Digital EDOC: About this Site

As the Home page states, the Digital Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese website contains a range of new tools designed to facilitate extensive analyses of the phonology and phonological structures of early Chinese texts.

I began to study ancient languages in earnest in the 1990s, primarily classical and pre-classical Chinese, Sumerian and a bit of Egyptian. As I started to research the ways ancient Near Eastern languages changed from logographic to phonetic, I found it somewhat curious that due to a high rate of phonological change, most post-Qin Chinese philologists had seemed to resign themselves primarily to semantic analyses and (with a few notable exceptions) even discussions of poetry, rhetoric and prosody often paid little attention to the intricate phonetic structures within the texts. After working on the history of the rhyme groups and reviewing the work of modern Chinese and Western linguists (such as Bernhard Karlgren, Li Fang-kuei 李方桂, Wang Li 王力, William Baxter and others) it struck me that reconstructions of ancient Chinese of varying time periods had become reliable enough to begin to attempt to analyze prosody and phonology on a textual level. The main barrier to this type of analysis was the dictionary spadework, which required the scholar to look up each graph in multiple sources (and in many cases these disagreed subtly with each other) and was at best an extremely arduous process. Thus, in 2003 I began to develop a database system to parse digitized Chinese texts programatically so scholars could "read" the original text supplemented by the host of phonological data linguists have dedicated their lives to developing, and by 2009 finally managed to complete a fully functional prototype.

The system on this website is an outgrowth of that process, and while it is still in its infancy, it is my hope that it can be developed into a reliable system via which any scholar can begin to analyze the sounds of an ancient Chinese text, using all the data available: ancient, classical and modern. As the Digital EDOC is modular in structure, adding resources to the interface and databases going foward should be relatively uncomplicated.

I would like to ask that users of the site provide feedback to the email addresses listed below so that I can continue to develop the website, applications and toolkits. Suggestions of other resources to be included would be useful; plans for incorporation of the Shuō wén jiě zì《說文解字》 and Jīng ​diǎn shì​ wén《經典釋文》 dictionaries are already well underway.

Finally, reports of bugs, errors and other problems are most welcome. I have tried to completely proof the databases and debug the applications, but there are always idiosyncrasies and potentially errata which have been overlooked; bringing these to my attention so I can fix the errors will help others as well.

Thank you for your help, and I do hope you will enjoy using this set of new and potentially groundbreaking tools.

Jeffrey R. Tharsen, April 2013

The University of Chicago
Dept. of East Asian Languages & Civilizations

Direct support for the development and maintenance of this site has come from a generous grant from the U.S. Department of State J. William Fulbright program, from the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department of the University of Chicago, and from the Center for the Study of Excavated Documents and Ancient Philology at Fudan University.

General Support email for questions, comments or bug reports:

Webmaster email for website and technical difficulties: