English Rime Tables


English and Chinese are so different from one another that recreating English following the phonological rules of the Song and Yuan Dynasties in China seems impossible.



Once reduced to a vocabulary of about 3,000 monosyllabic words, English becomes similar to Classical Chinese in many ways, and can be organized by the knowledge systems of that time and place.




“Rimes” are the core sound categories of Chinese. They include a word’s vowel and also its tone. Classical Chinese tones are broken into two categories: yang or level tones (ping) and the yin or deflected tones (ze). Poets use poetry to bring these into a harmonious balance. If English is not tonal, how can it be organized into rime tables?



The primary difference between yin and yang tones in Classical Chinese can be described as a difference in the vowel length depending on whether words end in no consonant or voiced consonants like n or ng, which lengthen a vowel, or whether they end in p, t, or k, which shorten the vowel. English is the same as Chinese. If a monosyllabic English word ends in b, d, g, j, or z, its vowels will be longer than those of words ending in p, t, k, ch, or s. The English rime tables reorganize the entire language system around this distinction between long and short vowels and thus follow the same organization and philosophy as the original Chinese rime tables.


The Imperial Knowledge System sought to merge a vast array of ideas covering subjects ranging from governance to cooking, from medicine to aesthetics, from architecture to alchemy into a single set of organizing principles, which could be difficult to visualize. How did the rime tables merge linguistics into this system?



Because the Imperial Knowledge System often broke things down into sections of fives, hand maps provided a convenient mnemonic device across various disciplines. The original Chinese rime tables used hand maps to show how its consonants mapped onto both the five elements and the five notes of the pentatonic scale. Such images reinforced the natural foundation of knowledge and reinforced its legitimacy. 


Hands block.