Ancient Chinese (in Simplified Chinese : 上古 汉语; Traditional Chinese : 上古 漢語; Pinyin : shànggǔ hànyǔ ) or Ancient Chinese [ 2 ] is the term that designates the Chinese language spoken since the Shang dynasty ( Bronze Age of China , which ended in 11th century BC ) until the first Han dynasty ( 206 BC to 9 AD ). There are several distinct subperiods of ancient Chinese within this large span of time, and the term – in contrast to what is done with the terms Chinese medium andmodern Chinese – is often used in relation to Chinese historical phonology , which attempts to reconstruct the way in which ancient Chinese was pronounced.
As ancient Chinese was the language spoken by the Chinese when classical works such as the Analects of Confucius , Mencius and Tao Te Ching were being written, and it was the official language of the unified empire of the Qin and long-lived Han dynasty , it was preserved for the next two millennia in the form of classical Chinese , a style of the written language that emulates the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese as presented in these works.
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Periodization [ edit | edit source code ]
The earliest known evidence of the Chinese language are called inscriptions on oracle bones , the late period of the Shang state, around 1200 BC . Despite the difficulties encountered in deciphering these inscriptions, there is no doubt that the language in which they were written is an ancient form of Chinese, called ‘archaic’, whose use extends until the beginning of the Zhou period, and is found exclusively in these oracular bones and in bronze containers . Its vocabulary consists of 3000 to 4000 words, most of which are proper names . Grammatically , the language is much less characterized by the constructionsoverly analytical syntactics of standard classical Chinese, and has far fewer grammatical particles.
In the Western Zhou period that followed, a profusion of written texts emerged. The language, sometimes called “pre-classical”, has retained conciseness in style and grammar, but there are considerable expansions in specific vocabularies, and in the use of evidently syntactic constructions.
The four centuries from 600 to 200 BC were called “the golden age of classical Chinese philosophy and literature”, and it was from this period that the term ‘ classical Chinese ‘ came to designate the written pattern, transmitted until the century XX . Period works, such as Analects and Mêncio are seen, from the Han period to the present day, as references to the classical Chinese prose style . Bronze inscriptions from the period are common, but in smaller numbers than the texts transmitted. Most of these texts were originally written with ink applied on bamboo , wood chips and, at the end of the period, silk.