Long time no see
>> When it comes to Classical Chinese, I haven’t yet met anyone who grew up speaking 文言文, have you? <<
No. Newton did not grow up speaking Latin either but Newton wrote his principia mathematica in Latin. How so? Because Latin was the language of the learnt in his time. He and his peers were educated in Latin. Similarly, no one in my generation or some generations before me grew up speaking classical Chinese. Historically for Chinese if they were educated at all they were educated in classical Chinese, i.e., they read and wrote in classical Chinese in their schooling and beyond. The difference is that in Newton’s time there already was in existence Latin grammar books and even grammar book for English. But that is not the case for Chinese. For educated Chinese, even if they had to write their conversation down they did not know how to write it in colloquial language or dialect. You can check out Chen Wei-Ming’s work to see this. In the section where he gave descriptions of the Form, the language used is the least classical compared to other parts of the books and yet still far from being spoken Chinese. CMC, roughly one generation down from Chen, did his books the same way even though some of his work was done in relatively modern times. Check out the Q&A sections penned by both, you can bet your house that students did not ask questions saying those written words and CMC & Chen did not give answers in the way that was written either.
>> The famous authority on international law, Ma Jianzhong 馬建忠, wrote probably the first Chinese textbook on Chinese grammar, 馬氏文通. It probably never made the best-seller list. <<
That name did not register in my memory until you mentioned it. So I checked it out – it’s got 10 volumes and the first volume alone has more than 300 pages. It figures. It was published in the late 19th century. If Chinese have had no need of compiling one such book through the centuries before and hundred years after its publication it deserves to be left in the dust bin of history undisturbed.
>> So people in modern times, no matter what their native language, need to study and learn something about the particular conventions of that language from teachers, books (say, like Edwin Pulleyblank’s Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar)…. <<
The first book Abraham Lincoln owned was a grammar book which he had studied diligently, upon the recommendation of a local teacher, to improve his (English) language skills. Apparently this approach works for English language as evidenced by many grammar text books published for use in classes in which English grammar is the subject of study in this country.
But things grammar never had a place in Chinese education and no grammar books have been produced until Ma’s work in spite of the fact that Chinese had compiled substantial dictionaries through history. If Chinese were smart enough to have discovered Pascal’s triangle, a rule of definitive substance in mathematics, centuries before Europeans, there’s got to be some reason for their inability or lack of interest over the centuries to find rules in their language. If a Chinese would ask his teacher how to improve his language skill the answer is apt to be “go read, study and memorize some good Chinese classical literature.” Grammar books? What grammar book?!
>> Of course even those who have done so often disagree on meaning and interpretation of old texts. <<
This perfectly illustrates the two points I have made: 1) You need to know the language, otherwise the so called interpretation is no more than “educated” guess at best; 2) in many cases you need to know what the author was trying to say otherwise you are only guessing what he meant even if you know the language. Without these two conditions being met all can make up their own interpretations, albeit without certainty, therefore, no one can effectively argue that others’ are wrong.
Under right circumstances it is not difficult for a smart person to leverage this “no one can say that I am wrong” and “that’s only your interpretation, I have mine” into some sort of scholarship.
>> …and because I trust both Rickett and Sawyer as translators, I'm inclined to go with "the mind/heart values stillness." <<
Technically there is nothing wrong translating/interpreting 心貴静 as "the mind/heart values stillness" because there is no rule to say that this is not right. One can perfectly argue that the mind/heart can be considered the subjective of the verse since it comes first and what comes next is reasonably a verb and so on like the way it was rendered. For those who are competent in Classical Chinese 心貴静 is equivalent to 心静為貴 or 心以静為貴. These three versions mean exactly the same thing, grammatical rules notwithstanding. They are interchangeable and the choice is dictated by the structure of the composition. So, if there is any problem it is that the translators don’t know classical Chinese and that is why they did not get it right.
Apparently things have not changed much in the decades since western sinologists, the ilk of Fairbank, somehow had the ingenuity to believe that they did not need to know the language to study ancient Chinese literature, all that was needed was dictionaries and grammar books.
From another thread,
>> “黏依能跟得靈” ….. “If sticking and yielding can follow each other nimbly” <<
Similarly, there is nothing technically wrong with this translation/interpretation. Language wise, most of the words here can be rendered more than one way. The word that Louise thought odd “跟” is a common word and bears no special meaning here but how it should be rendered depends on what comes before it, the two words “黏” and “依”. And what “黏” and “依” mean depends on what idea the author wanted to convey. So, the “sticking” point here is what exactly the author meant to say. Since the subject of discussion is clearly Taichi there is one more layer of twist here. Do you want to know what exactly the author meant to say, i.e. the original intent, or what the verse signifies in the understanding of Taichi. The two are not necessary the same. Since as much a Taichi master as Wu was, he did not know clearly how Taichi worked. In all his writing he was neither delineating how Taichi worked nor was he expounding on Taichi theory. Instead, he was relating his own experience. But no one can pass on his experience. What one can transmit is his interpretation of his experience and his interpretation depends on what he knows how things work. His understanding of how things work and how things should be, in addition to his way of using the language, is the frame of reference that qualifies the expression he used for whatever idea he wanted to convey. If you don’t share the same frame of reference as the author then you cannot be sure if you understand correctly what he meant to say. On the other hand, if you approach this writing like passages in a science text book, you would have to know how Taichi works in the first place since most Taichi terminology is not adequately defined unlike the terminology and symbols used in science. So a person’s interpretation of the Taichi classics very much reflects his own understanding rather than the author’s intent or what is dictated by Taichi principle. Here lies the danger of rendering interpretation before one has actually acquired understanding.
By the way, “方” in this case does not mean “then”, it is more like a conjunctive that imparts a strict causal relationship or a restrictive condition between two parts of the sentence. So it should be something like “only so” or “only then”. I believe Audi got it right. Its colloquial equivalent is “才”. “方見…” means exactly the same as “才見…”.