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The Chinese Language Spoken at Fuh Chau

In the Fuh Chau dialect there is a native work, called theBook of Eight Tones, andThirty-six Mother Characters. In this book all the characters in common use are systematically arranged, according to their sounds. Three of the mother characters are mere duplicates, and are not used in the body of the work. All the syllabic sounds of this dialect are, therefore, arranged in thirty-three genera, under mother characters, having the same final sound as thecharacters arranged under them. Each genus (containing the same final sound) is again divided into fifteen classes, in reference to the initial sounds with which they are severally connected.

with all the finals, will be seen in the following table.

Each class of syllables is again sub-divided, according to the distinctions introduced by the tones.

The thirty-threefinal sounds, multiplied by the fifteeninitial sounds, give four hundred and ninety-five primary syllables. These again, multiplied by the seven tones in actual use, givethree thousand four hundred and sixty-fivedifferent monosyllable words, which may be distinguished by the ear; to which may be added thesemi-vocal initial,ng, used in a single tone without a final, as mentioned above.

Number. In the Chinese language, bother written and spoken, there is often much vagueness in regard to the number of nouns.

14. T,tfollowed byh, each letter retaining its own proper sound.

3. , like the flat sound inthere, or like a incare.

Case. The subject nominative precedes, and the predicate nominative follows the verb, as in English. The accusative case is places after transitive verbs and prepositions, and is only distinguished by its position in a sentence. But in many instances, the accusative precedes the verb in the imperative mood, as ch pong3ch-ka3, book place book-case; that is, place the book in the bookcase. This construction is very common, though not always adopted.

In the table above, the finals are given with the modifications produced by the tones. If each initial consonant is successively prefixed to all the forms in thetable, there will be obtained all the separate words, or distinct syllables, found in the language. We have placed at the head of the table, the initialeng, which denotes merely the absence of any initial consonant, as this gives the simplest form of all thefinalsthrough each tone. The student will see, from theTABLE OF FINALS AND INITIALS, how eachinitialis successively united with all thefinals, and in theTABLE OF FINALS MODIFIED BY THE TONES, how eachfinal, whether joined to an initial or otherwise, is modified by the tones. In the table, the vowels printed in italics are accented; in all other cases the first vowels is uniform, and should be thoroughly learned from the table. The accented vowels are not marked in other parts of this article. Besides the final syllables in the table, the semi-vocalngis used in the seventh tone, without a vowel or any other addition. With this addition there are sixty-one independent final syllables, which may be arranged in alphabetical order, as follows:

Each of the syllables in the preceding tables is susceptible of seven variations of the tone in which it is enunciated. Some of the tones affect the orthography, while others do not. Under each word thus formed may be arranged several characters having independent significations; and thus it happens that a single word in the spoken language is made the symbol to express a number of ideas essentially different from each other.

This translation of the Chinese names of the tones, though not the one usually given, is admitted by the original, and gives a better idea of their nature than a more literal translation. The names of the tones, as given above, are common to various dialects, but they do not represent the same qualities of voice, or sound, in the different dialects; that is, tones bearing the same names are often essentially different in different dialects.

Whence, and what art thou,execrable shape?

In the court dialect, spoken at the Capital, and by public officers in all parts of the empire, there are five tones. In the Tiechu dialect there are said to be nine tones. In the several dialects spoken at Canton, Amoy, and Fuh Chau, there are reckoned eight tones; but in the Fuh Chau dialect there are really but seven tones, for the second and sixth are identical, and in their books, the words referred to these two tones are all arranged under the second.

In general, the spoken dialects are more diffuse than the written language, which is common to all parts of the empire. This results, in the main, from the frequent necessity of using two words of similar meaning, or, more properly, a dissyllable, to express an idea definitely, when a single written character or word is all that is required.

The general rules of poetry, derived from the Confucian classics, have been fixed and unchanging for more than twenty centuries.

