[Mirrored from http://babelstone.blogspot.com/2006/12/phags-pa-alternate-letters-ya-sha-ha.html]
After having discussed the basics of Phags-pa Shaping Behaviour, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss one final piece of essential Phags-pa knowledge before moving on to other things in the new year. That is, the four "alternate" letters for YA, SHA, HA and FA used in one particular Chinese Phags-pa text :
The Yuan dynasty rhyming dictionary Menggu Ziyun 蒙古字韻 is one of the most important Phags-pa texts, as it gives the pronunciation in Phags-pa script for over 9,000 Chinese characters. However, the author (or editor of the only extant 1308 edition) attempts the impossible task of reconciling the pronunciation of the proto-Mandarin Chinese spoken at the time with the traditional phonetic classification of Chinese into thirty-six initials that had been developed during the Tang and Song dynasties several hundered years earlier.
As there was no longer a one-to-one correspondence between the historic thirty-six initials and the contemporary pronunciation, Menggu Ziyun uses variant forms of some letters to represent the contemporary Yuan dynasty pronunciation and at the same time maintain the historic phonetic distinctions of the traditional "thirty-six letters". The situation is rather complicated, and I won't go into details here (read here if you are interersted), but I'll summarise the relationship between the historic thirty-six initials and Phags-pa letters in the table below.
|Historic Initial||Phags-pa Letter|
In summary, MGZY uses two different forms of each of the letters YA, SHA, HA and FA to represent historic phonetic differences for some syllables that were phonetically identical in Yuan dynasty proto-Mandarin. These glyph differences are not normally seen in other Yuan dynasty Chinese texts and inscriptions in the Phags-pa script; that is to say, in most extant Chinese Phags-pa texts other than MGZY only a single form of the letters YA, SHA, HA and FA are found, regardless of the historic phonetic value of the word that it occurs in. Thus, the use of the four characters U+A86D ꡭ, U+A86E ꡮ, U+A86F ꡯ and U+A870 ꡰ should normally be restricted to contexts involving MGZY.
And for those of you interested in historical Chinese phonetics, one of my projects for the spring is to produce an electronic version of the complete text of Menggu Ziyun.
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