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Sound over ideograph : the basis of Chinese poetic art
Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture
  • Zongqi CAI, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Document Type
Journal article
Publication Date
Duke University Press
  • Chinese poetic language,
  • monosyllabic Chinese characters,
  • Chinese prosody,
  • prosodic and thematic rhythm,
  • syntax and structure

The author argues that Chinese characters have shaped Chinese poetic art not through their ideographic form but through their monosyllabic sound. Specifically, the pauses in a Chinese poetic line tend to be determined by sound patterns. Since monosyllabic sound is nearly always endowed with meaning, sound patterns tend to be semantic groupings as well. These groupings of meaning, in turn, determine syntax and, by extension, the organization of an entire poem. Given the semantic denseness of Chinese poetry, this structure is crucial to the overall meaning of a poem, to how we read or understand it. So what we have is something like sound ⇒ prosodic pattern ⇒ semantic grouping ⇒ syntax ⇒ structure. A multilayered integration of all these elements seems to represent the gestalt of Chinese poetic form, with monosyllabic sound as its foundation. At its best, this gestalt engenders a dynamic interplay of all its elements, from which poetic vision emerges.

Funding Information
Hong Kong Research Grants Council research grant (Project Code: LU13400014) {LU13400014}
Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2015 by Duke University Press

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Citation Information
Cai, Z.-q. (2015). Sound over ideograph: The basis of Chinese poetic art. Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture, 2(2), 545-572. doi: 10.1215/23290048-3324212