The kingdom of U5-ch was subjugated by the Tong5dynasty, and tradition says, that all the men were destroyed, and that the women were compelled to become the wives of their captors, (called Tong5men,) who immediately occupied the kingdom of U5-ch, which, thereafter, became a part of the great Chinese empire. In memory of this circumstance, to the present day, the women of Fuh Chau are usually called Ch niong5, or Ch niong5nëng5; that is, Ch ladies, retaining a part of their ancient name. Girls are called Ch nie-kiang2; that is, Ch children. On the other hand, the men are called Tong5pu kiang2; that is, Tong5children. The shorter tem, Tong5pu, is often used to signify husband. A teacher, or any literary man, is called sieng sang, while a literary lady is called sieng sang niong5. There are also other terms descriptive of the various human relations, some of which are essentially masculine, and others essentially feminine; as,

The Chinese have not carried their analysis of vocal sounds to the nice elementary distinctions recognized in Western languages; but each simple word is divided by their analysis into two parts: afinal part, or mother sound, which gives body to the word, and a leading part, orinitial sound.

To compensate for this paucity of monosyllables, two or more are often united together, forming real polysyllables, to express single ideas. By this means the number of words is increased to several thousands, and as regards its richness and variety of expression, this dialect is but little inferior to many alphabetic languages.

in July, 1856. As the first-ever linguistic study ofFuzhou dialect, this treatise gives us a rough idea of what this language was like back in the middle of the 19th century.

Nouns, like other Chinese words, are incapable of inflexion. Gender, number, number, person, and case, are determined either by the addition of other words, or by the position a word occupies in the sentence.


If youd like to help expand it, see thehelp pagesand thestyle guide, or leave a comment on thisworks talk page.

The poetical division of tones is into ping5siang, smoothtone or tones; and cha4siang, oblique or harsh tone or tones; (for these terms may be taken either as singular or plural.) These being the only distinctions, in regard to tone, which it is necessary to observe in poetical composition, it is not improbable that there were only two tones in use when the ancient classics were written, or at least in the early ages, when the poetic standards were fixed.

The singular can only be indicated definitely by being preceded or followed by the numeral for one. The plural is denoted by the connexion of words in the sentence, or by the addition of teng2, denoting a class, or collection of individuals. Sometimes the plural is formed by repeating the noun, as nëng5nëng5, man by man, or men generally.

has a peculiarly clear and ringing sound, and at once reminds a person of the croak of a frog.

Thethird, orprimary diminishing tone, called siong7kë3, is what elocutionists call therising third, and is heard in English on the emphatic word in a direct question, as, Does itrain? where the voice turns upward, through the interval of two notes of the octave.

The names which now distinguish the ping5tones, viz.: siong7ping5siang,primary smooth tone; and ha7ping5siang,secondary smooth tone, are thought, by Chinese writers, to have arisen from having the characters arranged under the ping5tone, placed in two volumes; the first volume (as is customary with any work) marked siong7, orfirst, and the latter volume marked ha7, orlast. Theses distinctions, which originally related to the volumes of the book, having been afterward referred to a distinction of two ping5tones. This view is still further supported by the fact that, while characters referred to the smooth tones in the court dialect, are also referred to what are called smooth tones in the several local dialects, yet many characters referred to what is called aprimary smooth tonein one dialect, are placed in thesecondary smooth tonein another dialect, and vice versa.

are pronounced by many persons residing within the walls of Fuh Chau, like those under the twenty-third. The vowel of the eighth final is pronounced by some teachers like the sound of

Though there are in theory this number of simple words, many of them are distinguished from others by very slight shades of differences, and there are (so far as known to the writer) only sixteen hundred and forty-four in actual use.

This is probably the most difficult tone in the language to enunciate correctly, under all circumstances.Theeighth, orsecondary abrupt tone, called ha7ih8, closes abruptly, like thefourth tone, but differs from it by being enunciated on a uniform pitch, a little above the ordinary key. The eighth tone is an abrupt termination of the first tone, in the same manner as the fourth tone is an abrupt termination of the third.

