The syllable in old chinese: Sub-syllabic processes, syllable structure, and the status of medial glides

Dong Bo Hsu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


How to represent a syllable is by no means a settled question in generative grammar. This paper employs the diagnostic tool Replace (X) to examine the sub-syllabic constituency in Old Chinese (OC) by virtue of two types of directional reduplication data: progressive and retrogressive reduplication. This paper finds that the OC syllable is comprised of onset, nucleus, and rhyme, which have different representations in the syllable structure. This paper also argues that the OC tone should be represented in terms of another independent plane, i. e., adjoining to the whole syllable rather than the rhyme sub-syllabic constituent, on the basis of the rhyming in Shijing 'Book of Odes'. The OC medial glides -j- and -w- show an asymmetric status in syllable structure. The former tends to be aligned with the rhyme, while the latter tends to be aligned with onset. Comparing with other OC syllable structures, it is found that theoretical analyses reveal certain aspects of sub-syllabic processes, such as the placements of medial glides, and help us to examine syllabic representations such as tone representation, all of which may not be detected by direct observation of a maximal syllable in OC. Furthermore, a comparison of syllable structures in OC and Middle Chinese suggests that syllable structure, as well as other phonological phenomena, underwent great changes from OC to Middle Chinese or Guangyun phonology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-395
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Dec


  • Medial glides
  • Old Chinese
  • Syllable structure
  • Tone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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