(Translation) 老乞大新釋序

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The Nogôldae (老乞大, RR: Nogeoldae), translated in English as the Old Cathayan, was a textbook of colloquial northern Chinese that was first written and published in Korea in the 14th century. Until now, the exact year of its publication and its author(s) is unknow.

It consisted in a collection of dialogues built around Korean merchant’s journey from Koryǒ to Beijing and his return to his homeland. During his travel, he would for instance introduce himself to Chinese people, say what classics he likes to read, buy and sell products and discover Beijing. Here an extract of these dialogues to which I added an English translation:


조선 영조 39년(1763)에 역관 김창조(金昌祚), 변헌(邊憲) 등이 엮은 책. 중국어 학습서로 꾸며진 ≪노걸대≫의 잘못된 곳을 바로잡아 간행하였다. 1책.

The Nogôldae went through several editions from the 14th to 18th centuries and each consisted in either adding Korean glosses or modifying the original Chinese dialogues. The present Nogǒldae Sinsǒk (老乞大新釋, MR: Nogǒldae Sinsǒk, New edition of the Old Cathayan) was published in 1761, during King Yǒngjo's (英祖, RR: Yeongjo; r. 1724-1776) 37th year of reign, and proposes a first revision of the Chinese content; colloquial Chinese was likely to have evolved during the three centuries following the first publication of the Nogǒldae. The following extract shows some of the changes operated by one of the authors, Pyôn Hôn (邊憲; RR: Byeon Heon; 1707~?), in comparison with the extract of the original text above:


The preface was written by Hong Kyehui (洪啓禧, RR: Hong Gyehui; 1703-1771), an official who accompanied Pyôn Hôn in a delegation to Beijing in ______.

目次 PREFACE upcoming

A corresponding text with gloses, the Nogǒldae Sinsǒk Ǒnhae (老乞大新釋諺解, RR: Nogeoldae Sinseok Eonhae), was published in 1763 but appears to be no longer extant.

Original Script

Text Translation

五方之民,言語不通,先王設四官以通其不通:東曰寄,西曰鞮,南曰象,北曰譯。類皆察其風氣之高下,齒舌之缓急,適乎時而便於俗而已。天下之生久矣,言語之随方燮易、與時同,固如水之益下,况中州之與外國,其齟齬不合,差毫釐而謬千里者,尤不腾其月異而歲不同矣。然我國之於中州,地之相去不過二千餘里,視閩、浙、雲,貴之人能喋喋通话於幽燕,大同而小異,我國則雖老譯,舉皆舌本閒強,話頭拙澀,鄒孟氏荘嶽眾楚之訓,真善諭也。我古置質正官,每歲以辨質華語為任,故東人之於華語,較之他外國最稱嫻習 。百年之閒(間),兹事發而譯學遂壞焉。



The people from the five regions[1] differ in words and languages. The former kings established four [kinds of] officials by which what was differing was connected; in the east they were called ‘ji’, in the west they were called ‘xie’, in the south they were called ‘xiang’, in the north they were called ‘yi’[2]. They were examining the superiority and inferiority of the common practices/the levels of the breathing, the tensions of the teeth and the tongue, [they] were doing nothing more than following the times and adapting to the customs. The world was born a long time ago[3]; the words and languages found places and are object to variation, from time to time/with the times they are equivalent. Originally, like under the benefits/the flowing (down) of water[4], it went/spread out from the Central provinces[5] to the foreign countries; the irregularities of the [speakers’] teeth are not matching, and what differs from even a hair can yet lead you a thousand li astray [6], they greatly/the faults are unequal to them/it; the moon is not the same and the years are different[7]. If one goes from our country to the Central provinces, the mutual distance between these lands does not go beyond than 2000 li. We observe that the people of Min, Zhe, Yun and Gui[8] can chatter a lot and communicate in the Youyan[9]; [their speeches] have great similarities and small differences. Only our country needs experienced interpreters; They all raise the back of the tongue [letting it] idle or [moving it] with force, the thread of their speech is clumsy and obscure. The instruction of Mencius ?????? is a truly good teaching. We, in the past/used to, established the substance/nature and straightened the organs by which, every year, we would have the assignment of differentiating the substance/nature of the Chinese language (or it is talking about making people participate to examinations?). Therefore, the Chinese language of the people of the East[10] is the most praised and refined compared to the one of others foreign countries. Within a hundred years, this happened but the discipline of translating is eventually becoming bad.

