14

I've been trying to understand what are the rules for using Chinese punctuation symbols and I stumbled upon this article, which states that:

For instance, a Song Dynasty print of Chronicles of Huayang used full-width spaces to denote a stop,[4] whereas a print of Jingdian Shiwen from the same dynasty simply used "。" and "、" marks.

"Jingdian Shiwen" is a 6th century dictionary (according to this wiki article).

Here is my question. How come that and are so similar to their western counterparts?

Is this a mere coincidence (as far I know Chinese could not have studied any latin based scripts at the time) or maybe there is an underlying logic for using very similar symbols for expressing the idea of full stop.

I wasn't sure on which area I should post this question. Hopefully, the answer will be more related to linguistics/history of linguistics, than to history of China.

  • 2
    "So similar" is very subjective. Do you really think that a circle looks very much like a dot and a line slanting down from left to right looks like a dot with a hanging tail? As for me, they are not like western-style period and comma. Perhaps the better way to ask the question is why you think they are similar. – Yellow Sky Jul 1 '17 at 8:37
  • 1
    I could agree about the "coma", but not about the dot, especially if we consider that Chinese writing as a whole does not use round, circular strokes. – GA1 Jul 4 '17 at 22:58
  • 8
    Your source might be a bit dubious. As the same WP article also stated, the vast majority of ancient Chinese texts just simply don't have any "punctuations". This is a common knowledge for Chinese speakers. The modern 。,etc. are introduced in the 20th after the style of western punctuations. I've never heard about this book "Jingdian Shiwen" and it must have been a rare instance, if it ever existed and used such symbols. – xji Jul 7 '17 at 11:59
  • 4
  • 3
    @xji Not really, I don't claim to know when 句讀 was invented, but it was definitely before the import of Western punctuation. While its use is not 'official', it was definitely widespread since it's even mentioned in the Three Character Classic. It's stuff like ,?!which were imported. – WavesWashSands Jul 6 '18 at 3:58
3

Shapes that are too simple are always going to resemble each other. A small dot-like mark used for marking pauses in prose

  1. necessarily is different from the rest of the shapes and/or locations of characters in the text to prevent confusion,

  2. is going to result in chance resemblances towards other symbols across unrelated scripts.


Chinese punctuation for marking pauses in prose for rhythmic purposes have existed since Warring States period (5th–3rd century BCE). Taken from an answer on Chinese StackExchange:

enter image description here

Tao Te Ching manuscript from the Guodian Chu Bamboo Slips, written in the Warring States era State of Chu. The text is given in verses, beginning with an 8-character rhythm, and the punctuation marks are found on the bottom right of the terminal character for the verse, as a verse breaker.

Places where pauses are to be inserted have been called judou (「句讀」, lit. stop 句 and pause 讀) since the Han Dynasty:

漢・何休《春秋公羊經傳解詁・序》

援引他經失其句讀

He Xiu of Han, in his work Contemporary interpretations of the Gongyang Zhuan, notes in the preface that

When quoting another text, do not include its punctuation.


「句讀」 gave rise to the modern 「。」 and 「、」:

  • 「。」 is the stop mark (句號)
  • 「、」 is the pause mark (讀號).

    • Chinese uses 「、」 for other purposes now, having replaced the symbol with 「,」. The original use of 「、」 is preserved in Japanese.
    • Along with the shape change of 「、」 into 「,」, the name 「讀號」 is now written with the homophonous 「逗號」.
| improve this answer | |
2

I seriously doubt that the claims in the Wikipedia article are true: They don't cite scholarly papers but some strange Baidu site whose reliability I cannot assess at all. It seems very unlikely that such kind of anachronism really happened, one matching punctuation sign would be a big surprise already, but two of them with the same semantics sound like a hoax to me.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.