Prosody

Zong-Qi Cai  [tooltip content= “How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, Columbia University Press, 2007”] [source][/tooltip]

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“Zhongnan Mountain”

Listening to the sound recording of selected poems, we shall take note of a few prominent features of Chinese prosody. First of all, Chinese rhyme is simpler than English rhyme. Whereas English rhyme requires a matching of vowels and succeeding consonants of accented syllables (for example, “pan” and “can”), Chinese rhyme often involves the matching of vowels only. There are far fewer ending consonants in Chinese than in English: n and ng in Chinese of all periods and unaspirated p, t, and k for entering tones in ancient and medieval Chinese. Rhyme in Chinese does not necessarily require the matching of identical vowels; sometimes vowels of similar phonetic value suffice.

End rhyme is the most important rhyme in Chinese poetry, as in English poetry. The rhyming scheme varies considerably from genre to genre. Shi, sao, and fu poems usually rhyme on even-number lines, and often the same rhyme is employed for most, if not all, of a poem (probably owing to an abundance of homonyms). In tonally regulated shi poetry, rhyme does not change and is required to be in level tone. In the ci and qu genres, however, rhyme sometimes changes two or more times in a poem

and occurs with less predictable frequency—sometimes in almost every line

other times at extended intervals. Moreover, rhyme can be in level

or oblique tone

or in both.

All these rhyming features represent a radical break from the entrenched rhyming habit and may be attributed to the influence of new music from Central Asia.

Chinese tonal meter operates through an ordered alternation of two broad tonal categories—level and oblique tones—within lines of a prescribed number of syllables or characters, and it is therefore regarded by some as “tonal-syllabic.” Level tones include the first two tones of modern Chinese; the oblique tones consist of the third and fourth tones of modern Chinese plus the entering tone of medieval Chinese…
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