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Chinese Language and Script
The she 攝 Rhymes


The she 攝 rhymes are a categorization of Chinese syllable endings (rhymes) according to the alphabet of the Indian Siddhaṃ script (Chinese transcription: xitan 悉曇). The alphabet of Siddhaṃ consists of syllables and serves to write the language Sanskrit. With the advent of Buddhism in China and the translation of Sanskrit texts and terms into Chinese, Chinese monks became aware the the Chinese language was missing a similar systematic structuring of the phonetic range of their language. It was at the beginning of the Tang period 唐 (618-907), when a lot of Tantric sutras were translated, in which the exact pronunciation of mantras is very important, that East Asian monks started establishing a similar system for Chinese. This system is called dengyun 等韻 "classified rhymes".
The oldest extant table of rhyme groups is the Yunjing 韻鏡 "Mirror of rhmyes". It has been republished in the Japanese series Rokuji zōji zenpon sōkan, bekkan 六地藏寺善本叢刊, 別卷, 1984, 3. A similar table is included in the dictionary Kangxi zidian 康熙字典. The she initials are also listed in the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) syllabary Menggu ziyun 蒙古字韻.
The Siddhaṃ alphabet knows 16 vowels (including the consonant finals anusvāra and visarga ), of which , , and were neglected by Chinese monks because they are less often used. In combination with the 33 initial consonants, 396 theoretical syllables can be established. Additionally, two semi-consonants (parivarta) can be used as head vowels (y and r), so that three series of syllables can be established.
The Middle Chinese language knew 36 consonant initials and 206 rhymes or finals. The solution to bring these phonetic systems to congruence was to unify several similar Chinese rhyme groups into one Siddhaṃ group. These 16 siddham groups were called she 攝, meaning "summary", or parigraha in Sanskrit. Syllables including an interstitial semi-vowel u are marked with he 合, those without the vowel head u as kai 開.

The she finals or rhyme groups
representative word finals
uŋ, ĭuŋ, uk, ĭuk, uoŋ, uok, ĭωoŋ, ĭωok
ɔŋ, ωɔŋ, ɔk, ωɔk
ĭe, ĭωe, i, ωi, ĭə, ĭəi, ĭωəi
ĭo, ĭu, u, uo
iei, iωei, ĭɛi, ĭωɛi, ɑi, uɑi, ai, ωai, ɐi, ωɐi, æi, ωæi, uɒi, ɒi, ĭɐi, ĭωɐi
ĭěn, ĭωěn, ĭět, ĭωět, ĭuěn, ĭuět, ĭen, ĭet, ĭuən, ĭuət, ĭən, ĭət, uən, uət, ən
ĭɐn, ĭωɐn, ĭɐt, ĭωɐt, ɑn, ɑt, uɑn, uɑt, an, ωan, at, ωat, ien, iωen, iet, iωet, ĭɛn, ĭωɛn, ĭɛt, ĭωɛt
ieu, ĭɛu, au, ɑu
ɑ, uɑ, ĭɑ, ĭuɑ
a, ĭa, ωa
ĭaŋ, ĭωaŋ, ĭak, ĭωak, ɑŋ, uɑŋ, ɑk, uɑk
ɐŋ, ĭɐŋ, ωɐŋ, ĭωɐŋ, ɐk, ĭɐk, ωɐk, ĭωɐk, æŋ, ωæŋ, æk, ωæk, ĭɛŋ, ĭωɛŋ, ĭɛk, ĭωɛk, ieŋ, iωeŋ, iek, iωek
ĭəŋ, ĭωəŋ, ĭək, ĭωək, əŋ, uəŋ, ək, uək
ĭəu, əu, iəu
ĭěm, ĭěp
ɒm, ɒp, ɑm, ɑp, ĭɛm, ĭɛp, iem, iep, ɐm, ɐp, am, ap, ĭɐm, ĭɐp, ĭωɐm, ĭωɐp

The she rhyme tables consist of six rows and 5 columns. The first column includes the labial sounds (chunyin 唇音), the second the lingual sounds (sheyin 舌音), the third the velar sounds (yayin 牙音), the fourth the dentals (chiyin 齒音), the fifth the guttural sounds (houyin 喉音), and the sixth the linguo-dentals (shechiyin 舌齒音), including the "half-linguals" (bansheyin 半舌音) and the half-dentals (banchiyin 半齒音), leading to a total of 36 initial consonants. The consonant series are arranged according to the "softness", first the voiceless consonants (quanqing 全清, e.g. [p]), the the more voiced aspirated (ciqing 次清, [pʰ]), thirdly the fully voiced (quanzhuo 全濁, [bʰ]), and finally the less voiced consonants (cizhuo 次濁, [m]). Yet wich such an approach, there are more than one fully voiced and fully unvoiced consonant in the series, like [ts] and [s], both unvoiced, and [dzʰ] and [z], both fully voiced. Among the palatales, there are no "less voiced" consonants at all.

The she consonant initials
representative word initials type of sound
幫 滂 並 明 p pʰ bʰ m 唇音重 heavy labials
非 敷 奉 微 pĭ pʰĭ bʰĭ mĭ 唇音輕 light labials
端 透 定 泥 t tʰ dʰ n 舌頭音 linguals
見 溪 群 疑 k kʰ gʰ ŋ 牙音 velars
影 曉 匣 喻 ʔ x ɣ j 喉音 gutturals
知 徹 澄 娘 ţ ţʰ ɖʰ ɳ 舌上音 palatals
精 清 從 心 邪(斜) ts tsʰ dzʰ s z 歯頭音 dentals
照 穿 床 審 禪 tɕ tɕʰ dʒʰ ʃ dʐʰ 正歯音 proper dentals
來 日 l nʑ 舌歯音 linguo-dentals

The rows include the tone pitches, with four different rows for each one of the four tone pitches. According to some scholars, the openness of the vowel is expressed in these four grades (deng 等, giving the dengyun system its name). The more the mouth is open when pronouncing a vowel, the higher it stands in the row.

Below see an example from the Song period table Qieyun zhizhang tu 切韻指掌圖 "Finger-and-palm charts to the Cut Rhymes system" by Sima Guang 司馬光. The first image shows how ancient scholars used to memorize the consonant initials. The hand to the right shows the metaphysical relation of the initials to the sounds of music, the hand to the left shows the consonant initials.



The lower image is the whole chart of the rhyme (final) group 效 [-aʊ]. The headlines are the initial consonants, the sixteen rows are the word arranged according to the tone pitches, with four qualities for each tone pitch (example of the first column to the right: 高交驕驍 kɑu˥˩ kau˥˩ kĭɛu˥˩ kieu˥˩ ; 暠絞矯皎 kɑu˥ kau˥ kĭɛu˥ kieu˥ ; 告教/叫 kɑu˩˥ kau˩˥ / kieu˩˥ ; 各覺腳/ kɑk kɔk kĭak /). Enlarge image (new tablet).




Source: Yu Min 俞敏 (1988), "She 攝”, in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), pp. 337-338. ● Yu Min 俞敏 (1988), "Dengyun 等韻", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), pp. 51-53.

April 5, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail