese grammar in China. Its author is Ma Jiantong(马建通).Written in 1898, this work officially initiated the study of Chinese grammar.Taking ancient Chinese as the object of study, the book drew on the theories of Western grammar studies (mainly Latin), as well as some Chinese sayings on function characters, and established the first complete Chinese grammar system.Therefore, the real Chinese grammar can be said to have originated in 1898, at the age of 131.

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    "Because there is no such thing as grammar in Chinese," please tell me where you guys keep hearing this from Sep 17, 2020 at 8:40
  • @Shaun Really open a new window with your answer. 《马氏文通》was the only answer I could find. Other historical appearances are very vivid examples. Than you. May I raise following question: a lot of foreigners immigrate into or in many cases, rule China. How did they learn Chinese language without even having the concept of the real meaning of "grammar", not the "语法" used at those times? Sep 17, 2020 at 21:14
  • @小奥利奥 Different perceptions but better clarify: every language has grammar definitely, otherwise people can not use it to communicate. And it's important for foreigners to, at least, know about it. Because of this, systemizing it became a special study and that's what we study today. As a teacher teaching grammar to foreign students, what bothers me is: Is it necessary to teach grammar using so many special terms for student to memorize, and, is there another way to teach grammar more helpful without burdening the students further? Isn't this a legi question? Sep 17, 2020 at 21:48
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    "modern Chinese originated from the May 4th Movement, which took place on May 4, 1919"—highly unlikely the language came into being like a stone falling from the skies, on May 4th 1919, at 4 o'clock 16 minutes tea-time. Who'd ever heard of such a thing. Sep 18, 2020 at 6:51

Because there is no such thing as grammar in Chinese," please tell me where you guys keep hearing this from

in Joseph Needham‘s book “science and civilisation in China”, volume VII, part I, page 24; in the remark, it mentioned:

“[...] like Lionel Giles in 1945, would want to claim 'Chinese cannot really be said to have any grammar at all.' [...]”

enter image description here

my “scan read” is that, as early as 1700s, Jesuit missionaries in China did their best to “analyse” the Chinese language 🙀

by the bye, this volume is about “language and logic” (of the Chinese language); quite interesting, imo.

  • This is an answer to some other comment, but how does it relate to the question being asked (assuming that an actual question is being asked at all...)
    – blackgreen
    Sep 17, 2020 at 15:42
  • @blackgreen, it’s too long, as a comment. related to the original question, well, . . . Sep 17, 2020 at 15:50
  • grammar in the West was originally "how to write Latin correctly". If Chinese grammar is understood as "how to write Chinese correctly", of course Chinese has 'grammar'. But grammar never answers the question "Why?" That is the domain of a yet-to-be-written Universal Grammar I suppose.
    – Pedroski
    Sep 18, 2020 at 3:46
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    @Pedroski, the classical / literary chinese have principles for writing, i would not say these as “grammar” (according to the occidental cultures). however, the modern written chinese, is “mutined” from the past, then it follow “grammar” of the western language (mainly english, imo) Sep 18, 2020 at 4:23
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    argh, just this, argh. Next on this channel, Chinese is a pictorial language, and therefore, through characters we can discern Truth. According to some, Biblical Truth is also encoded in Characters. Do we want to go down that road? Sep 18, 2020 at 6:55

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