Chinese basic lexicon from a diachronic perspective: implications for lexicostatistics and glottochronology
George Starostin (Higher School of Economics / Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow)
Journal of Language Relationship, № 17/1-2, 2019 - p.153-176
Abstract: In this paper, I attempt to compare the relative rates of replacement of basic vocabulary items (from the 100-item Swadesh list) over four specific checkpoints in the history of the Chinese language: Early Old Chinese (as represented by documents such as The Book of Songs), Classic Old Chinese, Late Middle Chinese (represented by the language of The Record of Linji), and Modern Chinese. After a concise explication of the applied methodology and a detailed presentation of the data, it is shown that the average rates of replacement between each of these checkpoints do not significantly deviate from each other and are generally compatible with the classic «Swadesh constant» of 0.14 loss per millennium; furthermore, these results correlate with other similar observed situations, e.g. for the Greek language, though not with others (Icelandic). It is hoped that future similar studies on the lexical evolution of languages with attested written histories will allow to place these observations into a more significant context.
Keywords: Chinese language history, Old Chinese language, Middle Chinese language, lexicostatistics, glottochronology, basic vocabulary