Let’s study Möllendorff! 01

By “Möllendorff”, I mean A Manchu Grammar with Analysed Texts, by P.G. von Möllendorff, Shanghai, 1892.  It is the first English language Manchu grammar textbook.  Since then, there has only been one other one published (actually not a textbook, but a reference grammar), in 2002 by Liliya Gorelova, but it’s very expensive, and according to the one review of it on Amazon, contains many typos and other errors.  It’s too expensive for me to buy it myself to make my own judgement.  Möllendorff is reasonably well written, even considering that it’s more than 100 years old.  And it’s free!

Gertraude Roth Li’s (GRL) book, Manchu: a textbook for reading documents (MTRD), is excellent, but it does not purport to be a grammar textbook.  It is designed primarily to help historians to be able to read Manchu documents, so although it is permeated with wonderful grammatical notes, it (deliberately) doesn’t explore syntax in a very complete way.

So exploring the texts in Möllendorff may be a good foothold and introduction to Manchu grammar.  In this series of posts, I will go through the texts in Möllendorff and explain the grammar in light of all the resources I have at my disposal, and provide a fresh translation.  I warmly welcome comments and corrections from readers.

The “analyzed texts” in Möllendorff are based on the first ten lessons in The Hundred Lessons in Sir Thomas Wade’s 自迩集 (zì’ěrjí).  Apparently, it was originally written in Chinese for Wade’s book (but most likely not by Wade), and Möllendorff had it translated into Manchu for his book (he doesn’t say explicitly that he didn’t translate it himself, but I’d be very surprised if he did).  Or perhaps it was originally written in both Chinese and Manchu for the purpose of learning either language.  Möllendorff used Wade’s English translation of the Chinese, which I think doesn’t always suit the Manchu rendering; also Wade’s English is very dated.  The reading is divided into ten sections.  We’ll look at one section at a time, paying special attention to the grammar.  Manchu is a head-final language, so the subject comes first, and then the object (often marked with be) and the verb comes last.  It is also heavily inflected.

There is a context to the readings.  A younger guy (hereafter YG) stops at an older guy’s (OG) house and mentions that he’s studying Manchu.  This develops into an ongoing discussion over several meetings.

OG: donjici si te manju bithe tacimbi sembi.

(donjici … sembi appears to be structured this way:)

donjici [(I)  hear]
si [you]
te [now]
manju bithe [Manchu language]
tacimbi [learn]

I hear you’re studying Manchu now.

In MTRD, GRL says (p43):  “Quotes are usually introduced by coordinative converbs derived from a verb of speaking and they end with a finite form of another verb of speaking.”  Later (p91) she mentions a structure: “Direct and indirect speech with -ci + (sehe, donjiha, etc.).”  In the examples she cites, one could look at these as quotations, but to me they seem to fall under the bigger umbrella of subordinate clauses.  In English, subordinate clauses are like this: “He said (that) he would go.”  The main clause is “he said X”, and the subordinate clause is X.  These kinds of subordinate clauses, called content clauses, are usually a complement of a cognitive verb, like think or say.  donjimbi (hear) is one of these verbs.  (I can’t help thinking that it’s kind of mean to start the student out on such a complex structure.)

umesi sain. [very good]

Very good!

manju gisun serengge. musei manjusai ujui uju oyonggo baita.

manju gisun [Manchu language]
serengge. [as for (emphasis)]
musei [our]
manjusai [Manchu peoples’]
ujui uju oyonggo baita.  [most important thing]

The Manchu language is the most important thing for Manchu people.

No verb here, but still a recognizable subject + predicate.  -i is the genitive ending.

uthai nikasai meni meni gisun i adali.

uthai [therefore]
nikasai [Chinese people’s]
meni meni ba i [of everywhere]
gisun i [to the language]
adali. [similar]

So it is similar to the language of Chinese people everywhere.

