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This article is about a type of dictionary in ancient China. For the type of Western reference work used in poetry, see rhyming dictionary.

A rime dictionary, rhyme dictionary, or rime book (translated from Chinese 韻書/韵书 pinyin: yùnshū) is an ancient type of Chinese dictionary used for writing poetry or other genre requiring rhymes. It collates characters by rime and tone, instead of radical. However, a Chinese dictionary collated by rime and tone is not necessarily a rime dictionary (read more about this at Chinese dictionary). Moreover, a rime dictionary should not be confused with a rime table, which charts syllables according to onset and rime grade as well as rime and tone. In this context, the spelling "rime" is often used instead of the more common "rhyme" in order to distinguish between "rime" in the sense of the rhyming portion of a syllable as opposed to the concept of poetic rhyme.

A page from Shiyun Hebi (詩韻合璧), a rime dictionary of the Qing Dynasty

Historical records suggest that the earliest rime dictionary is one called Shenglei (聲類 lit. "sound types") by Li Deng (李登) of the Three Kingdoms period. However, the book did not survive. The first extant rime dictionary is Qieyun from the Sui Dynasty. The later Guangyun and Jiyun are based on Qieyun. These rime dictionaries reflect the phonology of Middle Chinese.

In a rime dictionary, characters are first divided into four groups according to their tone names. Traditionally the group of the "level tone" (平聲) occupies two juan (卷 "fascicles", "scroll" or "volume") as it contains more characters. Within each of the four tonal groups, characters are further divided into different sub-groups according to their rimes. These sub-groups are called yun (韻) or yunmu (韻目 lit. "rime eye") or less frequently yunbu (韻部 lit. "rime category"). Characters within each yun have the same tone and similar rime. In the case of Guangyun, the slight difference is due to the presence or absence of the glide. For example, characters within the 東 yun all have the "level tone", and either the rime [uŋ] or the rime [juŋ]. [1]

A rime dictionary primarily serves the composition of poems (the Imperial Examination in the Tang Dynasty required the examinees to compose poems). Versifiers rhyme a poem according to the standard rime book (characters within the same yun rhyme with each other), not the sounds of their own dialect or even those of the "mandarin" spoken in their time. For many generations of Chinese versifiers, the standard work to consult is the so-called Pingshuiyun (平水韻) first compiled during the Jin Dynasty, a simplified version of Guangyun which reduced the 206 yun into 106, reflecting the contemporary pronunciations.

Unlike a rhyming dictionary in the West, a Chinese rime dictionary also provides meanings and other lexical information - anything that helps to make a poem. The pronunciation in a rime dictionary is marked by fanqie.

See also


  1. ^ To use Wang Li's reconstructions in his Hanyu Shigao (漢語史稿 "A sketch of the history of the Chinese language"), first published in 1957, many reprints.

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