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[Xmca-l] Re: Vowels Are From Venus



Chinese phonologists didn't use romanization until the 1950s (and even then
it was mostly . Even in old rhyming dictionaries, the main unit of analysis
is the morpho-syllable (i.e. the written character, but spoken). The
dictionaries are conscious of an onset and a rhyme, but not a vowel or a
consonant. You can see that the "rhyme" (that is, the "tail" of the
syllable) is always either a vowel or a nasal, but not a stop. Vowels and
consonants don't explain this (and they don't explain tones either), so
it's hardly surprising that Chinese phonologists were not interested in
them..

Now, suppose we consider Chinese as the OPPOSITE of English. English puts
articulation (vowels and consonants) at the centre of its phonological
description and considers prosoday (intonation and stress) to be
peripheral, but Chinese is the other way around. We can easily descibe
every syllable in Chinese as a set of half a dozen prosodic features:
initial posture, final posture, voice onset, aperture (open or closed), and
of course tone. This is a much better description, and it doesn't use
vowels or consonants.

I think that "chengyu" doesn't really capture the literary flavor very
well, and that was what I wanted to say when I compared them to
antithetical couplets. By introducing them in pairs, James is introducing
two important semantic features of Chinese which are lost on
non-Sinophones, and which are essential to understanding the specific
dialectics of Chinese: the four-syllable line, which is of great antiquity,
and the tendency to produce couplets. I always thought that "chengyu" are
more prosaic, more like proverbs. But Ivan, as usual, knows better!

David Kellogg

On Sun, Oct 29, 2017 at 7:00 PM, James Ma <jamesma320@gmail.com> wrote:

> In Chinese grammatical terms, the first one 炉火纯青 is the "subject-predicate"
> type, for example, 刚柔相济 masculinity and femininity are complementary to
> each other; the second one 出神入化 the "symmetric relation" type, for example,
> 字正腔园 (of vocal performance) clear articulation of the lyrics and perfect
> execution of the tone.
>
> James
>
> On 29 October 2017 at 09:10, Rod Parker-Rees <R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk
> >
> wrote:
>
> > Thanks David,
> >
> > I am always fascinated by insights into how language is used in different
> > ways to nuance and shade meanings.
> >
> > Can you explain how these couplets are 'antithetical'? The second one
> > clearly juxtaposes merging and emerging but I was intrigued by how the
> > furnace burning with a pure green hue is seen as an antithesis.
> >
> > All the best,
> >
> > Rod
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
> > mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
> > Sent: 29 October 2017 00:28
> > To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Vowels Are From Venus
> >
> > You notice that James gives us two antithetical couplets, each of four
> > syllables (Chinese, like child protolanguage, doesn't differentiate
> vowels
> > and consonants).
> >
> > 炉火纯青
> > 出神入化
> >
> > Lú huǒ chún qīng  (the fire of the furnace burns a pure green hue) Chū
> > shén rù huà (The god emerges and merges, comes out and goes in)
> >
> > I haven't actually rendered the feeling that a Chinese person feels on
> > hearing these expressions, any more than the words "consummate" or
> "superb"
> > communicate the thought.
> >
> > For one thing, my translation is too labored and literal; a a Chinese
> > person doesn't analyze so literally and the imagery is largley
> > "automatized" rather than visualized.
> > For another, the four character line has a history that goes all the way
> > back to the Book of Songs (11th C BCE) and all the way up to the
> > antithetical couplets peasants put on their doorways as Spring Festival
> in
> > the the countryside
> >
> > (But James is right: the idea of antithetical couplets is a kind of
> > natural dialectic built into the Chinese language.
> > Somedays, like today, I find it that it influences the way I write in
> > English.)
> >
> > David Kellogg
> >
> >
> >
> > On Sun, Oct 29, 2017 at 6:21 AM, James Ma <jamesma320@gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > > I often find it interesting to read David’s words, good and catalytic
> > > to me.
> > >
> > > I’ve been working on the Peirce-Vygotsky project and Peirce’s idea of
> > > final logical interpretant which I take to be a qualitative
> > > transformation, perhaps equivalent to “a dialectical leap”. To me,
> > > this transformation is not only attributable to an accrued
> > > quantitative change but also bears itself the heritage of all the
> > > earlier qualitative changes. So, the resultant final logical
> > > interpretant encapsulates both qualitative and quantitative changes.
> > >
> > > By the way, on the face of it, “a dialectical leap” is a more
> > > congenial and customary concept to most Chinese people (from Mainland)
> > > due to historical reasons.
> > >
> > > In a stage drama, I agree with David that an actor’s privileged access
> > > is a real problem for him. This privileged access will have to be
> > > calibrated or attuned to a dialectical leap in such a way that the
> > > actor needs to make a choice from the plenitude of signs that are
> > > constantly on the move both consciously and subliminally. However, in
> > > the case of Peking opera, a dialectical leap is far more complex since
> > > there is more to it. The actor is involved in an organic combination
> > > of vocal performance, acrobatics and dance etc. Perhaps, dialectical
> > > leap is not quite a right word to reflect what is perceived as the
> > > essence of Peking opera: 炉火纯青 consummate, and 出神入化
> > > superb.
> > >
> > > James
> > >
> > >
> > > *James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
> > > <https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>   *
> > >
> > >
> > > On 28 October 2017 at 00:26, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > >
> > > > I've always been restless with the idea that language is a
> > > self-organizing
> > > > system, or that it has a "fractal" structure in the sense of the
> > > > "self-similarity" we find in a fern leaf--the same structure at
> > > > every level. I suppose my impatience is ideological: I believe
> > > > language organization is semantically driven (and semantic structure
> > > > is a realization/transformation of some of the structures found in
> > contexts).
> > > So
> > > > I don't think that vowels and consonants organize themselves into
> > > syllables
> > > > without human intentions, nor do I think that syllables will form
> > > > words unless somebody makes them do it. As for grammar, it seems to
> > > > me that to expect that even the very limited grammar found in this
> > > > paragraph you are reading should somehow be "thrown up" by the words
> > > > I am using and their elective affinities is a little like expecting
> > > > medieval cathedrals to be thrown up by the mutual attraction of the
> > stones that compose them.
> > > >
> > > > Yes, I know. Consonants are what happen in the absence of vowels (at
> > > > the ends of vowel phrases). Vowels are what happen at the ends of
> > consonants.
> > > > As soon as you have breath, vocal cord vibration, and a beginning
> > > > and an end to it, you have the primitive structure (Optional
> > > > Consonant)
> > > Mandatory
> > > > Vowel (Optioinal Consonant), and from this we can derive all the
> > > > possible syllable structures of any language. You can do the same
> > > > trick at any
> > > level
> > > > of language: If you have a morpheme like "work" or "play" you can
> > > > add a bound morpheme to either end ("re~" and/or "~ed"),and if you
> > > > have a
> > > clause
> > > > like "Work!" you can add a bound clause to either end ("If you are
> > > > so willing~" and/or "so as to enrich yourselves!") and the existence
> > > > of xmca itself shows how this principle works on units above the
> > > > clause--Mike's last post is not really intelligible without my
> > > > preceding one, and mine
> > > is
> > > > not really intelligible without James's, etc.
> > > >
> > > > But I'm not talking about the various forms of language, potential
> > > > and real; these are of course the affordances of the stuff of which
> > > > language
> > > is
> > > > made, just as the limits of what you can do on a canvas has
> > > > something to
> > > do
> > > > with the consistency of the paint. I'm talking about what people
> > > > actually do and not just what they may or might do. So for example
> > > > when we look at "To be or not to be" or at the speeches we find in
> > > > "Shajiabang" or even,
> > > as
> > > > Mike suggests, at the language of everyday life, we find that vowels
> > > > tend to carry the feeling of what we say (that's why they are
> > > > elongated in tonics and why they are directed in tonality).
> > > > Consonants, on the
> > > other
> > > > hand, work better for the nuances of thinking. That's why we sing
> > > > the vowels, but spell with consonants; why Ophelia says "Oh what a
> > > > noble mind is here o'erthrone!" but Hamlet says "Nymph, in thy
> > > > orisons be all my
> > > sins
> > > > remembered!". And so once again we find that feeling and thinking
> > > > are
> > > both
> > > > linked and distinct, to say the which is surely to say no more and
> > > > no
> > > less
> > > > than to say that they are joined/separated by a dialectical leap.
> > > >
> > > > David Kellogg
> > > >
> > >
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