The point here seems to be that the Manchu language being important to Manchu people is similar to the way that the Chinese language is important to Chinese people.

bahanarakvci ombio.

bahanarakvci [if (you) can’t do it]
ombio. [Is that OK?]

Would not being able to speak it be OK?

-o is an interrogative ending.

YG: inu waka oci ai.

inu [indeed]
waka [not]
oci [if be]
ai. [what?]

Indeed, if not, what then?

bi juwan aniya funceme nikan bithe taciha.

bi [I]
juwan aniya [ten years]
funceme [in excess of]
nikan bithe [Chinese language]
taciha. [have studied]

I’ve studied Chinese for over ten years.

tetele umai dube da tucirakv.

tetele [te = now, tele = up to; up to now]
umai [not at all]
dube da [dube = the extreme end, da = beginning; at the very beginning]
tucirakv. [does not appear]

It still seems like I’m at the very beginning.

This sentence incorporates a double negative.  Möllendorff, p12, says that “a double negation often occurs”.  The two negatives cancel each other out.

jai aikabade manju bithe hvlarakv. ubaliyambure be tacirakv oci. juwe de gemu sartabure de isinambi.

jai [furthermore]
aikabade [if]
manju bithe [Manchu language]
hvlarakv. [(I) don’t study]
ubaliyambure [translating]
be [accusative particle]
tacirakv [(I) don’t learn]
oci. [cond. of be]
juwe de [in the two]
gemu [both]
sartabure de [to procrastinating]
isinambi. [arrive at]

And if I don’t study Manchu and learn how to translate, I’ll just be putting both of them off.

I’m not completely sure about the aikabade … oci structure.  In fact I just made it up.  But it seems logical.  [Update: I have now somehow procured Gorelova’s book (which is extremely useful, despite it’s horrible typography), and on p355, it describes this structure.  A conditional conjunction and a verb with a conditional inflection together act as delimiters around the conditional clause.  In this example, aikabade is the conjunction, and oci is the verb with conditional inflection.  These two words surround the two parallel clauses manju bithe hvlarakv. ubaliyambure be tacirakv.]

uttu ofi. emude oci. age be tuwanjiha.

uttu ofi. [having been this way]
emude [in the first place]
oci. [as for]
age [older brother]
be [accusative particle]
tuwanjiha. [came and visited]

Being like this, first of all, I came to visit you.

jai de oci. geli sakda ahvn de baire babi.

jai de [in the second place]
oci. [as for]
geli [also]
sakda ahvn de [to older brother]
baire [requesting]
babi. [ba = occasion, bi = there is]

Second of all, I have a chance to ask you for something.

damu baibi angga juwara de mangga.

damu [but]
baibi [simply]
angga [mouth]
juwara de [in opening]
mangga. [difficult]

But it’s difficult just to open my mouth.

OG:  ede aibi.

ede aibi. [So what?]

So what?

gisun bici. uthai gisure.

gisun [words]
bici. [if there are]
uthai [then]
gisure [speak]

If you have something to say, then say it!

mini mutere baita oci. sinde bi geli marimbio.

mini [my]
mutere [being able]
baita [a matter]
oci. [if is]
sinde [to you]
bi [I]
geli [also]
marimbio. [turn away?]

If my ability is anything, would I turn away from you?

YG: mini bairengge. age gosici. xadambi seme ainara.

mini bairengge. [my request:]
age [older brother]
gosici. [if care]
xadambi [get tired]
seme [no matter whether]
ainara. [will do what]

My request is this:  if you care about me, that you will do what’s necessary, even if it’s troublesome.

xolo xolo de. udu meyen manju gisun banjibufi. minde hvlabureo.

xolo xolo de. [in spare time]
udu [a few]
meyen [paragraph]
manju gisun [Manchu language]
banjibufi. [having produced]
minde [for me]
hvlabureo. [please cause to study]

Please write some Manchu paragraphs in your spare time for me to study.

