Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics 2021


Chao now


Reading Yuen Ren Chao's work in the 21st century


Jeroen Wiedenhof





Details on contents, objectives, materials, modes of instruction and requirements

are all in the Course Fact Sheet


For all other information, see the

Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics website

Dates and time

12 to 23 July 2021

Mon thru Fri

2:30pm - 4:00pm


First week, 12-16 July 2021

session 1      Intro: Setting the Scene

session 2      The Grand Grammarian

session 3      ðəˈfeɪməsˌfəʊnɪˈtɪʃn

session 4      Catch-up Time 

session 5      Excursion  to Leiden University's Special Collections and Asian Library

Second week, 19-23 July 2021

session 6      The Musing Musician

session 7      The Liberal Lexicographer

session 8      The National Normalist

session 9      Catch-up Time 

session 10      The Carrollian Character


Session 1 (Monday, 12 July 2021)

Intro: Setting the Scene

The name(s) of Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任 (Zhào Yuánrèn, 1892-1982) cannot fail to evoke his legacies in phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic and general grammatical studies.

In the first week of this course, we will dive straight into these linguistic works. This experience will serve as a vantage point for the second week, with a score of options from the realms of music, botany, literature, philosophy, logic and mathematics.

We will be deciphering, translating, analyzing and discussing Chao’s originals with a watchful eye on the historical contexts of his work. In terms of method, we will be matching scientific consensus and tradition with our own original observations.

But above all, we will be exploring these resources in the spirit of a summer school, and inspired by Chao's playful curiosity: with a cheerful mind, finding intellectual pleasure off the beaten track.







For the assignments below, make sure you prepare your answers & reflections in writing.

Reading note

0.  In case you need help with the Wade-Giles spelling of Mandarin:

for ad-hoc conversion, see e.g. the Chinese Text Project's transcription-conversion tool.

for systematic guidelines & conversion, see Appendix D (pp. 414-428) in

Jeroen Wiedenhof, A grammar of Mandarin (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015).

Available from the Leiden Asian Library as an e-book; complementary access to Leiden's University Libraries comes with your enrolment in "Chao Now".



1.  Read the assigned chapter from Jerry Norman's Chinese.

In preparing this text, please check that you are familiar with

  • technical terms in English and in Mandarin (including the corresponding Chinese characters);

  • names and dates for dynasties, historical periods and historical figures;

  • geographical designations.

Note down any difficulties you may have in reading the text, and bring your notes to class.

2.  On p. 58, the origins of Chinese characters are outlined.

a.  Can you name (at least) three families of scripts, i.e. writing systems of the world which (as far as we know) developed independently?

b.  Is the oracle bone script the undisputed precursor of the modern Chinese character script?

c.  Can you name (at least) seven different Sinitic languages?

Please give the English and in Mandarin names for each of these, as well as the Chinese characters (in other words: Hànyǔ Pīnyīn & 简体 & 繁體) for each name.

d.  What is the oldest Sinitic phase which has been reconstructed in phonological detail? Please give (approximate) dates.

e.  Is the language encoded by the oracle bone script the undisputed precursor of the modern Sinitic languages?

3.  The ideographic notion, i.e. the notion "that Chinese characters in some platonic fashion directly represent ideas rather than specific Chinese words" may be "patently absurd" (pp. 60-61), but it is immensely popular nonetheless.

Find a reference (in print or online) which clearly demonstrates, or is clearly based on, the ideographic notion.

a.  From this source, note down one specific statement or claim demonstrating this notion.

b.  Formulate a counter-argument against this specific statement or claim, basing yourself (at least in part) on the information in section 3.1.

4.  In note 8 of p. 81, please define the term homophonous in your own words.

5.  In note 10 of p. 82, it is noted that "the alternation of words beginning with sh and r in a single phonetic series is unusual".

Find one example of this unusual type of alternation in the traditional character script.

6.  In the same note 10, consider the example of ràng 'to allow' again.

Note that "ràng" is italicized, but " 'to allow' " is placed within single quotation marks.

a.  In your own words, formulate the difference between these typographical conventions.

Which linguistic units do they represent?

b.  Can you list other typographical conventions, representing other linguistic units?

c.  Is there also a typographical convention which represents items as orthographic units, i.e. as the written forms of a script?

7.  For the above questions 2 (a) thru 6 (c), please

a.  indicate which items belong to linguistics proper, and which do not;

b.  select maximally three (sub-)items you would like to prioritize for discussion in class, in case we are running out of time.


Session 2 (Tuesday, 13 July 2021)

The Grand Grammarian

As is often the fate of prolific writers, Chao's name has become associated with just one title. Y.R. Chao is no exception, as his fame in linguistics seems to center around his Grammar of spoken Chinese.

