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Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar (Paperback)

Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar (Paperback)
Author/Publisher: Edwin G. Pulleyblank
Format: paperback
Emphasis: Classical Chinese
Level: Advanced
Note: In Traditional Chinese Characters
List Price: $54.95

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: UBC Press (January 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0774805412
  • Product Dimensions: 9.0 x 6.0 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.0 ounces.
  • Average Customer Review: based on 3 reviews.

Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

Very useful, but sometimes hard to understand. , March 17, 2005

Reviewer: Stuart-Little

First off, the more I use this book the more I like it. Despite a few "flaws" it is a book full of useful and subtle knowledge on Classical Chinese grammar and anyone serious about Classical Chinese would do well to own a copy. Despite a few short comings (discussed below) it is the most complete Classical Chinese grammar book available in English. Its emphasis is on the high classical period from Confucius (551 - 479 BCE) to the founding of the Qin dynasty (221 BCE).

This book assumes the reader already knows some Classical Chinese and has a very good grasp of grammatical and linguistic terminology. Examples: 1)...this is done by inserting a resumptive pronoun shi2... 2) Both the subject and a postverbal element may be topicalized in a locative phrase with yu4 nominalized by zhi1. 3) Other modal notions are expressed by adverbial or adnominal particles.

(Those new to Classical Chinese should consider: Classical Chinese : A Basic Reader in Three Volumes, ISBN: 0691118310, which compliments Michael Fuller's: An Introduction to Literary Chinese, ISBN: 0674017269, as these two books have some readings in common. In appendix A of Fuller's book there is a very nice grammar summary and it discusses some of Pulleyblank's perspectives. The grammar summary in Fuller's book is much simplier than in Pulleyblank's, but is a bit more abstract in its approach compared to what is covered in the above three volume reader. Also, Fuller's appendix D contains a very useful glossary of the most important function words. Ideally one would eventually want all these books. Note, Fuller's book doesn't give the pinyin for the actual text being analyzed, he only supplies the pinyin in his vocabulary lists, which for some reason are not always complete. Also, unlike the above three volume reader, Fuller does not provide the reader with a complete translation of the text being analyzed. Fuller's book covers texts from beginning level to advanced level and is definitely recommended. [If one is going to invest the hundreds, if not thousands of hours, required to learn Classical Chinese then one should get all the books that can help.])

Since this book is an outline organized by grammatical and linguistic concepts and written more for the scholar, it is not, in my opinion, organized in a way that is optimal for translating. Since almost everybody learns Classical Chinese by reading sections from the classics, it would be helpful, but likely contrary to the philosophy and aim of the book, if the most common grammatical patterns were summarized into one or two chapters and the full and varied usage of each individual grammatical particle were listed in one place. Sometimes when translating a difficult passage I have to look in three or four places to make sure I have covered all possible uses of one given grammatical particle. In time one remembers all the possible patterns, but it would be easier if the book was organized differently or at least had additional material, even at the expense of redundancy.

The index is very complete, useful and well done. Almost all the characters discussed have both their grammatical usage and meaning given in the index.

There are close to six hundred short examples eloquently translated. The examples are given in both modern pinyin (always with tone marks) and in Traditional (Complex) Characters in a very readable font. It is clear that Edward Pulleyblank is a gifted writer and translator with a fine aesthetic sense. Though the reader should be aware that on occasion his translations for reasons of context (usually not given) or for better idiomatic English slightly deviate from the original Chinese. (On occasion in his examples he adds in words that are not in the original Chinese and are not required for good English, but that none the less improve the translation; in these cases he really should put his additions in square brackets.) In my humble opinion he strikes a consummate balance between the need for literal faithfulness and the need to achieve good sounding and readable English. Most translators have difficulty achieving this balance; they either are too literal and thus sound horrid or are so idiomatic or loose as to be unfaithful to the individual characters and grammatical structure.

Unfortunately, the meaning of most characters in the translated examples are not given, typically only the meaning of the grammatical character being discussed is given, which makes reconstructing the translation more time consuming. A glossary at the end would enhance this book even more: both a glossary of all the characters used in all the examples and a glossary of grammar terminology.

Most of the examples are from Mencius (Mengzi) and some from other classics such as the Shiji. There are a few Daoist quotes from Zhuanzi. There are no examples from ancient medical texts such as the Nei jing, Mai jing, Shang han lun or Nan jing. Only a few minor examples of poetry usage (such as from the Shijing or Book of Odes). Neither are there any examples from the Dao de jing. This I think creates a bias, the statements of fact in this book don't always fully apply to the Dao de jing (too poetic), nor do they always fully apply to medical texts such as the Nei jing, Mai jing, Shang han lun or Nan jing as these books are too specialized.

There are the occasional confusing usage rules and "omissions." Example omissions: the conjunction yin1=because; the locatives nei4=in[side] and wai4=out[side] and their usage with verbs. Though these omissions are likely due to the book's focus on philosophical and historical texts. Despite a few minor short comings it is a very useful book and is highly recommended. It is definitely far more a scholarly study than a grammar textbook, yet for tricky grammar questions it is the book I often consult first.

Both the vocabulary and the grammar of Classical Chinese can differ in the ancient medical classics as compared to the more commonly studied historical texts---even if they were authored in the same historical time period. For understanding ancient medical texts see Appendix II in Shang Han Lun: On Cold Damage by Mitchell, Feng Ye and Wiseman. In addition, see Chinese Medical Characters by Wiseman, Yeuhauan, Zhang and Helme (editor), and Chinese Medical Chinese: Grammar and Vocabulary by Wiseman and Feng Ye. In addition, books by the German scholar Paul Unschuld should be considered. However, his native language is German, not English, and thus he has some unusual word choices, which, in my opinion, detract from his books. Also, his knowledge of Chinese Medicine is theoretical and academic, which limits his understanding.


19 of 19 people found the following review helpful:

Outstanding and much-needed, April 13, 2000
Reviewer: A reader
In the _Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar_, Pulleyblank provides a much-needed, well, "outline" of the grammar of the Chinese classics. My favorite aspect of this book is its extensive examples, which help the reader of classic texts bridge the gap between the orderly world of grammar books and the always-disorderly world of actual texts.

Of course, one can always wish for more, e.g., I might hope for more on the usages of the various "prepositional" particles. Nevertheless, this is by far the best book of this sort I have seen (in a number of years of working with classical Chinese), and a vital aid to the student of classical Chinese.


20 of 23 people found the following review helpful:

Finally, a comprehensive grammar of Wenyan., May 14, 1996
Reviewer: A reader
I have been studying the Classical Chinese language for one year now and have been suffering through several inadequate grammar references. This wonderful book is the first comprehensive treatment of the grammar of the ancient form of Chinese used by the great philosophers like Confucius and Mencius. It uses modern grammar terminology and examples from the Classics to systematize this very complex language. Bravo.. Mr. Pulleyblank. You have strided through a field in which many have feared to tred! Anthony Barbieri-Low Harvard University Regional Studies:East Asia Program


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