Warring States Papers
Word Division in Romanized Chinese

This page makes suggestions for handling polysyllabic words and phrases in romanized Chinese, a matter on which scholarly practice is currently still evolving.

Our recommendations have in view maximum intelligibility for scholarly writing about the classic period. Practice for modern Chinese may respond to different linguistic facts and different desiderata. We here attempt to provide a working set of guidelines for the classical context, which take some note of pressure from the contemporary context.

Some General Principles

Monosyllabicity is indeed a myth in modern Chinese, but it is not entirely a delusion for the ancient language, where the elements of compounds often exist as separate words. Actual disyllables (such as hudye "butterfly" are few (and most are the names of animals, quite possibly adopted from a substrate language). To write the elements of compounds as separate items does not reflect the local relationship, and tends to convey a feeling of caricature To The Wes Tern Rea Der. The hyphenated compound, noting the grammatical linkage but leaving the components recognizable, will sometimes be the best compromise in the kind of writing with which we are here concerned.

Coordinate Compounds may usefully be separated by a slash (yin/yang, "Yin and Yang" or Chun/Chyou "Springs and Autumns"), to distinguish them from the more usual subordinating compounds (wu-sying, "The Five Planets").

Personal Names. Close up disyllabic surnames, but hyphenate elements of personal names: Gungsun Chou, Szma Tan, Lw Bu-wei. Respect the preference of Cantonese speakers for separating syllables in personal names, eg HK concordance editor Ho Che Wah, and accept other known author preferences. Further exceptions are permissible for forms of names which have become independently familiar within English usage (Peking, Lin Yutang).

Book Titles. The modern tendency is to run these together because of their familiarity. Logic and prosodic analysis tend to support greater separation of elements, hence Han Shu, and on that model Hou Han Shu. Subordinating hyphens may cancel a capital, eg Jan-gwo Tsv. For titles of modern books or articles, a greater degree of closing-up is appropriate, thus Gu Shr Byen (a "classical style" title given to a recent book) but Junggwo Wvnsywe Shr (a markedly "modern style" title given to an equally recent book). Note that these recommended forms, though at variance with French-derived bibliographic preferences, are largely followed by real-world American publishers, who for the most part capitalize all major words in book titles.

Suffixed Official Titles or quasi-titles may be attached by hyphens to a single-syllable posthumous epithet (Mu-gung, Wvn-wang), but are better closed up after a surname or quasi-surname (Mwodz, Dzvngdz). It does not avail, in the case of Kungdz, that the -dz element occurs elsewhere in free form (Dz ywe "the Master said," wu dz "our Master"). With tonemarks, and Chinese should always be written with tonemarks, the syllabic stress on suffixed -dz [with tone] "Master [So-and-so]" is visually distinct from the modern noun-forming suffix -dz [no tonemark]. The information burden is thus not carried only by word spacing/closure; part of it is carried by tone. This simplifies rule statements, and also makes them more realistic.

When the previous element is already compound, complete separation will normally be easier to decipher by eye, thus: Mvng-chang Jywn, Hvshang Gung. Similarly Wu-di "Emperor Wu" but Syau-wu Di.

Modern Terms in bibliographic references may follow the modern tendency toward longer unhyphenated stretches (fachyw "excavated," jvngjr "government," jrdu "system," jyeshau "introduction," Junghwa "[name of a publisher]." Modern provinces (Hvbei, Shandung) and cities (Nanjing, Yangjou) may be written together. For smaller units, hyphenate if the head is a monosyllable (Ding-syen) but not otherwise (Jungmou Syen). The wide familiarity of a term within the field will tend to justify unhyphenated forms (Gwodyen, Mawangdwei). What is "familiar" is likely to change with time, and this rule must be applied with appropriate flexibility.

Judgement Calls. Our final rule must always be that the application of any rule is to be suspended where it produces a form which is somehow odd or unintelligible. Exceptions to rules, as they occur in practice, will be added to this list for future guidance.

Examples of Word Division (or Nondivision)

 Calligraphic Separator

We will appreciate references to lists or examples of good practice in this difficult area.

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21 Mar 2014 / Contact The Project / Exit to Project Home Page