1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Grammar (cont.) - Pronouns; Numerals; Moods and Tenses.

(Part 41)


Chinese Grammar (cont.) - Pronouns; Numerals; Moods and Tenses.


In all Oriental languages the personal pronouns play a prominent part from their number and the variety of equivalent terms, whether of self-depreciation or of complimentary adulation, used to express them ; and in Chinese they derive additional importance from the fact that in the absence of all verbal inflexion, they serve to indicate the person, and in the spoken language the number of the verb. _____ woo, _____ urh, and _____ ke, are the terms most commonly used in classical writings to signify the first , second, and third persons of the personal pronoun, of which _____ wo, _____ ne, and _____ ta, are the common colloquial equivalents. These latter have for their plural wo mun, ne mun, ta mun. Quite separate and apart from these and all their equivalents is the character _____ chin, which is reserved especially for the emperor, and has been the traditional imperial "We" since the time of the three mythical emperors to whose wisdom, energy, and foresight the greatness of China is attributed by the native historians.

But not always does the emperor feel himself entitled to use this inherited character. In times of national misfortune he chooses to believe that his own remissness is the cause of the evils which have overtaken the country, and then it is the custom for him to designate himself Kwa jin, or "Deficient man." With his subjects the assumption of a similar humble position is habitual, and among acquaintances the place of "I" is nearly always taken by terms by which the speaker seeks to give a complimentary importance tot he person addressed at the expense of his own intellectual or social position. "The dullard," "the little one," and " the man of low degree," and terms most frequently used in this sense, while nu tsai, or "slave," is the self-assumed epithet adopted by ministers when addressing the emperor. In like manner the speaker’s relations and personal belongings are spoken of as "the little," the mean," and "the cheap." The respect due to age guides on the other hand the choice of expressions employed towards the person addressed, who, instead of being called by the second person of the pronoun, hears himself addressed as "Master," a Old Gentleman," or "Senior." The holders of the lower offices, such as the Heen or district magistrates, are addressed by law as Lao ye or "Old Fathers ;" as they rise, they become Ta lao ye "Great Old Fathers ;" and when they reach the higher ranks, such as the governors of the provinces, they are called Ta jin "Great Men." In the same spirit it is customary to speak of the belongings of another as being "worshipful," "honourable," or, "august."


History is vague as to the date when the Chinese adopted the numerals they at present employ ; but as we find reference to them in the Book of History, it is fair to infer that they were in existence before the 6th century B.C. They are 17 in number, and are these :—yih, "one," _____ urh, "two," _____ san, "three," _____ sze, "four," _____ woo, "five," _____ luh, "six," _____ tse—h, "seven," _____ pa, "eight," _____ kew, "nine," _____ shih, "ten," _____ pih, "a hundred," _____ tseen, "a thousand," _____ wan, "ten thousand," _____ yih, "one hundred thousand," _____ chaou, "a million," _____ keng, "ten millions," and _____ kai, "a hundred millions." The last four are now very seldom used, the rest are hourly employed. It will be seen that there is no single numeral between ten and one hundred, and the intervening numbers are therefore formed by shih "ten" in combination with the lower numerals. For example, the numbers between ten and twenty are expressed by shih "ten" with the addition of the number required. Thus "thirteen" would be _____ Shih san. The figures between twenty and a hundred are denoted by _____ shih, "ten" preceded by the other numeral, and in this way _____ San would be "thirty."

Moods and Tenses

After the explanation given of the manner in which the number, gender, and case of nouns are clearly expressed in composition, it need not be a matter of surprise that by position and the use of particles it is possible to give expression to all the moods tenses of the verb. Such a fact should not astonish us when it is recollected that, as stated by Marshman, in the case of certain English verbs, such as "to cut," position is found equal to the task of forming 211 out of the 215 verbal variations which such verbs undergo, and four only are formed by the addition of terminations to the original monosyllable, namely "cuttest," "cuts," "cutteth," and "cutting." As no change, not even the lengthening of a line, or the addition of a dot, can possibly be effected in a Chinese character without entirely altering its meaning, position has to do everything for the Chinese verb, and it accomplishes its mission in two ways, either by stating the time at which the action has taken place, or is about to take place, or by prefixing or suffixing certain words which by their several meanings supply like information. For instance, in the colloquial sentence _____ joo kin ta lai, joo kin, "now," indicates that the action is present, and the three characters are to be translated " he is coming." But if we were to exchange the joo for _____ ming neen, "next year," the verb lai will be in the future tense, "next year he will come ;" and if yet once again we say, shang yu« ta lai, shang yu« meaning "last month," the verb will then be in the past tense, and the sentence will run, "last month he came." But more frequently the present tense of the verb is not accompanied with any word to denote the time of the action, and indeed the only tense-particles employed are those which serve to explain the past and future tenses. The characters _____ leaou, "to complete," and _____ kwo, "to pass over," are the commonest of those which are suffixed to denote the first, and _____ tseang, "to take," and _____ yaou, "to want," are the most frequently used as prefixed to mark the second. Thus, ta keu leaou, or ta ken kwo, would mean "he went," while ta tseang keu or ta yaou keu would be " he will go."

In every language, as Marshman has pointed out, "it will sometimes be found necessary to indicate or declare a thing, to command an action to be performed, to express it as desirable, obligatory, or possible, to represent it as conditional, and to descried it in a general way," and Chinese is no exception to this rule. In the case of the active and infinite moods, position, which, as we have already seen, has done so much for Chinese grammar, is again equal to the occasion, but the imperative, the operative, and the potential moods all, although not always, have their distinctive signs.

The third person of the imperative mood, for instance, is formed in modern Chinese by prefixing a verb meaning either "to give" or "to permit," and answers exactly to our "let," _____ heu ta keu is "let him go," heu meaning "to allow," "to permit." The optative mood is formed by the words meaning "to wish" or "to desire," and the potential by the addition of words implying "power," "duty," or "doubt."

The above sketch, although necessarily brief, serves to show that by carefully following the laws of Chinese syntax, it is possible to express in Chinese, as exactly a in other languages, all the parts of speech in all their variety of number, gender, case, mood, tense, and person, and therefore every shade of meaning which it is possible to convey by word of mouth. The difficulties of acquiring a knowledge of Chinese have hitherto shared that exaggeration which surrounds the unknown. It is time that the language was better understood, and at this period of the world’s history we cannot afford to have leave unnoticed a language so ancient as to dwarf into insignificance the antiquity of western tongues, and one which is the solitary medium of communication between 400,000,000 of our fellow-men.

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