Starting at this end of our bibliographical kaleidoscope, we need some terminological reflection right away. For instance, we will discuss the need to distinguish between Grammar in Chao's title and more colloquial senses of the same term.

Fortunately, Chao himself is here to help us, as we will see in a short abstract from his lecture about the need of basic linguistic units. Reading this will expose us not just to his arguments, but also familiarize us with his (sometimes very) individual style of prose.

Next, we will look at Chao's Grammar of spoken Chinese (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). Apart from its contents, we will look at structure, lay-out and other presentative aspects of this milestone in Chinese linguisitcs.



"Signe, signifié, signifiant" and "Premier principe: l'arbitraire du signe"

In: Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale: Édition critique préparée par Tullio de Mauro [A course in general linguistics: Critical edition prepared by Tullio de Mauro], pp. 97-102.

Enlarged edition, Paris: Payot, 1985, reprint 1997. Postface by Louis-Jean Calvet.

First edition: 1972. De Saussure's original published by Charles Bally and Albert Séchehaye, in collaboration with Albert Riedlinger, Genève, 1916.

Online Wikisource edition: Saussure, Ferdinand - Cours de Linguistique Generale, pp. 97-102.

...or in English translation:

"Sign, signified, signifier " and "Principle I: the arbitrary nature of the sign".

In: Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in general linguistics.

New York: Philosophical Library, 1959, pp. 65-70. Translation of Saussure (1916), translated by Wade Baskin.

Doc88 online browsable edition: Course in general linguistics, pp. 65-70.

Archive.org PDF edition: Course in general linguistics, pp. 65-70.

Note: on page 65, the illustration has been printed too low: it should follow immediately after the first paragraph of the text.



8.  If you missed yesterday's session: please do make sure you cover it contents.

You will have the opportunity to say hello to the group at the beginning of our session. (Don't be late! ;-)

9.  Read Chao's 第一講 and the designated sections form his Grammar, noting down any difficulties you may have in reading the text.

Please bring your notes to class.

10.  Refresh your memory about the way different linguistic units can be represented in transcription.

Also compare your notes on assignment 6.

11.  In this lecture, Yuen Ren Chao tells an anecdote about an old Chinese woman, and then adds the original German version of the story.

Summarize Chao's point in your own words.

Make use of Saussure's original work to explain how Chao's point relates to the Saussurean notion of the signe.

12. When Y.R. Chao published his Grammar, Pinyin was not yet an internationally accepted system for the transcription of Mandarin. Chao used a system called Gwoyeu Romatzyh, or GR for short.

When was Pinyin created? When Chao's text was published, what were the pros and cons of using Pinyin? When did Pinyin become internationally accepted? And why?

13. One of the main differences with Pinyin is that GR spells tones with letters instead of diacritical marks over the vowel.

Compare, for instance:

GR does not always spell the same tone with the same letter.

For more details, you may want to check out:

Alternatively, you may simply try to get a feel for GR by attempting to read out each example aloud; Chao's characters will help you. After just a few pages, you will discover clear patterns in this spelling system. For instance:

  • double vowels (daa, guu) always indicate a third tone
  • a fourth tone may be indicated by -h (guoh, yuh)
  • a first tone syllable usually looks less complicated than the other tones (da, gu, guo, iu).

Also note that the neutral tone, which is marked in Pinyin by the absence of a tone symbol, is indicated by a dot preceding the transcribed syllable, e.g. in ta .de dong.shi 'his things'; more on this below.

Assignment: In the first paragraph of section 7.2. "Nouns" (p. 505), eight Mandarin expressions are presented in characters, in GR transcriptions and in English translation. Please give Pinyin spellings for each of these expressions.

14. On page 506, line 4, the GR spellings -tz, -l and -.tou correspond to -zi, -r and -tou in Pinyin.

a. For each of these suffixes, please provide two Mandarin examples.

b. Can you think of any counterexamples?

In other words: do you agree that all Mandarin expressions ending in these three suffixes can be regarded as nouns?

15. On page 506, line -11, the small z-shaped graph to the right of the character is a repetition mark used in handwritten characters. Have you come across alternatives ways to write this repetition mark?

16. On page 508, line 17, the Mandarin word for 'a model (to follow)' is transcribed as baangoyanq.

The small subscribed circle indicates that the following tone may or may not be neutralized. In other words: baangoyanq is short for baangyanq ~ baang.yanq.

a. Now consider the Mandarin word for 'ant', transcribed as maaoyii in the same line.

Please give both readings of this expression in Pinyin transcription.

b.  In line 10 of the same page, the Mandarin word for 'unmarried woman' is transcribed as sheau.jiee.

The letters ee in jiee reflect a third tone: first tone jie, second tone jye, third tone jiee, fourth tone jie.

