Scholarship and education

Further developments in the case of the polite pronoun

He Dong and Lu Chuan have dropped out of the 您 debate, but Qian Shiming, formerly a researcher at the Beijing Arts Institute, has continued to dispute Zhou Ling's assertion that Lin Daiyu would not have been able to use the character.

Zhou claims that the modern 您 entered the vernacular in the mid-Qing, while the character itself first appears in 1902 (an author's note to Chapter 72 of Strange Things Witnessed in the Past Twenty Years says "你宁: Beijing vernacular polite pronoun. It is pronounced as the single character 宁; the sound of 你 is obscured"). Thus it should not be used in dialogue for the screen adaptation of the early Qing Dynasty novel Dream of the Red Mansions.

Qian maintains that when 您 appears in the spoken dialogue of the plays of Yuan Dynasty playwright Guan Hanqing, it can be a either a polite singular or a standard plural second-person pronoun according to context. He also brought up a few examples from Kangxi's reign (1661-1722).

They're both wrong, says Ding Qizhen, a professor of phonology at Beijing Foreign Studies University. The 您 characters that Qian (and He) 您 identify as polite pronouns are actually plural, Ding says, or else variant characters for 恁. On the other hand, Zhou's claim that the polite pronoun 您 appeared in Beijing vernacular in the "mid-Qing" is unproven: his documetation only demonstrates that it was in use in 1902.

Then Ding offers the only sensible idea in the whole debate:

If Mr. Zhou is using his position as the script writer for the 1987 TV edition of Dream of the Red Mansions to say that 您 as a singular second-person honorific pronoun appears nowhere in the book...then he is unquestionably correct. However, the show is performed for modern audiences, so there is nothing wrong with using 您 during the performance. Moreover, if historical television dramas are all to use the language of the time, then no shows can be performed. Not a single one of the linguists who specialize in the study of the ancient language of that time period can speak the actual speech of the time, much less a dabbler of a script writer or an actor with a smattering of knowledge!

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