In poetical composition the words are arranged in reference to their tones, of which, for poetical purposes, there are reckoned but two classes or distinctions.

are regarded by some teachers as having the same alphabetic sound, (the initial consonant, of course, is excepted,) but most persons observe the distinction given in the table. The characters arranged under the twenty-fifth


The spoken languages being more diffuse, and differing in style from the written language, they have adopted, in several dialects, a system of writing the spoken dialects, by borrowing from the general written language a few common characters, which they use chiefly as phonetics, to represent the sounds of the spoken language. These characters are thus used without reference to their signification in the classical writings which have been handed down from the remote ages of antiquity.

The number of tones in actual use, varies also in different districts. In several dialects, there are reckoned eight tones, as given above, while in the Fuh Chau dialect, only seven are in actual use, and in the Tiechu dialect there are said to be nine tones. In the spoken language of Canton there are ten tones, but in reading, only eight. The names applied to the tones give but an imperfect idea of their nature, and in general, it would be as well to designate them as first, second, &c., tones, as to employ the names they bear in Chinese books.

9. Ng, as insing, both at the beginning and end of words. It often requires great care to enunciate this sound correctly at the beginning of words.

Thesixth toneis identical with thesecond, and no words are arranged under it; that is, nosecondary high, orrising tone, has yet been invented in this dialect.

Much has been written in regard to the tones, and some discrepance will be found in the statements of different writers, caused, principally, by the differences in tones of the same name in the several dialects with which the different writers were acquainted.

If we add the forms produced by the prefixing theinitialconsonants, we shall obtain nine hundred and one syllables, or simple words, capable of being distinguished by the mode of spelling them with Roman letters. Some of these forms, it will be noticed, are produced by changes in orthography, required by the tones. The entire number of forms obtained by all the changes produced by the tones, is three thousand four hundred and sixty-six words, which can be distinguished by the ear. Some of these are distinguished with difficulty, and (as nearly as is known) only one thousand six hundred and forty-four of these monosyllabic words are in actual use in the spoken language; while in theTonic Dictionary, orPaih Ing,only one thousand six hundred and twenty of these sounds have characters arranged under them.

The system ofinitialsandfinalsused in the Book of Eight Tones, referred to above, would, if used for that purpose, form (in connection with thetonal marks) a complete alphabet for the Fuh Chau dialect. They have been so used by missionaries for writing colloquial phrases, in their private study of the language. Three of the gospels have been written out in this manner by Chinese teachers in the employment of missionaries.Books written in this style can be read with the same facility as alphabetic writing of other languages, and are a great aid in learning thecolloquial, though no books have been printed in this style, and theinitialsandfinalshave never been used in this manner in native books.

The spiritus asper, (,) which is equivalent toh, being used to avoid confoundingphwith the sound off, andthwiththinthinorthen, and to show that it is never silent in any combination.

You wrong me every way; youwrongme, Brutus.

NOTE This system of orthography is substantially that known as the system of Sir William Jones, used for Romanizing the language of India, the Pacific Islands, and the languages of the North American Indians. Some have desired to embrace the sounds, used in all the dialects of China, in one system, distinguishing them by separate letters, or by diacritical marks, so that each letter shall have a uniform sound in every dialect for which it is used. Such strict uniformity would require the use of several diacritical marks so letters where they are not needed, when, as in the plan here adopted, slight modifications are allowed in each dialect. The sounds of the letters, as here given, is nearly identical with the system used in writing the languages spoken at the Sandwich Islands.

Gender. The gender of nouns is indicated by words denoting male and female, either directly or indirectly, as nang5, male; and n2, for female. These are general terms, applicable to any living beings, and are placed before the nouns which they qualify. These terms are but seldom used in speaking; they belong more properly to the written language.In common conversation, m2, signifying mother, and këh4, to denote the male, are employed after nouns, to distinguish the gender of all the lower animals, including birds and insects; as iong5m2, the female goat; iong5këh4, the male goat. For human beings, n2ing5is used for woman, in the most genteel society; but the common terms for man and woman are derived from a singular circumstance in the history of the ancient kingdom of U5-ch, of which Fuh Chau was the capital.