We do not know when the Nogôldae was created nor the one who recorded it; it was also [written a] very careless [way]. Moreover, it has been a while [since then] and there has been changes [in the language]! Therefore, no wonder why it is not used. As for those who do interpretation in Beijing, they proceed only by relying on vague imitations and considerations; it is truly not possible to play the se zither with the pegs glued[11]. In the former times there were many renown interpreters; [among them] Zhou Tong[12] was efficient and able, he knew twice when hearing once, he did not [make his translations] so different [from the original language]. Since recently, the usual practices got lost; those who get in [this position] without any qualification are also numerous; there is almost nobody that would be conform to being [working] between the two countries and those who are assigned [this task] are anxious about it. I once said that we cannot not rectify everyone [of them]; his highness agreed. I once said that we cannot not rectify everyone [that does translations]; his highness agreed. In the year gengcheng13, an order was carried out to go to Beijing and so [I] your minister followed it. At the time, the literati interpreter Pyôn Hôn[13] was an expert and he was renown because of his good Chinese; [I] your minister would only ask for his services. When we arrived in the Beijing embassy, he corrected [the sentences] point by point, classified with no difficulty [their] similarities and differences. He engaged in his assignment, followed the times/was on time and adapted to the customs. And since he could not erase the original text, he combined [it to new contents] and record [new sentences]; it was be the intention of the essence [of the book]. The book has been completed and we/he gave it the title New Edition of the Old Cathayan as we received his highness’ order. And [his highness] accepted that we classify Kim Ch’angjo’s[14] intentions by the means of the New Edition of the Park Interpreter[15]. After this, he/we annotated the book and obtained a new edition that does not affect communication. The present new edition gives priority to adapting to communication. Consequently, there often are ones who used to use standard pronunciations and those who now follow the customs have no other alternative. If one desires to identify the standard pronunciations, the books The Correct Rimes of Hong Wu[16] and the A Thorough Explanation of the Four Tones[17] are extant; it is possible to conduct textual research through them. This is also something that one cannot not be aware of. In the embassy I met people from Lan Xang[18] who were speaking by the mean of the language of Yunnan people; they were probably retranslating. Although they are short, ???, clear their throat and spit, there are [things] that they cannot [say], they however can manage to express the sentiments and things [that they want to express]. Would you believe it?/Really, Their interpreters have a link with/have a monarchy! If I may continue to write: I went to Japan in [the year] dingmao[19] The roughness and clumsiness of the interpreters of the south was almost worse than in the north, thus I revised [the book] A Quick Interpretation of the New Language[20]. In order to distinguish the differences between now and the past, I translated it all by taking [the differences] into account. In Japan there was someone whose name is Amenomori Hōshū[21] and who could communicate in three languages. His younger brother had also a lot of ability at it. As for the custom of good comprehension and intelligence by distinguishing our country’s writings, if one has an aspiration for the study of the ûm and hun[22], how would it be difficult [for him] to make sense[23]? Stretch and extend them, converge by categories and prolong them, and all possible things under heaver are accomplished[24]. How come there are all [kinds of] meanings? I shall exert myself at it!

Written solemnly the 37th year xinsi[25] of his highness, the last third[26] of the 8th month by Hong Kyehui[27], High Senior Official de rang inférieur?, Second Great Composer of the ______ Office of the Composers of the Great State Council standing on the left side.

