(Poetry) Invention in the Past: The Song Dynasty English Rime Tables

How the invention of the rime table in Song Dynasty China helped to bridge the gap between two modern languages.

What would English have looked like 1000 years ago in China? What were the Chinese “rime tables” and how did they organize language to reveal and support the larger Imperial Knowledge Systems? Why was learning how to “rhyme” language so important to the ruling elite 1000 years ago in China? How did the linguistic technology of that time come to solve both the problems of their time and our own in different ways?

This is the octagon navigational graphic for the Poetry room.


Song Room
The Song room features aspects of intellectual life during the Song Dynasty and how the theory of harmony influenced language.

Pinying Fragments
Curator Dr. Jonathan Stalling's imaginative depiction of Pinying found in Song Dynasty style and aged artifact.

English Mirror Rimes
If learning English and translation had been undertaken by intellectuals during the Song Dynasty, and they utilized Pinying, they would have created tables such as these to aide others in language study.

Woodblock Printing Box
Using traditional movable woodblock printing, scholars could have quickly and efficiently created English Rime Table books.

Movable Woodblock Print Table
Pinying printing could have been easily and efficiently maintained with the traditional movable woodblock type tables like this one.

Printing Block for Hands
Images such as these hands help map language onto the pentatonic (5-tone) scale. Which each finger of the hand correlating with a bit of the language.

Often referred to as "the instrument of the sages" this quiet and subtle instrument is deeply connected to Chinese literati culture, poetry, and cosmology.

Rime Table Panel
During the Song Dynasty, poets used rime tables to balance the sounds and rhythms of poetry. Not to be confused with a rhyme, rimes refer to the vowel sounds used in words but distinguish between tones and lengths of sounds.

Chinese Cosmology Hand Panel
Images of hands such as these were used to relate categories within the Classical Chinese Imperial Knowledge System such as the yin and yang and Five Element theory. The first text to use hands as a mnemonic device for learning phonetics was a sixth century Tang Dynasty Rime Table.