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The following quote is from a a 17th century story written in vernacular Chinese:

话中单表一人,姓蒋名德,小字兴哥,乃湖广襄阳府枣阳县人氏。

The English translation is as follow:

The story is about a man named Jiang De, also known as Jiang Xingge, a native of Zaoyang County in Xiangyang Prefecture, Huguang Province.

The entire sentence after the first comma makes perfect sense to me. With that in mind, I assume 话中单表一人 to mean something a long the lines of "In our story, there is a man". However, I can't really figure out what 单 and 表 function in this sentence, and whether they are connected or not. The closest I can get is 单 to mean only and 表 to express, as in "In this story we focus on telling about a man", but that does not feel right.

2 Answers 2

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Your understanding is good. In the story there are many people, but here we only select one specifically to talk about. It draws focus on the main character and is usually put at the beginning passages.

From 《漢語大詞典》:

表:表述;述說 to express, to tell

單:只, 僅 only

They are separate words but often used together in old vernacular texts.

Some of the other expressions used in the book include 单说、专道 etc, more or less the same. We can analyze them as separate words but they are also often used together.

话 refers to 《珍珠衫》這套詞話 from the previous passage, which is also this story. 詞話 is a type of story-telling that was popular in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. They were first passed down mouth to mouth, and some of them were written down by literati, which is also how the most stories in this book were created.

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read the preceding line together lah 😸

看官,則今日聽我說《珍珠衫》這套詞話,可見果報不爽,好教少年子弟做個榜樣。

話中單表一人

roughly, read it as:

in this story (話中), [by] only (單) a man (一人) [‘s incident], to express (表 —-> 表達) [the above mentioned moral “果報不爽”]

have fun :)

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