1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Grammar - Introduction; Position of Words in Sentences.

(Part 39)


Chinese Grammar - Introduction; Position of Words in Sentences.

Chinese Grammar - Introduction

With a language of roots, which is devoid of inflexion or even of agglutination, in which a large number of words each play the part, under varying circumstances, of substantives, adjectives verbs, and adverbs, it may at first sight appear that grammar must be an impossibility. But inasmuch as there are in Chinese, as there must be in every language, certain words which, to quote Dr Marshman, "donote things, and other which signify quality, there must be words to express actions done, and these as done by one or many, already done, doing, or intended to be done ; they must also be described as done absolutely or conditionally, as proper to be done, or peremptorily commanded. Further, the various circumstances of the door, and of the subject of the action, must also be either plainly expressed or tacitly understood ; hence the need of prepositions. Connecting words, too, necessarily exist in every language, as well as those which express the emotions of the mind. Thus the principles of grammar must substantially exist in every language." And though the absence of all inflexion in Chinese places the grammar of the language on a different footing from that of the polysyllabic languages, it is yet distinctly defined by the position and connection of the words of the sentence.

Since, when a language is spoken and understood only in the country of its birth or adoption, the study of the grammar affecting it is, as far as the native are concerned, comparatively unimportant, we find that little attention has been paid by the Chinese to the grammar of their language. But practically the grammar, which, as has just been stated, consists of rules for the construction of the sentence, has for many centuries been enforced by example, and by the censorship of the examiners at the competitive examinations.

Position of Words in Sentences

If then we observe the connection of words which these authorities have preserved, we find that in every Chinese sentence the subject comes first, then the verb, which is followed by the complement direct and the complement indirect, and further that, as is the case in most of the Turanian languages, every word which defines or modifies another invariably precedes it. For instance, the adjective precedes the substantive, the adverb the verb, the genitive the word which governs it, and the preposition the word governed by it. The importance of exactly following these rules becomes at once apparent when we remember that often one and the same word is capable of being used as a substantive, an adjective, a verb, or an adverb. This is the case also with some words in English. We use the word present, for example, as a substantive when we talk of giving a present ; as an adjective when we say the present time ; and as a verb when we say, "I present you." Cut is another word which we make use of in the same way. We say, "the cut of a sword," "cut grass and "to cut a man down."

A number of other instance of the same kind might be adduced, but taking a Chinese word, we may show how, by varying its position in a sentence, it changes its grammatical value. The character _____ hao has for its meanings "to love," "good," "excellent," "well," &c., and possibly with the intention of illustrating, as it were, these meanings by representing the highest and purest form of natural affection, that which exists between a mother and her child, the inventor of the character his formed it of two parts signifying respectively "a woman" and "a son." If, then, we meet it in such a connection as this, which is taken from the lips of Confucius, _____, Kwei keen chih chia che hao, we recognize it at once as a substantive, since, were it an adjective, it would be followed by a substantive ; were it a verb, it would be followed by its complement, and also because it follows as substantive _____, to which is added _____, the sign of the possessive case. The sentence should then be translated—Kwei keen, "to peep and see," hao," the excellence or the goodness," che, ‘of," chih chia," the apartments." In the sentence, also from Confucius, _____ Joo hao hao sih, we see by the position of the two haos that the first must be a verb, and that the second must be an adjective, since it is followed bya a substantive with which it forms the direct complement to the verb. The meaning of the sentence then is Joo, "as [when]," hao\, "we love," hao /sih," excellent beauty." Again, in the modern colloquial expression _____ we have an example of the use of hao as an adverb preceding a verb, and the phrase is then incapable of being translated otherwise than as "well said," hao, "well," shwo, "said."

The number of characters which might be treated as we have dealt with _____ is legion. Little has been said on the subject of this peculiarity of the language by native grammarians, who have not done much more for the science of grammar than to divide the characters into _____, Sze tsze or "dead words," as they call nouns ; _____ Hwo tsze, "living words," or verbs ; and _____ Hsü tsze, "empty words," or particles. It is worthy of remark that in a great many instances the transition of a character from one part of speech to another is marked by a change of tone. This is the case with the character hao, of which we have been speaking . When it stands for the adjective "good," it should be pronounced in the ascending tone hao/ ; and when it becomes the verb "to love," it is transferred to the departing tone hao\. And in some few cases the character suffers a change of sound as well. _____ shih, the verb "to eat," is pronounced in the entering or abrupt tone ; but it becomes sze\ in the departing tone, when it plays the part of a substantive meaning "food." In a lecture administered to the king of Leang, Mencius, rebuking him, says, _____ Kow che shih jin sze \, "Your dogs and swine eat men’s food." Here it will be observed the first _____ must be the rules of position be the verb shih "to eat," and by the same necessity this same character at the end of the sentence must be a substantive ; and dictionaries tell us that, when this is the case, it is pronounce sze. But though it is true that a vast number of characters can be made to serve a writer in a variety of capacities, yet each belongs more particularly to some one part of speech, and many are identified with that one alone. For instance, we find that certain substantives which express things, such as cho "a table," or e "a chair," remain fixed as substantives, and that others, if they denote actions, are primarily verbs, and if conditions such as "honour" or "riches," are in the first instance adjectives.

Read the rest of this article:
China - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries