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Tongya 通雅

Feb 27, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Tongya 通雅 "Comprehensive correct [dictionary]" is a linguistic book on miscellaneous matters compiled by the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Fang Yizhi 方以智 (1579-1671), courtesy name Mizhi 密之, style Mangong 曼公, Luqi 鹿起 or Longmin Yuzhe 龍眠愚者.

In bibliographies, the Tongya belongs to the category of books of "lesser learning" (Xiaoxue 小學), often translated as "lexicography". The book is 52-juan long, with an introduction of 3 juan length. The book is a compilation of the notes on characters and words Fang Yizhi made when he read books. The title is derived from Fang's idea to unite (tong 通) the old with the new.

The words in his book are arranged according to encyclopaedic principles. The author tried to assemble as much information on pronunciation and meaning as possible and made also critical comments to wrong statements he found in his sources. In the chapter Yishi 疑始 he makes comments about the question of phonetics and the traditional rhyme groups. In the chapter Shigu 釋詁 he explains the meanings of certain words, in the chapter Yanyuan 諺原 he speaks about topolects and colloquial language.

Fang Yizhi stressed the importance to reconstruct the original sound of a word. Sound and meaning of a character, he said, have an inherent relation that has to be observed in order to understand the real meaning of a character or a word. The characters 爾, 尔 and 你 were three different writings for the same word "you", inspite of their different pronunciation (er, resp. ni) in contemporary Chinese, compare the surname 倪 Ni which has the phonetic part 兒 er. By investigating various topolects, Fang Yizhi demonstrated that 某 mou, 每 mei and 麼 me/mo were actually the same word "something", as well as 怎 zen and 甚 shen, both meaning "what".

Sources:
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