Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Classical Chinese Philology


Former 1999/2000 Humanities - Theology

End Report

The project has brought together a majority, if not most, of the world’s leading scholars in classical Chinese philology and linguistics for intensive collaboration in Oslo.

The year at CAS was a part of a larger project titled Synonyma Serica Comparata (SSC). It is a Scandinavian-based joint project between Peking University and the University of Oslo, with active participation of specialists from several other universities.

SSC is a contribution to cognitive linguistics in a historical perspective. In several representative handbooks on cognitive science, there is almost a total absence of perspectives of cultural and linguistic history, and the absence is symptomatic. Within the cognitive schemes of cognitive linguistics, there is ample room for evolutionary biological history, but there is remarkably little room for cultural history.

In order to reconstruct with any precision the differences between cultures, we need comparable and sufficiently different cultures for contrastive study. And in order to reconstruct and analyse with any precision the depth of historical change in cognitive strategies and conceptual schemes, one needs a sufficiently varied and well documented long timespan to be compared.

The present database concentrates on the case of China and the classical Chinese language from 1300 BC to 200 AD.

At the present stage, most work has been done on the ancient periode, and this work has been done on the assumption that in order to understand a meaning of a classical Chinese word one must determine exactly how it differs from its synonyms within the same sematic field, and how exactly it contrasts or semantically interacts with related words like antonyms, standard epithets and the like. A good dictionary of classical Chinese must therefore be an analytic dictionary of synonyms and antonyms, arranged in natural cognitive groupings which we may call synonym groups.

In addition, it must take adequate note of the etymology of the words, based on historical phonology, as well as the secondary graphic etymology of Chinese characters, based on historical epigraphy.

In order to achieve these basic needs, a fairly complex relational database is needed.

Much more progress was made on the database than one could have hoped for during the year at CAS. 900 synonym groups have been defined in detail, a considerable number of texts were analysed and discussed in detail. All these results were entered into the database and are now accessible by server to a group of collaborators all over the world. The results have also been discussed in a number of papers.


  • Anderl, Christoph
    Dr. University of Oslo (UiO) 1999/2000
  • Chen, Guu-Ying Glen
    Professor National Taiwan University 1999/2000
  • Denecke, Wibeke Gisela Sabine
    Ph. D. Candidate Harvard University 1999/2000
  • Hu, Chirui
    Lecturer Beijing University 1999/2000
  • Huang, Jingui
    Professor Zhejiang University 1999/2000
  • Jiang, Shaoyu
    Professor Peking University 1999/2000
  • Keightley, David Noel
    Professor Em. University of California, Berkeley 1999/2000
  • Ling, Li
    Professor Peking University 1999/2000
  • Pang, Pu
    Professor Chinese Academy of Social Science 1999/2000
  • Petersen, Jens Østergaard
    Lecturer University of Copenhagen 1999/2000, 2001/2002
  • Plaks, Andrew Henry
    Professor Princeton University 1999/2000
  • Qiu, Gui Xi
    Professor Peking University 1999/2000
  • Sehnal, David
    Ph. D. Candidate Charles University 1999/2000
  • Shaughnessy, Edward Louis
    Professor University of Chicago 1999/2000
  • Takashima, Ken-ichi
    Professor University of British Colombia 1999/2000
  • Valussi, Elena
    Ph. D. Candidate University of London 1999/2000
  • von Falkenhausen, Lothar Alexander
    Professor University of California, Los Angeles 1999/2000

Group leader

  • Christoph Harbsmeier

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 1999/2000