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Rime dictionary

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Rime dictionary

This article is about a type of dictionary in ancient China. For the type of Western reference work used in poetry, see rhyming dictionary.
Copy of the Tangyun, an 8th-century edition of the Qieyun

A rime dictionary, rhyme dictionary, or rime book (simplified Chinese: 韵书; traditional Chinese: 韻書; pinyin: yùnshū) is an ancient type of Chinese dictionary that collates characters by tone and rhyme, instead of by radical. The most important rime dictionary tradition began with the Qieyun (601), which aimed to reconcile the literary reading traditions and poetic practice of north and south China. This work became very popular during the Tang dynasty, and went through a series of revisions and expansions, of which the most famous is the Guangyun (1007–1008).

These dictionaries also record the pronunciations of characters by the fǎnqiè method, using a pair of characters to indicate the onset and remainder of the syllable respectively. The later rime tables gave a significantly more precise and systematic account of the sounds of these dictionaries by tabulating syllables by their onsets, rhyme groups, tones and other properties. The phonological system inferred from these books, often interpreted using the rime tables, is known as Middle Chinese, and has been the key datum for efforts to recover the sounds of early forms of Chinese. It incorporates most of the distinctions found in modern varieties of Chinese, as well as some that are no longer distinguished. It has also been used together with other evidence in the reconstruction of Old Chinese (1st millennium BC).

Some scholars use the French spelling "rime", as used by the Swedish linguist Bernard Karlgren, for the categories described in these works, to distinguish them from the concept of poetic rhyme.[1]


Copy of fragments of the Wang Renxu edition of the Qieyun

The earliest rime dictionary was the Shēnglèi (聲類 lit. "sound types") by Li Deng (李登) of the Three Kingdoms period, containing more than 11,000 characters grouped under the five notes of the ancient Chinese musical scale.[3] The book did not survive, and is known only from descriptions in later works.[4]

The most important rime dictionary was the Qieyun, published by Lù Fǎyán (陸法言) in 601, during the Sui dynasty, based on five earlier rime dictionaries that are no longer extant. According to Lu Fayan's preface, the initial plan of the work was drawn up 20 years earlier in consultation with a group of scholars, three from southern China and five from the north. However the final compilation was by Lu alone, after he had retired from government service.[5]

As a guide to the recitation of literary texts and an aid in the composition of verse, the Qieyun quickly became popular during the Tang dynasty. Revisions were produced by Zhǎngsūn Nèyán (長孫訥言) in 677, Wáng Rénxū (王仁煦) in 706, Sūn Miǎn (孫愐) in 720 and 751 (under the title Tángyùn 唐韻), and Lǐ Zhōu (李舟) in 763–784. In 1008, during the Song dynasty, a group of scholars commissioned by the emperor produced an expanded revision called the Guangyun. The Jiyun (1037) was a greatly expanded revision of the Guangyun.[6][7]

Until the mid-20th century, the oldest complete rime dictionaries known were the Guangyun and Jiyun, though extant copies of the latter were marred by numerous transcription errors. Thus all studies of the Qieyun tradition were actually based on the Guangyun. Fragments of earlier revisions of the Qieyun were found early in the century among the Dunhuang manuscripts, in Turfan and in Beijing.[6][8]

When the Qieyun became the national standard in the Tang dynasty, several copyists were engaged in producing manuscripts to meet the great demand for revisions of the work. Particularly prized were copies of Wáng Rénxū's edition, made in the early 9th century, by Wú Cǎiluán (呉彩鸞), a woman famed for her calligraphy.[8] One of these copies was acquired by Emperor Huizong (1100–1026), himself a keen calligrapher. It remained in the palace library until 1926, when part of the library followed the deposed emperor Puyi to Tianjin and then to Changchun, capital of the puppet state of Manchukuo. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, it passed to a book dealer in Changchun, and in 1947 two scholars discovered it in a book market in Liulichang, Beijing.[9] Studies of this almost complete copy have been published by the Chinese linguists Dong Tonghe (1948 and 1952) and Li Rong (1956).[10]