  • Discussion Questions:


Lung, Rachel (2011). “Perceptions of translating/interpreting in first-century China” in Setton, Robin. Interpreting Chinese, Interpreting China. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Compagny, pp. 11-28


  1. Or the “five directions”, that is the north, the south, the east, the west and the center.
  2. According to Lung (2011:13), Ji (寄), Di (鞋), Xiang (象) and Yi (譯) are different words denoting translators and interpreters (only the latter would have kept that meaning); this passage is also a reference to the chapter “Royal Institutions” (王制, pinyin: Wangzhi) in the Book of Rites (禮記, pinyin: Liji).
  3. This sentence was also borrowed from a Confucian classic, more precisely from the section entitled “Teng Wen Gong” (滕文公下) of the Works of Mencius (孟子, pinyin: Mengzi).
  4. This expression is quoted a few years later in the Journal of the Royal Secretariat (承政院日記, RR: Seungjeongwon Ilgi, MR: Sûngjôngwon Ilgi), in the 28th day of the 10th month of the 7th year of the reign of King Sunjo (r. 1800-1834), that is in 1807.
  5. This term refers to China.
  6. Periphrasis of the sentence “差以豪氂,謬以千里” in the “Biography of Sima Qian” (司馬遷傳, pinyin: Sima Qian Zhuan) in the Book of Han (漢書, pinyin: Han Shu).
  7. The formula “月異而歲不同矣” was borrowed from either the Xin Shu (新書) or the later written Book of Han.
  8. Min (閩) is an old appellation of the Chinese Fujian (福建) province while Zhe (浙), Yun (雲) and Gui (貴) respectively refer to the provinces of Zhejiang (浙江), Yunnan (雲南) and Guizhou (貴州).
  9. Youyan (幽燕) is an ancient region comprising Beijing and parts of modern Hebei and Liaoning provinces, in the North East of China
  10. Dongin (東人, MR: Tongin) is one of the ways the Koreans would designate themselves.
  11. This means they may not stubbornly stick to old ways in the face of changed circumstances; it was probably directly borrowed from the Shiji (史記).
  12. I was not able to find out who that was. It is also possible that this is not a proper noun.
  13. Pyôn Hôn (邊憲; RR: Byeon Heon; 1707~?) was one of the author of this revised textbook.
  14. Kim Ch’angjo (金昌祚; RR: Gim Changjo; ), the author of the New Edition of the Pak Interpreter
  15. Pak T’ongsa Sinsôk (朴通事新釋; RR: Bak T’ongsa Sinsôk): a revised edition of the Pak T’ongsa (朴通事; RR: Bak T’ongsa; early 15th century) from 1765
  16. The Correct Rimes of Hong Wu' (洪武正韻, pinyin: Hong Wu Zhengyun), a reference dictionary of rimes that was published in China in 1455.
  17. 'A Thorough Explanation of the Four Tones (四聲通解, MR: Sasông T’onghae, RR: Saseong Tonghae), an other dictionary of rimes for Chinese written by Ch’oe Sejin (崔世珍, RR, Choe Sejin) and published in 1517
  18. Lan Xang (Lao: ລ້ານຊ້າງຮົ່ມຂາວ) was a unified kingdom that existed from 1354 to 1707. Its territory had spread over parts of now’s Laos, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia
  19. Fourth year D-4 of the 60 year cycle, that is the year ____ in this text.
  20. A Quick Interpretation of the New Language (捷解新語, MR: Ch’ôp’aesinô, RR: Jeopaesineo) is textbook to learn Japanese that was published in 1676 by Kang Wusông (康遇聖, RR: Gang Wuseong).
  21. Amenomori Hōshū (あめのもり ほうしゅう; 1668-1755) was a Japanese scholar of Zhu Xi's neo-Confucian school.
  22. Ûm (音, RR: eum, pinyin: yin) and hun (訓, RR: hun, pinyin: xun) are respectively the pronunciation of sinographs and their meaning in the vernacular language of non-sinophones.
  23. The idiom “kokch’ang pangt’ong” (曲暢旁通, RR: gokchang bangtong, pinyin: quchang pangtong) is also found in other Chinese and Korean texts although I do not know where it first came from.
  24. This sentence is first used in the Book of Changes (, Yijing) to talk about “the Eight Trigrams constituting a small completion”; it borrowed expressions from the Book of the Later Han (後漢書, pinyin: Hou Han Shu; fifth century) which itself probably also found partly its inspiration in the Huainanzi (淮南子; second century BCE)
  25. Eighteenth year H-6 of the 60 year cycle, that is the year _____ in this text.
  26. Each month could be divided in periods of 10 days.
  27. Hong Kyehui (洪啓禧, RR: Hong Gyehui; 1703-1771)