The Qièyùn Manuscripts before the Emergence of the Guǎngyùn

Conveners: OI and OSGA

Speaker: Dr Françoise Bottero, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (CNRS-CRLAO)

An early version of the Qièyùn 切韻 was compiled by Lù Fǎyán 陸法言(581?-618?) in 601. As the famous Preface to this work makes beautifullly clear, this was a labour of love, written in memory of a good time that had been had together with a number of specialists in matters of the different pronunciation of Chinese. Being the first known work making an effort to create a unity for the language by providing pronunciations for Chinese characters and classifying them under tones, rhymes and initials, it holds an important place for autochthonous linguistics in a broad sense. If there ever was one “original Qieyun” then that Qièyùn was certainly lost long ago. But we now possess different versions discovered in Dūnhuáng and Turfan, at the beginning of the 20th c., of what could be Lù Fǎyán’s text, as well as some enlarged or annotated versions. A detailed analysis of these fragmentary manuscripts will first provide a better understanding of the nature of the original Qièyùn. It will help us grasp the main differences between the original Qièyùn and later versions such as Kānmiù bǔquē Qièyùn 刊謬補缺切韻 (706), and Guǎngyùn 廣韻 (1008), as well as the differences between words, pronunciations and characters’ dictionaries. I shall discuss problems concerning the consequences of taking the Qièyùn as representing the “ancient language”, for the study of Chinese modern languages, before eventually discussing the original approach the Qièyùn offers for the study of manuscripts. Compared to many other manuscripts dating from earlier periods, we know the author and the precise date one Qièyùn was compiled, yet we can find a wide production of manuscripts baring the same title. Thus I believe the Qièyùns can offer useful insights on the ontogenesis of early Chinese lexicographic works and on the transformation of scholarly labour of love into Examination System handbooks.


Françoise Bottéro, is a research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) director of the Center for Linguistic Research on East Asian languages (CRLAO) in Paris. Specialist of the history and analysis of the Chinese writing system, from ancient times to modern days, she has been exploring the particularities of the Chinese script related to its semantico-phonetic nature such as graphic variants or tabooed characters. Her work includes a book Sémantisme et classification analysing the history and development of the original system of classification of the characters into « radicals », a book in collaboration with Christoph Harbsmeier, Chinese Lexicography on Matters of the Heart: An exploratory commentary on the heart radical in Shuō wén jiě zì 說文解字 (2016), different studies on early lexicogaphic works, the earliest Chinese theories on the script, legends concerning the invention of writing in China as well as some terminological problems.

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