Thefinal part, or mother sound, consists, essentially, of a vowel or vowels, followed, in some words, by a single consonant, but never by two consonants.Ng, which is found at the end of many Chinese words, represents, as in English, but a single elementary consonant sound, unlike eithernorgwhen used alone, and not compounded of the sounds ofnandgcombined. This is a distinct elementary sound, and is used both at the beginning and end of Chinese words. This consonant sound, which we represent byng, is one of theinitials, and in some cases it is used alone, without the addition of afinal, but only as a prefix to other words, giving them a negative signification; as, h2, good; ng7-h2, bad; k3, to depart; ng7-k3, will not depart.

These are analogous to what are called, in English,collective nouns; asflock,drove,herd,pair. These and many others of thesame character are found among the Chinese classifying nouns. But the greatest part of the Chinese classifiers (as these nouns are commonly called) related to individual things, and become plural only, when preceded by a numeral greater than one; as, a piece of wood; a fibre of silk; a blade of grass; a stalk of grain; a kernel of corn; a grain of sand; a head of cabbage; a sprig of mint; a loaf of bread; a block of marble, &c. While in English comparatively few nouns have classifiers of this kind used with them, both in the singular and plural numbers, in t

3. H, having its own proper sound, as inhand, at the beginning of words, while at the end of words (where it occurs only in the fourth and eighth tones) it denotes simply an abrupt closing of the vocal organs, without the formation of any distinct sound. When the sound of h follows ch, p, or t, it is, for convenience, represented by the spiritus asper, (.)

Description of Tones in the Fuh Chau Dialect. Thefirst, orprimary smooth tone, called siong7ping5, is a uniform even sound, enunciated a little above the ordinary speaking key, but neither elevated nor depressed, from the commencement to the close of the word. It is, in this respect, like the enunciation of a note in music; it may, therefore, be called the singing tone, or the musical monotone.

In the different provinces, and in different districts of the same province, the reading sounds of the characters differ in the same manner as the Arabic figures are differently pronounced by the various nations of Europe. The spoken dialects also differ widely from the reading dialects of the same localities.

11. P,pfollowed by the distinct sound ofh.

9. has the French sound of , as inPne. This is a sound between those ofeandoo. When two vowels come together in the same word, each vowel retains its own sound. There are no silent letters employed in this system.

8. u, likeooinschool; but if the word ends withhorng, the sound is like that ofuinbull. The distinction, if any, between the sound ofuin these two forms of Chinese words is unimportant in practice, and too slight to be noted by any diacritical marks. At the beginning of words, when followed by another vowel, it has the force ofwin English words.

a, aë, aëh, aëng, ah, ai, aih, aing, aiu, ang, au, auh, aung, e, , ë, eh, ëh, eng, ëng, eu, ë, ëh, ëng, i, ia, iah, iang, ie, ieh, ieng, ieu, ih, ing, ieh, iong, iu, ng, o, , oe, oh, oi, i, ong, u, , ua, uah, uai, uang, ue, uh, h, ui, ung, ng, u, , uoh, uong.

was written by the American Methodist missionaryM. C. White, and was first published in

Slight variations in the pronunciation of Chinese words are noticed among different Chinese teachers. When, therefore, Chinese words are represented by the letters of the English alphabet, (which are written more readily than the Chineseinitialsandfinals,) the student refers at once to the sounds of the correspondinginitialsandfinals, as he has learned them from his teacher.

2. Ch,chwith the same sound as above, followed by an additionalh, which is represented, in such cases, by the Greek spiritus asper, (.)

The cha4tones, of which there are three in the court dialect, called siong2siang,high tone; kë3siang,diminishing tone; and ih8siang,entering, orabrupt tone, as they are now found in the dictionaries of the general language, or court dialect, are each again sub-divided, in many of the local dialects, (as the even tone has been in all dialects,) intoprimaryhigh, diminishing, and abrupt, andsecondaryhigh, diminishing, and abrupt tones.

