Archive for Diction

Spoken Classical Chinese

Tom Mazanec saw an announcement of a course in Hong Kong, in which the teacher, Dr. Lai Chi Fung 黎智豐, proposes to teach Classical Chinese by focusing on vocabulary for everyday use, just as if one were learning a foreign language. So you learn greetings, introductions, and the like. The idea intrigued Tom, especially since the language of instruction is Cantonese (which would make spoken Classical a little more intelligible than if it were in Mandarin).

If the course were taught in Mandarin, I think it would be a big flop, but since it is being taught in Cantonese, there is a somewhat higher possibility of limited, meaningful spoken communication.  Cantonese preserves more features (phonological, lexical, grammatical, syntactical) of earlier stages of Sinitic than does Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  Just in terms of phonology, Cantonese has more than 2,200 possible different syllables, almost twice as many as MSM (source).

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