Tuesday, April 04, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 15

When I started this project, I thought that I'd post maybe three times a week and finish in a couple or so years, but now I'm not so sure. Life has a way of interrupting one's plans, but it's not as if failing to crank out brief remarks on the Thousand Character Classic on a regular basis is a cause for despair. The other things I'm doing these days - more translations from Portuguese, learning some Latin, revising my historical novel, and, most dauntingly, fixin' to start tutoring ESL to adults - are all pretty fulfilling. That said, I do enjoy parsing the ol' 千字文, and even the handful of characters I've covered have proven useful to reading other Chinese texts, so let's check out the next four characters.

guŏ zhēn lĭ nài

"As for fruits, the plum and crabapple are highly prized."

I don't think I've ever eaten a crabapple, though I do have a specific childhood memory of a crabapple tree outside a public indoor pool I visited with a class or daycare program or something. (Guess it ain't that specific after all.) It's not so much the tree or its fruit that stands out in my memory as the heat and harsh light of the moment. Anyway, there's not a lot to say about these characters. Paar's edition of the 千字文 is equally silent as to the particular value of these fruits, and I'm too lazy to consult any other sources at the moment, so we'll assume that 李奈 were merely tasty, which is a fine reason to prize any comestible.

I'd like to take the opportunity to mention a couple other things that my translation brings to mind.

1/甲: I frequently use the term "classical Chinese" to translate 文言文, which is also, and more rightly, called "literary Chinese." Classical Chinese, AKA 古文, is temporally bound to the written language used up until the 漢朝 Han dynasty, whereas 文言文 is the written language used up until the early 20th century. (There's a late 20th-century writer whose name escapes me who still used it, too.) My point is that much of the Chinese I've translated on this blog isn't strictly classical Chinese, but literary Chinese- for example, the 千字文, which was compiled after the classical period, technically counts as 文言文 and not 古文. Naturally, even the term 古文 has historically narrower literary applications than that which I'm assigning it for comparative purposes, but that's beyond the scope of this note.

2/乙: Literary Chinese loves to imply things. If you were to literally translate 果珍李奈, you'd more or less get "fruit valuable plum crabapple," which at first glance is ridiculous but, with a little effort, somewhat comprehensible. Ignoring the potential for 珍 to be used as an adjective or a verb (or, to put it into more linguistic terms, that we're looking at the perennially popular Chinese topic-comment structure), it still appears to be a phrase devoid of context. Why did the author(s) of the Thousand Character Classic suddenly bring up tasty fruit? Because, in the previous two lines, they'd started delineating the names and natures of specific things. Recall the 剑 sword and 珠 pearl: now we're onto a broader class of things, 果 fruit. When 文言文 brings up a topic, especially in sequence, there's an implied "as for X" or "regarding X." I'm unable to explain the nuance of this fully, in part because I tend to forget it myself when I'm reading literary Chinese, and because there are more dimensions to it based on context, but it's an ingrained part of reading 文言文.

More later, folks! Hope this helped, or was interesting, or entertaining. Preferably all three.


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