Theseventh, orsecondary diminishing tone, called ha7kë3, is a guttural downward circumflex. It is, in English, expressive of peculiar emphasis, frequently indicating rebuke, scorn, or contempt, as,

When all the tones now enumerated are arranged together, the siong7siang,primary tones, are always arranged before the ha7siang, orsecondary tones, as follows, viz.:

In English, various tones or inflections of the voice are used to give force and animation to language; but in Chinese, the tone is an essential part of the word in all circumstances; while rhetorical effect is given to discourse by accentuation, rapidity or slowness of utterance, and peculiarities of manner, as well as varieties of pitch of the voice, and gesticulation.

The Nanking, or court dialect, has five tones, viz.: tow ping5, orsmoothtones, and three cha4, orharshtones; though it is stated that there was originally but one smooth, or even tone.

To foreigners learning the Fuh Chau dialect, a thorough knowledge of this system ofinitialsandfinals, and theeight tones, is of great importance.

The primary syllables formed by joining each

The preceding are the consonant sounds found in the Fuh Chau initials, but it will be seen that there are, in reality, only ten elementary consonants, viz.: Ch, H, K, L, M, N, Ng, P, S, T.


The thirteenthinitialsound is, in one instance, used alone without any final or vowel sound following it. It is used only in the seventh tone, and merely as a negative prefix to other words.

Theinitial soundconsists of a single consonant, or of two consonants combined, but no vowel over acts as the leading part, orinitial.[1]

The tone affect only that part of the word known as thefinal, while theinitialremains unaffected by the tone.

The Chinese Language Spoken at Fuh Chau

Thesecond, orprimary high tone, called siong7siong2, is enunciated in the ordinary speaking key, and the voice usually falls a note at the close, as at the end of a sentence in unimpassioned discourse. In connected discourse, however, the second tone is sustained, and turns upward, like the vanishing stress of unaccented words in common conversation. In attempting to pronounce the lettersa-e, we notice thateis pronounce either a note higher, or lower, thana. So, also, if we take the pains to listen attentively whenaalone is pronounced, we shall notice that it has its ending, or vanishing movement ofaturns downward one note. This is exactly the variety of enunciation, distinguished by thesecond, or siong7siong2tone in this dialect.

There are in the Fuh Chau dialect but ten vowel sounds, and they are generally reckoned as only nine, and the elementary consonant sounds are only ten, hence the number of syllables must also be small. Many combinations of consonants found in other languages are unknown to the Chinese, and the structure of their language is unfavourable to the formation of many polysyllabic words. To compensate for these restrictions upon the formation of words, they have adopted the use of a variety of tones to distinguish ideas expressed by what we should call the same word.

The Chinese language is, in theory, a language of monosyllables; but, owing to the paucity of distinct syllables, two monosyllablic words having, in the language of books, the same signification, are often joined together in the spoken language to represent a single idea. Other varieties of compound words are used to express ideas which, in other languages, are represented by a simple word. Some words which are generally regarded as monosyllables, contain two or more vowel sounds, which are pronounced so distinct and separate as to constitute real dissyllables, as kiang, hiong, sieu, which are pronounced ki-ang, hi-ong, si-eu.

2. e, as inthey,prey, but when followed byngits sound is nearly as short as inmet.

1. Ch, having the same sound as inchurch.

To supply the defect which this paucity of words occasions in the spoken language, two or more words are frequently combined into one, to express a single idea. This practice is so common, that thedialect of Fuh Chau has become, to a great extent, a language of polysyllables.

Thefifth, orsecondary smooth tone, called ha7ping5, is a quick, forcible enunciation, commencing about two notes above the ordinary key, and suddenly dropping down, at the close, to the key note. It is what is called by elocutionists thefalling third, and, when emphatic, thefalling fifth. It is sometimes called the scolding tone. It is heard in a petulant enunciation of the emphatic words in the sentence, No!Ill do no suchthing.

