Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Franz Kuhnert and the Phonetics of Late Nineteenth-Century Nankingese

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Franz Kuhnert and the Phonetics of Late Nineteenth-Century Nankingese

Article excerpt


The Austrian astronomer and sinologist Franz Kuhnert left detailed studies of Nankingese pronunciation as it existed in the late nineteenth century. Accounts of this type are valuable because they can be compared with modern descriptions to serve as a basis for historical analysis of phonological change in Chinese dialects. Unfortunately, Kuhnert recorded his form of Nankingese in a complex and intricate orthography, which makes his material difficult to access for readers today. The purpose of the present article is to analyze his transcriptional system and determine IPA sound values for the forms he gives.

Franz Emanuel Kuhnert (1852-1918) pursued his early academic career in the fields of mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the University of Vienna, where he took his doctoral degree in 1885. In 1873 he had entered the Bureau of Measurements, where he held a regular position until the end of his life. In 1882 he expanded his interests to include the study of sinology, his curiosity regarding this area having been aroused when the Bureau of Measurements acquired Chinese translations (dated 1721) of the Arithmetica Logarithmica and Trigonometria Artificialis of the Dutch mathematician, Adriaan Vlacq (1600-1667). His pursuit of Chinese studies led to his appointment in 1891 as Privatdozent (unsalaried lecturer) in Chinese language at the University of Vienna. In 1897 he received a teaching appointment in Chinese in the Oriental Academy of the Foreign Ministry, which continued until 1916 (Schram 1920; Fuhrer 2001: 87). Our sources do not reveal the exact nature or extent of Kuhnert's training in phonetics. (1) Interestingly, he is said to have been an accomplished musician and an expert flute player.

In 1892 kuhnert was granted leave and a stipend by the Ministry of Culture and Education to make a research trip to China. He departed Austria in August 1892 and spent a year in China, living in Peking, Nanking, and Shanghai, where he did intensive fieldwork on Chinese dialects (Schram 1920). (2) This was not the first research Kuhnert had done on dialects. Earlier, he had written a detailed article on Shanghai phonetics, based on data elicited from a Shanghai speaker he had encountered in Europe (Kuhnert 1888: 235). After returning to Vienna in late 1893, Kuhnert published two articles (1893; 1894) and a book (1898) on Nankingese. The 1893 paper deals exclusively with tone. The 1894 article is a full-fledged description of the dialect, covering phonetics, lexicon, and syntax. The book, Syllabar des Nanking-Dialectes, is labeled a "syllabary" but is in fact a small dictionary, since it contains not only individual syllables but also compounds, phrases, and a few full sentences. It is an important source of information on Nankingese of Kuhnert's time.

Full descriptions of Kuhnert's transcriptional system are found in both the 1894 article and the 1898 book. They are not identical in either arrangement or content. Rather, they tend to complement each other. In the present paper we shall follow the order of presentation found in Kuhnert's book (1989: 6-9) and supplement this with material from his earlier article (1894: 10-18). However, unlike Kuhnert, we shall begin with the consonants rather than the vowels. Examples of each described entity will be cited from the corpus of material in the 1898 book. These examples will be given in their IPA forms as determined by us rather than in Kuhnert's transcriptions. Kuhnert's tone symbols will be replaced by numbers (1-5), as assigned in section IV below.


The following consonants are included in Kuhnert's Nankingese transcriptional system:

g--This is described as unaspirated k-, pronounced more "tightly" (Ger. knapper) than German g-. The probable IPA value is [k]. Examples: [kwe?5] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [kaul] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [kal][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII. …

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