deo bi bahafi hvwaxaci. gemu age i kesi kai. ainaha seme baili be onggorakv. urunakv ujeleme karulaki.

deo bi [Little brother I]
bahafi [having gotten]
hvwaxaci. [if develop]
gemu [all]
age i [older brother’s]
kesi [kindness]
kai. [particle of emphasis]

If I progress, it will be all because of your kindness.

deo bi is an interesting construction.  In Chinese you can’t say 弟弟我, but rather either 弟弟 or 我.  Nor in English can you modify pronouns, but you could say “I, your little brother”.

ainaha seme baili be onggorakv.

ainaha seme [surely]
baili be [kindness]
onggorakv. [won’t forget]

I certainly won’t forget your kindness.

urunakv ujeleme karulaki.

urunakv [must]
ujeleme [generously]
karulaki. [may I repay]

I must repay you generously.

GRL told me that the coordinative converb ending -me could often be thought of as working like the English -ly ending.

OG: ainu uttu gisurembi.

ainu [why]
uttu [this way]
gisurembi. [say]

Why do you say it like that?

si aika gurun gvwao damu sini tacirakv be hedumbi dere

si [you]
aika [if]
gurun gvwao. [a foreigner?]

Are you a foreigner?

Manchu has sarcasm!

damu [but]
sini [your]
tacirakv be [not learning]
hendumbi [to say]
dere. [(sentence particle expressing doubt)]

But to say you wouldn’t learn!

There is no punctuation mark in the Möllendorff.  I’m not sure if that’s an oversight or not.  In the Chinese, in Wade’s 自迩集 (zì’ěrjí), there is a comma after that clause.  If the Manchu shouldn’t have a punctuation mark there, then it would mean that sentence-final particles are acceptable in other than sentence-final places.  But that’s probably not the case.

taciki seci tetendere. bi nekulefi simbe niyalma okini sembikai.

taciki [(you) would learn]
seci [if you say]
tetendere. [since]
bi [I]
nekulefi [having taken advantage of this]
simbe [you (accusative)]
niyalma [a person (implying a successful person)]
okini [would that you become]
sembikai. [(with emphatic particle)]

Since you say you would learn, knowing this, I will will help make you become successful.

karulaki serengge ai gisun.

karulaki [would repay]
serengge [as for (emphasis)]
ai [what]
gisun. [language]

Repay?  What a thing to say!

musei dolo gisureci ombio.

musei dolo [between us]
gisureci [if talk]
ombio. [is that OK?]

Should we talk like that to each other?

YG: tuttu oci. bi hukxehe seme wajirakv.

tuttu [like this]
oci. [if it is]
bi [I]
hukxehe seme [appreciating]
wajirakv. [will not end]

If it’s like this, I’m eternally grateful.

damu hengkixeme baniha bure dabala geli aisere.

damu [but]
hengkixeme [kowtowingly]
baniha [thanks]
bure [will give]
dabala [merely]

But I will only give my great thanks.

geli aisere.

geli [else]
aisere. [will say what?]

What else can I say?

12 thoughts on “Let’s study Möllendorff! 01”

  1. RA, this post is pure Richard Francis Burton. The must of the old tome is wafting over here into the northwest Beijing suburbs, even if you *are* reading it online.

    One question that pops to mind: would it be possible to consider serengge a topical marker? From my extremely limited recollection of what little Korean I ever knew, it looks a lot like the topical marker 는, which you can read about a bit here. If so, it might be helpful to look at Korean grammar to see what other kinds of behavior it might imply.

    [Aside: here’s a nice place to type a bit of Korean if you don’t want to install the IME]

  2. @syz: Yes! A topic marker. Also like Japanese は (wa). But it’s more than that, because -ngge is a suffix that makes a verbal noun. We also see this ending in “mini bairengge” (my request), and we’ll see it even more in the second lesson, with different verbs.