5. i, as inmachine, but frequently likeiinpin, if the word ends with a consonant.

The dative and ablative cases are often used without any distinguishing mark, though they are sometimes preceded by a preposition. The genitive case of nouns is formed by adding ki5, his, hers, its, or theirs, after the noun, as sung5ki5nëng5, ships men; that is, sailors, or boatmen; Tng kuoh4ki5nëng5, Central kingdoms men; that is, Chinamen. The genitive is often followed by the name of the thing possessed, without any intervening word, as sung5nëng5, boatmen, sailors; Tng kuoh4nëng5, men of China; Kuoh4h7, nations title, or national title. But in such cases, the noun in the genitive may generally be regarded as an adjective, qualifying the following noun.

The statement sometimes put forth, that there are hundreds of characters expressing different ideas, which are all pronounced exactly alike, refers only to the written language as read; and even in the language as read the number of set phrases and the peculiar collocation of words give a good degree of definiteness to the language. There is but little more difficulty in understanding the idea intended, than we experience when we hear an English book read, in which occur such words asright,rite,write, andwright, or cleave,to split, and cleave,to adhere. It is true, however, that such equivocal words are more numerous in Chinese than in English.

II. VOWELS. There are nine distinct vowel sounds, viz.:

The universal study of the ancient classics, and the observance of the ancient standards of poetical composition, secure a pretty general uniformity in the division of the characters into ping5, orsmoothtoned, and cha4, orharshtoned characters, though the subordinate divisions in these two classes of tones are by no means uniform in the different dialects.

It will be seen in the table, that the orthography of some words is changed, as they are declined through the different tones. In rapid speaking, words in the third and seventh tones are but slightly distinguishable from the first tone; and in such cases the orthography reverts toward the form of the corresponding word in the first tone. Yet when spoken deliberately, the tones are readily distinguished, and the orthography varies with the tones, as shown in the table.

The greatest obstacle to the acquisition of the spoken dialects or languages of China, is peculiar application of the tones, which distinguish words having otherwise the same orthography. It is believed that the tones are not in themselves very difficult, but as they are absolutely essential to the spoken language, and require constant attention to nice distinctions, which are never noticed in other languages, they demand all the attention the student can bestow, to remember always the proper tone of each word, and to enunciate it correctly in speaking.

The student should constantly refer the pronunciation of every word to its place in this system, till he can analyze each spoken word, giving its properinitialandfinal, and point out its proper tone as readily as he can spell any word in his mother tongue.

The tones used in different dialects vary both in their number and intonation.

4. K has its own proper sound, as inking.

The letters of the English alphabet, when used in the following pages to represent Chinese sounds, are to be pronounced as follows:

4. ë, pronounced nearly likeeinher, oriinbird, but more open, and spoken deeper in the throat.

It is generally believed that the system of tones was invented to compensate for the paucity of syllables, or single words, in the spoken languages, or dialects, of the numerous kingdoms of Eastern Asia, which have long since been consolidated into the one vast empire of China.

Thefourth, orprimary abrupt tone, called siong7ih8, turns the voice upward through the same interval as thethird tone; but it terminates abruptly, as though the voice was suddenly interrupted in an effort to pronounce a finalh. In words which, in other tones, end inng, the abrupt close of the fourth tone sounds somewhat like a suppressed, or half-utteredk, but the clicking sound of thekis not heard. If a person should attempt to ask the question, Can you open thelock? and he suddenly stopped before enunciating the final clicking sound of thek, he would give to the last word the primary abrupt tone.

What was the condition of the spoken languages of China previous to the adoption of the present system of writing, we have no means of learning, except from the structure of their written language, and their ancient poetry.

5. K,kfollowed by a distinct sound ofh.

The wordsvery many, if spoken with forcible emphasis, would also exhibit the tone under consideration.

, while others give it the sound of

This is the common system of mercantile and epistolary writing adopted by persons of limited education, and can only be understood by persons speaking the same dialect, while the style of writing in use among professed literary men, is understood alike by the literati of all parts of the empire.


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