The syllable in Old Chinese: sub-syllabic processes, syllable structure, and the status of medial glides



How to represent a syllable is by no means a settled question in generative grammar. This paper employs the diagnostic tool Replace (X) to examine the sub-syllabic constituency in Old Chinese (OC) by virtue of two types of directional reduplication data: progressive and retrogressive reduplication. This paper finds that the OC syllable is comprised of onset, nucleus, and rhyme, which have different representations in the syllable structure. This paper also argues that the OC tone should be represented in terms of another independent plane, i.e., adjoining to the whole syllable rather than the rhyme sub-syllabic constituent, on the basis of the rhyming in Shijing ‘Book of Odes’. The OC medial glides -j- and -w- show an asymmetric status in syllable structure. The former tends to be aligned with the rhyme, while the latter tends to be aligned with onset. Comparing with other OC syllable structures, it is found that theoretical analyses reveal certain aspects of sub-syllabic processes, such as the placements of medial glides, and help us to examine syllabic representations such as tone representation, all of which may not be detected by direct observation of a maximal syllable in OC. Furthermore, a comparison of syllable structures in OC and Middle Chinese suggests that syllable structure, as well as other phonological phenomena, underwent great changes from OC to Middle Chinese or Guangyun phonology.


Syllable structure Old Chinese Medial glides Tone 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Institute of Teaching Chinese as a Second LanguageNational Taiwan Normal UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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