two indispensable aids—a dictionary and a grammar. The Chinese have found no difficulty in producing the former (see Literature). Now what as to the grammar? He might reasonably expect a people so industrious in the cultivation of their language to have evolved some system of grammar which to a certain degree would help to smooth his path. And yet the contrary is the case. No set of rules governing the mutual relations of words has ever been formulated by the Chinese, apparently because the need of such rules has never been felt. The most that native writers have done is to draw a distinction between 實 字 and 虚 字 “full” and “empty words,” respectively, the former being subdivided into 活 字 “living words” or verbs, and 死 字 “dead words” or noun-substantives. By “empty words” particles are meant, though sometimes the expression is loosely applied to abstract terms, including verbs. The above meagre classification is their nearest approach to a conception of grammar in our sense. This in itself does not prove that a Chinese grammar is impossible, nor that, if constructed, it might not be helpful to the student. As a matter of fact, several attempts have been made by foreigners to deduce a grammatical system which should prove as rigid and binding as those of Western languages, though it cannot be said that any as yet has stood the test of time or criticism. Other writers have gone to the other extreme, and maintained that Chinese has no grammar at all. In this dictum, exaggerated as it sounds, there is a very substantial amount of truth. Every Chinese character is an indivisible unit, representing a sound and standing for a root-idea. Being free from inflection or agglutination of any kind, it is incapable of indicating in itself either gender, number or case, voice, mood, tense or person. Of European languages, English stands nearest to Chinese in this respect, whence it follows that the construction of a hybrid jargon like pidgin English presents fewer difficulties than would be the case, for instance, with pidgin German. For pidgin English simply consists in taking English words and treating them like Chinese characters, that is, divesting them of all troublesome inflections and reducing them to a set of root-ideas arranged in logical sequence. “You wantchee my no wantchee” is nothing more nor less than literally rendered Chinese: 你 要 我 不 要 “Do you want me or not?” But we may go further, and say that no Chinese character can be definitely regarded as being any particular part of speech or possessing any particular function absolutely, apart from the general tenor of its context. Thus, taken singly, the character 上 conveys only the general idea “above” as opposed to “below.” According to its place in the sentence and the requirements of common sense, it may be a noun meaning “upper person” (that is, a ruler); an adjective meaning “upper,” “topmost” or “best”; an adverb meaning “above”; a preposition meaning “upon”; and finally a verb meaning “to mount upon,” or “to go to.” 入 is a character that may usually be translated “to enter” as in 入 門 “to enter a door”; yet in the locution 入 木 “enter wood,” the verb becomes causative, and the meaning is “to put into a coffin.” It would puzzle grammarians to determine the precise grammatical function of any of the words in the following sentence, with the exception of 何 (an interrogative, by the way, which here happens to mean “why” but in other contexts is equivalent to “how,” “which” or “what”): 事 何 必 古 “Affair why must ancient,” or in more idiomatic English, “Why necessarily stick to the ways of the ancients in such matters?” Or take a proverbial saying like 少 所 見 多 所 怪, which may be correctly rendered “The less a man has seen, the more he has to wonder at.” It is one thing, however, to translate it correctly, and another to explain how this translation can be inferred from the individual words, of which the bald equivalents might be given as: “Few what see, many what Strange.” To say that “strange” is the literal equivalent of 怪 does not mean that 怪 can be definitely classed as an adjective. On the other hand, it would be dangerous even to assert that the word here plays the part of an active verb, because it would be equally permissible to translate the above “Many things are strange to one who has seen but little.”
Chinese grammar, then, so far as it deals with the classification of separate words, may well be given up as a bad job. But there still remains the art of syntax, the due arrangement of words to form sentences according to certain established rules. Here, at any rate, we are on somewhat firmer ground; and for many years the dictum that “the whole of Chinese grammar depends upon position” was regarded as a golden key to the written language of China. It is perfectly true that there are certain positions and collocations of words which tend to recur, but when one sits down to formulate a set of hard-and-fast rules governing these positions, it is soon found to be a thankless task, for the number of qualifications and exceptions which will have to be added is so great as to render the rule itself valueless. 馬 上 means “on a horse,” 上 馬 “to get on a horse.” But it will not do to say that a preposition becomes a verb when placed before the substantive, as many other prepositions come before and not after the words they govern. If we meet such a phrase as 警 宼, literally “warn rebels,” we must not mentally label 警 as a verb and 宼 as a substantive, and say to ourselves that in Chinese the verb is followed immediately by its object. Otherwise, we might be tempted to translate, “to warn the rebels,” whereas a little reflection would show us that the conjunction of “warning” and “rebels” naturally leads to the meaning “to warn (the populace or whoever it may be) against the rebels.” After all our adventurous incursions into the domain of syntax, we are soon brought back to the starting-point and are obliged to confess that each particular passage is best interpreted on its own merits, by the logic of the context and the application of common sense. There is no reason why Chinese sentences should not be dissected, by those who take pleasure in such operations, into subject, copula and predicate, but it should be early impressed upon the beginner that the profit likely to accrue to him therefrom is infinitesimal. As for fixed rules of grammatical construction, so far from being a help, he will find them a positive hindrance. It should rather be his aim to free his mind from such trammels, and to accustom himself to look upon each character as a root-idea, not a definite part of speech.
The Book Language.—Turning now to some of the more salient characteristics of the book language, with the object of explaining how it came to be so widely separated from common speech, we might reasonably suppose that in primitive times the two stood in much closer relation to each other than now. But it is certainly a striking fact that the earliest literary remains of any magnitude that have come down to us should exhibit a style very far removed from any possible colloquial idiom. The speeches of the Book of History (see Literature) are more manifestly fictitious, by many degrees, than the elaborate orations in Thucydides and Livy. If we cannot believe that Socrates actually spoke the words attributed to him in the dialogues of Plato, much less can we expect to find the ipsissima verba of Confucius in any of his recorded sayings. In the beginning, all characters doubtless represented spoken words, but it must very soon have dawned on the practical Chinese mind that there was no need to reproduce in writing the bisyllabic compounds of common speech. Chien “to see,” in its written form 見, could not possibly be confused with any other chien, and it was therefore unnecessary to go to the trouble of writing 看 見 k‘an-chien “look-see,” as in colloquial. There was a wonderful outburst of literary activity in the Confucian era, when it would seem that the older and more cumbrous form of Seal character was still in vogue. If the mere manual labour of writing was so great, we cannot wonder that all superfluous particles or other words that could be dispensed with were ruthlessly cut away. So it came about that all the old classical works were composed in the tersest of language, as remote as can be imagined from the speech of the people. The passion for brevity and conciseness was pushed to an extreme, and resulted more often than not in such obscurity that detailed commentaries on the classics were found to be necessary, and have always constituted an important branch of Chinese literature. After the introduction of the improved style of script, and when the mechanical means of writing had been simplified, it may be supposed that literary diction also became freer and more expansive. This did happen to some extent, but the classics were held in such veneration as to exercise the profoundest influence over all succeeding schools of writers, and the divorce between literature and pooular speech became permanent and irreconcilable. The book language