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Abstract

Manchu, the dynastic language of the Qing Empire (1644–1911), quickly fell into oblivion at the establishment of Republican rule in China. Because of its status as a language of government administration, the Manchu language in the Qing period had been studied by officials, clerks, soldiers, and the linguistically curious of various ethnic backgrounds. One of the products of the Chinese encounter with Manchu was an alphabetical order based on the Manchu script. Just like Western alphabetical order, the Manchu system had the notable advantage of being used to organize a great variety of corpora. Although originally applied to Manchu-language material, the system also developed to handle texts written in Mongolian and, eventually, Chinese. In the end, the Manchu system did not develop in the same way as alphabetical order did in Europe, and by the time the dynasty fell, the incentive to study the now politically suspect Manchu script largely disappeared. Yet numerous printed dictionaries and many manuscripts featuring Manchu alphabetical order remain, inviting the study of what we with good reason might call one of the most radically new developments in information management to take place in China during the past several centuries.

In: Rethinking East Asian Languages, Vernaculars, and Literacies, 1000–1919

Abstract

Manchu, the dynastic language of the Qing Empire (1644–1911), quickly fell into oblivion at the establishment of Republican rule in China. Because of its status as a language of government administration, the Manchu language in the Qing period had been studied by officials, clerks, soldiers, and the linguistically curious of various ethnic backgrounds. One of the products of the Chinese encounter with Manchu was an alphabetical order based on the Manchu script. Just like Western alphabetical order, the Manchu system had the notable advantage of being used to organize a great variety of corpora. Although originally applied to Manchu-language material, the system also developed to handle texts written in Mongolian and, eventually, Chinese. In the end, the Manchu system did not develop in the same way as alphabetical order did in Europe, and by the time the dynasty fell, the incentive to study the now politically suspect Manchu script largely disappeared. Yet numerous printed dictionaries and many manuscripts featuring Manchu alphabetical order remain, inviting the study of what we with good reason might call one of the most radically new developments in information management to take place in China during the past several centuries.

In: Rethinking East Asian Languages, Vernaculars, and Literacies, 1000–1919

Abstract

Joshua Marshman, English Baptist missionary in India, spent the decade between 1805 and 1814 studying the Chinese language. Marshman’s unique vantage point in India makes him stand out among European Sinologists of his time. Marshman’s familiarity with Indian languages and the local traditions of studying them informed his speculative publications on Chinese. Learning Chinese from a native informant was not enough for him. He thought that only through a mastery of both Sanskrit and Mandarin could the Chinese language be really comprehended and put to use by foreign missionaries and scholars alike. This article examines Marsh­man’s course of study and his publications on the Chinese language. It argues that although Marshman’s hope to forge a hybrid, Sanskrit-infused Sinology appeared as a dead end in his time, he was right to focus on the importance of foreign contacts in the formation of the modern Chinese language.

In: T'oung Pao

Abstract

During different historical periods, states on China’s Inner Asian periphery successively invented or adopted new scripts as a way to distinguish themselves from their neighbors and, most importantly, from China and its classical written language. The emergence of new or reformed writing systems, closely tied to peoples recently organized into states, as a challenge to classical Chinese is what invites us to compare this story to the more familiar vernacularization processes elsewhere in the world. This section introduces three accounts of how new writing systems were created. Written centuries apart, all three nevertheless share notable similarities.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship

Abstract

Shen Qiliang’s Manchu-Chinese dictionary from 1683 was the first Manchu dictionary to be printed. It was printed in Beijing, which was then ruled by Manchus. This imperial capital housed an ethnically diverse population speaking several languages, of which the most important were a dialect of northern vernacular Chinese and Manchu. Literary or classical Chinese was widely read and written. The dictionary that Shen published was, in a sense, a product of this city that spoke in many tongues. A pioneering work, Shen’s dictionary shows Manchu-Chinese lexicography—and, by extension, the integration of the empire—as a work in progress.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship

Abstract

The essay by Yu Tŭkkong (1748–1807) studied in this piece describes the complicated linguistic situation in Chosŏn Korea. Yu lists a few facts to substantiate the claim that in Korea “one half” of expressions used are local and the other half Sinitic. First, Yu shows that Korean vernacular vocabulary only extends to everyday things, whereas learned words are all of Chinese origin. Second, Yu discusses Chinese and Korean expressions used in the Chosŏn military, tracing them to the Imjin war in the 1590s. Finally, he talks about Chosŏn record-keeping and reading practices.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
This is the first book-length study of the roles played by the Manchu language at the center of the Qing empire at the height of its power in the eighteenth century.
It presents a revisionist account of Manchu not as a language in decline, but as extensively and consciously used language in a variety of areas.
It treats the use, discussion, regulation, and philological study of Manchu at the court of an emperor who cared deeply for the maintenance and history of the language of his dynasty.