History of the Chinese language(s) - Old Chinese / 1

Old Chinese (shànggǔ Hànyǔ 上古漢語), also called Archaic Chinese, refers to the form of Chinese spoken from the beginning of written records (around 1300 BC) until the 3rd century BC.

This first post is about Early Old Chinese, from 14th until the 6th century BC, the language spoken from the Shāng dynasty to the beginning of the Eastern Zhōu.

In written form, the language of this period is represented by the oracle bone script (jiǎgǔwén 甲骨文), which is made up of the earliest form of Chinese characters. These characters were incised on "oracle bones", which were animal bones or turtle shells used in divination. In Imperial times, any records of oracle bone script had been lost and forgotten. Whenever animal bones or turtle shells were dug up -- which could happen quite often in North China -- the results were taken to be dragon bones. These fetched great prices by alchemists and collectors of antiquities. The game master is free to decide whether dragon bones do provide some special bonus in divination, or if they are simple relics from the ancient past.

Oracle bone script is followed by bronze inscriptions (jīnwén 金文). These were used on sacrificial vases, and on bronze artefacts such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons. Again, the game master is free to decide whether adding such script on items destined for enchantments can improve the enchantment or not. Jīnwén being a very ancient script, the person who inscribes the text must roll under a very difficult skill score, eg 1/20th of one's Literacy score, for the bonus to be effective.
Many Zhōu dynasty weapons have been found with such inscriptions on them. Again, the game master is free to decide what magic these weapons may contain.

No comments:

Post a Comment