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Qing Dynasty textbook shows how people learned English

By Bi Nan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2016-11-03 14:14
Qing Dynasty textbook shows how people learned English

A page shows how the content was presented in an English textbook from the Qing Dynasty. [Photo/Chengdu Economic Daily]

A Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) English textbook shows how people in the 19th century learned English pronunciation. Daily oral English phrases, such as "Tomorrow I will give you an answer" and "Less one half of your price" are seen in the antique book.

The book is printed with a note in Chinese characters meaning "Emperor Xianfeng's 10th year of reign (1860)" and belongs to a Chengdu resident.

"Unreadable code" composed of Chinese characters can be seen under each English sentence, which is thought to have been used to help the reader remember English pronunciation. The corresponding Chinese meanings of each Chinese sentence can be seen above it, and are in the original complex form that is assumed to be written language in Qing Dynasty.

The Chinese annotations under English sentences seem funny and when read aloud, the nonstandard pronunciation may still confuse foreigners.

The book's content is divided into five categories covering geography, the monarch and his subjects, teachers and friends, palaces and bureaus, as well as five metals. Each page has 12 boxes, and each box offers one English sentence.

The book, with 40-50 pages, which turn over from left to right, was bought by a Mr Yao at an old book market about seven years ago.

Experts from the Western Sichuan Literature Repair Centers examined the book's printing and typeface and said that the book is likely from the late Qing Dynasty, but weren't sure of the specific year. History experts say that the phenomenon of learning English pronunciation via Chinese annotations was quite common during that time.

Lei Hanqing, a linguistics professor at Sichuan University, said that this way of learning English usually didn't appear in formal textbooks and mostly were for beginners.

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