The Qieyun and its successors all had the same structure. The characters were first divided between the four tones. Because there were more characters of the "level tone" (平聲 píngshēng), they occupied two juan (卷 "fascicle", "scroll" or "volume"), while the other three tones filled one volume each. The last category or "entering tone" (入聲 rùshēng) consisted of words ending in stops -p, -t or -k, corresponding to words ending in nasals -m, -n and -ng in the other three tones. Today, these final stops are generally preserved in southern varieties of Chinese, but have disappeared in northern ones, including the standard language.[11]

Each tone was divided into rhyme groups (韻 yùn), traditionally named after the first character of the group, called the 韻目 yùnmù ("rhyme eye").[12] The following shows the beginning of the first rhyme group of the Guangyun, with first character 東 ("east"):

Each rhyme group was subdivided into homophone groups preceded by a small circle called a 紐 niǔ ("button"). The entry for each character gave a brief explanation of its meaning. At the end of the entry for the first character of a homophone group was a description of its pronunciation, given by a fǎnqiè formula, a pair of characters indicating the initial (聲母 shēngmǔ) and final (韻母 yùnmǔ) respectively. The formula was followed by the character 反 fǎn (in the Qieyun) or the character 切 qiè (in the Guangyun), followed by the number of homophonous characters.[13][14] For example, the pronunciation of 東 was described using the characters 德 tok and 紅 huwng, indicating tuwng.[15][16][1] In the above sample, this formula is followed by the number 十七, indicating that there are 17 entries, including 東, with the same pronunciation.

The order of the rhyme groups within each volume does not seem to follow any rule, except that similar groups were placed together, and corresponding groups in different tones were usually placed in the same order. Where two rhyme groups were similar, there was a tendency to choose exemplary words with the same initial.[17] The table of contents of the Guangyun marks adjacent rhyme groups as tóngyòng (同用), meaning they could rhyme in regulated verse.[18] In the above sample, under the entry for the rhyme group 刪 in the last part the table of contents (on the right page) is the notation "山同用", indicating that this group could rhyme with the following group 山.

The following are the rhyme groups of the Guangyun with their modern names, the finals they include (see next section), and the broad rhyme groups (shè 攝) they were assigned to in the rime tables. A few entries are re-ordered to place corresponding rhyme groups of different tones in the same row, and darker lines separate the tongyong groups:

Rhyme groups by tone[19][20] Finals by distribution class[21][22] shè[19]
平 level[2] 上 rising[3] 去 departing[4] 入 entering[5] I/IV II mixed pure III
1-1. 東 dōng 3-1. 董 dǒng 4-1. 送 sòng 5-1. 屋 -uwng/k -juwng/k tōng
1-2. 冬 dōng [6] 4-2. 宋 sòng 5-2. 沃 -owng/k
1-3. 鍾 zhōng 3-2. 腫 zhǒng 4-3. 用 yòng 5-3. 燭 zhú -jowng/k
1-4. 江 jiāng 3-3. 講 jiǎng 4-4. 絳 jiàng 5-4. 覺 jué -æwng/k jiāng
1-5. 支 zhī 3-4. 紙 zhǐ 4-5. 寘 zhì -j(w)(i)e zhǐ
1-6. 脂 zhī 3-5. 旨 zhǐ 4-6. 至 zhì -(j)(w)ij
1-7. 之 zhī 3-6. 止 zhǐ 4-7. 志 zhì -i
1-8. 微 wēi 3-7. 尾 wěi 4-8. 未 wèi -j(w)ɨj
1-9. 魚 3-8. 語 4-9. 御 -jo
1-10. 虞 3-9. 麌 4-10. 遇 -ju
1-11. 模 3-10. 姥 4-11. 暮 -u
1-12. 齊 3-11. 薺 4-12. 霽 -(w)ej xiè
4-13. 祭 -j(w)(i)ejH
4-14. 泰 tài -(w)ajH
1-13. 佳 jiā 3-12. 蟹 xiè 4-15. 卦 guà -(w)ɛɨ
1-14. 皆 jiē 3-13. 駭 hài 4-16. 怪 guài -(w)ɛj
4-17. 夬 guài -(w)æjH
1-15. 灰 huī 3-14. 賄 huì 4-18. 隊 duì -woj
1-16. 咍 hāi 3-15. 海 hǎi 4-19. 代 dài -oj
4-20. 廢 fèi -j(w)ojH
1-17. 真 zhēn 3-16. 軫 zhěn 4-21. 震 zhèn 5-5. 質 zhì -(j)in/t zhēn
1-18. 諄 zhūn[7] 3-17. 準 zhǔn[7] 4-22. 稕 zhùn[7] 5-6. 術 shù[7] -(j)win/t
1-19. 臻 zhēn[8] 5-7. 櫛 zhì[9] -in/t
1-20. 文 wén 3-18. 吻 wěn 4-23. 問 wèn 5-8. 物 -jun/t
1-21. 欣 xīn[10] 3-19. 隱 yǐn 4-24. 焮 xìn 5-9. 迄 -jɨn/t
1-22. 元 yuán 3-20. 阮 ruǎn 4-25. 願 yuàn 5-10. 月 yuè -j(w)on/t (to 山)
1-23. 魂 hún 3-21. 混 hùn 4-26. 慁 hùn 5-11. 沒 méi -won/t (to 臻)
1-24. 痕 hén 3-22. 很 hěn 4-27. 恨 hèn [11] -on
1-25. 寒 hán 3-23. 旱 hàn 4-28. 翰 hàn 5-12. 曷 -an/t shān
1-26. 桓 huán[7] 3-24. 緩 huǎn[7] 4-29. 換 huàn[7] 5-13. 末 [7] -wan/t
1-27. 刪 shān 3-25. 潸 shān[12] 4-30. 諫 jiàn 5-15. 鎋 xiá -(w)æn/t
1-28. 山 shān 3-26. 產 chǎn 4-31. 襉 jiàn 5-14. 黠 xiá -(w)ɛn/t
2-1. 先 xiān 3-27. 銑 xiǎn 4-32. 霰 xiàn 5-16. 屑 xiè -(w)en/t
2-2. 仙 xiān 3-28. 獮 xiǎn 4-33. 線 xiàn 5-17. 薛 xuē -j(w)(i)en/t
2-3. 蕭 xiāo 3-29. 篠 xiǎo 4-34. 嘯 xiào -ew xiào
2-4. 宵 xiāo 3-30. 小 xiǎo 4-35. 笑 xiào -j(i)ew
2-5. 肴 yáo 3-31. 巧 qiǎo 4-36. 效 xiào -æw
2-6. 豪 háo 3-32. 晧 hào 4-37. 號 hào[13] -aw
2-7. 歌 3-33. 哿 4-38. 箇 -a -ja[14] guǒ
2-8. 戈 [7] 3-34. 果 guǒ[7] 4-39. 過 guò[7] -wa -jwa[14]
2-9. 麻 3-35. 馬 4-40. 禡 -(w)æ -jæ jiǎ
2-10. 陽 yáng 3-36. 養 yǎng 4-41. 漾 yàng 5-18. 藥 yào -j(w)ang/k dàng
2-11. 唐 táng 3-37. 蕩 dàng 4-42. 宕 dàng 5-19. 鐸 duó -(w)ang/k
2-12. 庚 gēng 3-38. 梗 gěng 4-43. 映 yìng 5-20. 陌 -(w)æng/k -j(w)æng/k gěng
2-13. 耕 gēng 3-39. 耿 gěng 4-44. 諍 zhèng 5-21. 麥 mài -(w)ɛng/k
2-14. 清 qīng 3-40. 靜 jìng 4-45. 勁 jìng 5-22. 昔 -j(w)ieng/k
2-15. 青 qīng 3-41. 迥 jiǒng 4-46. 徑 jìng 5-23. 錫 -(w)eng
2-16. 蒸 zhēng 3-42. 拯 zhěng 4-47. 證 zhèng 5-24. 職 zhí -(w)ing/k zēng
2-17. 登 dēng 3-43. 等 děng 4-48. 嶝 dèng 5-25. 德 -(w)ong/k
2-18. 尤 yóu 3-44. 有 yǒu 4-49. 宥 yòu -juw liú
2-19. 侯 hóu 3-45. 厚 hòu 4-50. 候 hòu -uw
2-20. 幽 yōu 3-46. 黝 yǒu 4-51. 幼 yòu style="border-left: 2px solid black;"
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