Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation, part 2

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This is a supplement to "Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation" (10/14/21).  The following remarks are by Conal Boyce:

So far it seems the artist’s viewpoint is missing from the discussion. At the top of the thread, Victor Mair mentions two musical compositions of mine, and also kindly cites my unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in References. But the music and the thesis (both of 1973-1976 vintage) are almost wholly unrelated. (What is related tangentially to my compositions from that period is my paper called ‘Min sandhi in verse recitation,’ Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 1980, 8:1-14.) What do I mean by ‘the artist’s viewpoint’? My main task during 1973-1976 in Taiwan was to finish writing my dissertation on the rhythms used by my informants in their recitation of Sòngcí ([VHM:  Sòng lyric meters] sometimes in MSM, sometimes in Min) — nothing to do with music per se (except the abstract connection through ‘rhythm’).

During those same three years I also found time to write the two full-length choral compositions that Victor cites — to be sung in Min. Why Min? Consider the alternative: Suppose I had interrupted my dissertation work to try getting into mainland China (a near impossibility in those days) to hunt down a ‘better topolect’ — one thought to be “closest to the Middle Chinese of Li He”; composed my music over there, on the mainland; and only then returned to Taiwan to finish my dissertation work. Does it sound like a plan? Of course not. Especially since all historical linguistic reconstructions are nonfalsifiable: they are an example of scientism, not science, and are therefore a world unto themselves, locked forever in the hot-house realm of ivory-tower parlor games. See Pereltsvaig & Lewis, The Indo-European Controversy: Facts and Fallacies in Historical Linguistics, 2015, esp. pp. 7-10 of their 324-page book. In Taiwan, I was steeped in the local topolect, so it was perfectly natural that I would use it in constructing texts for musical compositions. That’s the missing ‘artist’s viewpoint’ on all this heated discussion.

Each topolect has its partisans.  If only they would work harder at keeping them alive!


Selected readings


  1. Chris Button said,

    November 29, 2021 @ 11:18 pm

    Nothing wrong with choosing Min. It’s just interesting because it split off from Old Chinese before Middle Chinese.

    As for Old Chinese, yes it is a “mess”. We’ve discussed that elsewhere:


    Middle Chinese, however, is less messy. Sure, academics differ over the details—and some reconstructions are designed to be meticulous phonological reconstructions (e.g. Pulleyblank’s), while others are designed as useful “notations” of limited phonological worth (e.g. Baxter’s)—but the Qieyun and Yunjing keep everyone at least in broad alignment.

  2. Terpomo said,

    November 30, 2021 @ 2:42 pm

    I would dispute the notion that linguistic reconstructions are non-falsifiable. They make predictions about reflexes in descendant languages; the successful prediction of Hittite laryngeals is an example.
    Chris, while Min split off before Middle Chinese, if I'm not mistaken, a Classical Chinese text read in Min would use literary pronunciations, which derive from Middle Chinese.

  3. Chris Button said,

    November 30, 2021 @ 4:41 pm


    That’s a good point regard literary versus vernacular pronunciations and their relation to Middle Chinese. Hopefully someone knowledgeable on the matter can chime in. Would it pertain to all characters though?

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