  3. Hi
    Do you know this book:
    It is a selection of Manchu texts with translations, but unfortunately not a word about grammar, except a short introduction which actually says nothing I wouldn’t have already known.
    Speaking about books: I have two books on Manchu in Polish (I was really astonished when I found a Manchu grammar in my mother tongue!), both written by dr Jerzy Tulisow: “Krótki kurs języka mandżurskiego” (A short course in the Manchu language) and “Język mandżurski” (The Manchu Language). The first one is a textbook divided into 21 lessons, each with exercises, then there are short 5 texts and a wordlist. The latter one is a detailed description of every aspect of the language: writing system, phonology, morphology, syntax etc., there is also an excerpt from „Nixan saman-i bithe” with grammatical translation, kind of what you gave above. So maybe I can provide some detailed informations on the matters you are especially interested in, just tell me what exactly you would like to know. Or shall I send you the table of contents?

  4. I teach high school freshman English in a small town in north Texas. I just learned yesterday that I’ll be getting a student in August whose native language is Manchu. I would like to get hold of some stories or books in Manchu (better yet, bilingual editions) for him to use during our independent reading time. Do you have contact information for the bookstore you wrote about in March, or any way to share a copy of some of your children’s stories? I’m at roynda_storey@allenisd.org.

  5. @Roynda: I will email you and we’ll work something out. I would be happy to help.

    But, if his native language is really Manchu, that would be pretty extraordinary because the only people that I’ve been able to track down who are real native speakers are all over 80 years old. (See my posts on Sanjiazi, especially the earlier ones.)

    There is another Manchu-speaking ethnic minority called Sibe (or Xibe, Sibo, Xibo). They were originally from Manchuria and were stationed in Xinjiang province and developed a colony there. They have about 20,000 or so speakers supposedly, but I don’t think that they have any speakers who only speak Manchu as they are all taught in Chinese in school.

    Anyway, you’ll have to find out more about him and let us know!

  6. @p: No, I didn’t know that book. But now I see it in Möllendorff’s bibliography. It looks very interesting. I’ll have to spend some time with it. Thank you.

    As far as detailed information about the other books, sure, as long as it’s in English. (I can’t read a word of Polish.) I’m especially interested in the Nixan Saman exerpt.

    Does the romanization in those books use v and x, or macron u and hacek s?

  7. “Short course…” uses û and š and I like it better than v and x, in “Język mandżurski” author’s own romanization is used, x stands for h, č for c, ž for j, and j for y, rest is the same as at Möllendorf’s. In both Latin grammatical nomenclature is used.
    (Of course I didn’t expect you to speak Polish :-)
    I’ll send you an e-mail with the table of contents and when I have a little more time I’ll type the “Nišan saman-i bithe” excerpt and try to translate the grammar notes and the full text (which, I think, will need some corrections), and then you could post it here, on the blog.
    Mr Tulisow has also written a book in two volumes called “Legendy ludów Mandżurii” (Legends of the peoples of Manchuria), but unfortunately I can’t find it anywhere.

  8. I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned on the site before or not, but there’s a short, user-friendly introduction to Manchu available as a wikitextbook:


    It should be substantially easier to start with it and then move on to Herr Moellendorff.

    Randy, I’ll send you a note shortly at your gmail address re other materials of possible interest.

  9. ere bithe oci, ambala baniha, bucin agu!
    sini blog umesi sain aimaka, damu bi majar gisun muterakû, alban halan akû. si inggiri gisun gisureme muterakûn, eici gisureki serakûn?
    (hope i didn’t massacre the language too much:-))

  10. I totally agree with what you said about Roth Li’s “Manchu: a textbook for reading documents” (or MTRD as you call it). It is an excellent book. Though it was not meant to be an organized grammar textbook, there are numerous useful and helpful notes on grammar scattered throughout the book.

    I bought this book three years ago. It is my first Manchu textbook and also the only one that I could find back then.

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