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Foreign Language Study Chinese

The Language of the Book of Songs

by (author) W.A.C.H. Dobson

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2018
Chinese, Chinese, Historical & Comparative, Syntax, Etymology, China, Semiotics & Theory, Grammar & Punctuation
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    Publish Date
    Dec 2018
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This is the fourth volume in Professor Dobson's pioneering researches into the nature and development of Classical Chinese. The first volume, Late Archaic Chinese, appeared in 1959 and laid the foundations for a systematic and scientific study of the grammar of Classical Chinese. It described specifically the language of the 4th-3rd centuries B.C. The second volume, Early Archaic Chinese, published in 1962, described the language of the 11th and 10th centuries B.C. through the decipherment of a corpus of bronze inscriptions hitherto imperfectly understood. Late Han Chinese, the third volume, appeared in 1964. In this volume the inquiry was carried into the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and the shift from Archaic to Classical Chinese was studied. In this, the fourth volume, the language of the Book of Songs, a classic anthology of verse, is analysed and described.


The Book of Songs uniquely provides data from the 9th and 8th centuries B.C., though it ranges in its entirety from the 10th to the 7th centuries B.C. This study, together with its predecessors, and with monographs that have appeared simultaneously, constitutes a historical survey of the Chinese language from the 10th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.


Linguistic analysis of the text of the Book of Songs adds considerably to our knowledge of the history and development of the language. But such analysis, too, makes an important contribution to the solving of problems with which literary historians are concerned. For example, much light is shed on the dating and authorship of individual pieces: it is now possible to arrange the poems in chronological order. By a study of the formulaic phrases, the history of the development of the various genres can be traced. In examining the development of prosodic devices, linguistic analysis offers much information on the origin and development of poetry in China.


This book contains, in addition to an analysis and description of the language, appendices which tabulate the occurrences and distribution of the formulaic phrases, and which enumerate the departures from prose writing that Chinese poets make—the "licence" they take with language. An index of Chinese grammatical auxiliaries is also provided, which, with similar indices in previous volumes, constitutes the most comprehensive dictionary of classical particles yet to appear.

About the author

W.A.C.H. Dobson (1913-1982) was a professor of Chinese and Head of the Department of East Asiatic Studies at the University of Toronto, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a graduate in Oriental Studies from Oxford, of which university he was a Doctor of Letters. He wrote extensively on the Chinese language and is the author of numerous articles in scholarly journals as well as a number of books: The Civilization of the Orient; Late Archaic Chinese: a Grammatical Study; Early Archaic Chinese: A Descriptive Grammar; Mencius: a New Translation Arranged and Annotated for the General Reader; Late Han Chinese: the Archaic-Han Shift; and The Language of the Book of Songs.

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