Please verify that the GR .jie, .jye, .jiee and .jieh all reflect the same neutral tone syllable.

GR distinguishes these four spellings to reflect underlying tones. Here, the word for 'unmarried woman' derives from a third-tone etymon jiee 'elder sister'. Therefore, the neutral tone is spelled as .jiee.

c.  Try to find three Mandarin expressions with a neutral tone which seems to lack an underlying tone.

d. Can you think of ways to spell these three expressions in GR?

e. What is the Pinyin spelling corresponding to sheau.jiee?

f. Now please give GR and Pinyin spellings for the two-syllable Mandarin word meaning 'elder sister'.

g. As a matter of principle, do Mandarin transcription systems transcribe characters or speech?

h. What are the consequences of different writing and spelling traditions for our knowledge about a language?

17.  a. How did Chao pronounce the Mandarin sentence for 'Please give me some of that wine!' on page 513, lines 15-16?

Hint: check the ScriptMaster GR conversion site to find out how bae is spelled in Pinyin.

b. How did you learn to pronounce this sentence?

18. The second paragraph of page 514 describes a distinction in the way Mandarin pronounces the sentences for 'There are two Wang Liangs.' and 'There are two weasels.'

a. First, try to hear the difference by reading out both sentences aloud.

b. Next, try to pronounce the first sentence with the same stress pattern as the second sentence.

c. What is the meaning of this new sentence?

19. On page 517, line -9, the pronunciation of the same name is given first in slow reading spead, and then at a conversational tempo.

a. Try to pronounce the difference clearly.

b. Under what circumstances does a second tone change to a first tone?

20. Chao gives two variant names for the month of January on page 539, lines 1-2.

a. Read out both names. Why is the first name indicated as "sic"?

b. The end of the first paragraph documents a change in the meaning of the first term.

Since Chao's Grammar was published, the meaning of this term seems to have changed again.

Do you know how?

21.  For the above questions 9 thru 20 (b), please

a.  indicate which items belong to linguistics proper, and which do not;

b.  select maximally three (sub-)items you would like to prioritize for discussion in class, in case we are running out of time.


Session 3 (Wednesday, 14 July 2021)


Ever since its foundation in 1886, the International Phonetic Association has promoted the use of a special alphabet to write the sounds of speech of all human languages without ambiguity.

This is the International Phonetic Alphabet, which happens to share its abbreviation "IPA" with that of the Association creating it. The latest version of this Alphabet was published in 2015.

The principle is simple: by mastering the alphabet, the user of the IPA should be able to document the sounds of language in written form, without the help of audio recordings.

This is quite a claim; and Yuen Ren Chao's inquisitive nature led him to put it to a practical test — as we will see in today's article.

Texts, tools & materials


A very intuitive IPA online typing tool

Type any symbol you need, then copy-paste

Includes nifty keyboard shortcuts! (Alt/Ctrl + letter)



– roughly in order of relevance


Reading notes

22.  In Chao (1930), on p. 25, at the end of line 6, the comma after "distiŋkʃn̩z" must be a typo: it should not be there.



Today we will combining research content with hands-on technical skills.

Please make sure you prepare your answers to all questions & assignments in writing.


23.  Read Chao's (1930) article from Le maître phonétique.

Note down any difficulties you may have in reading the text, and bring your notes to class.

In preparing this short text, do practice reading it aloud!

In class, you will be asked to read out passages from this IPA text.

24.  What variety of English did Chao usually speak?

And what variety of English does the IPA-transcribed text in Chao's article represent?

25.  Can you spot any clear differences between

  • the pronunciation of the variety of English transcribed in this 1930s text; and
  • the current pronunciation of the same variety of English?

26.  For the current edition of the IPA alphabet (since 2015), check out the items in today's Texts, tools & materials.

Now compare this current standard with the 1930's version of the IPA.

Find at least two differences between these two IPA alphabets:

one incidental difference, and one systematic difference.

27.  Now consider the graphical lay-out of the current IPA Full Chart:

  • for vowels;
  • and for consonants

— e.g., what is represented on the horizontal and vertical axes, in both cases?

28.  On p. 25, a distinction is made between "touni:m sainz" and "toun-væljuz".

a.  Describe this distinction in your own words, and in modern linguistic terminology.

b.  Is this distinction in the use of the IPA alphabet still valid today?

c.  Can you spot aspects of the IPA alphabet which you would call phonemic?

d.  As the name implies, the International Phonetic Alphabet is intended for international use.

    Can you think of any its applications which are more restricted, e.g. national, regional or local IPA conventions?

29.  This is a (2021) Beijing Mandarin utterance in (2015) IPA transcription

(in a screenshot from the IPA TypeIt website):

a.  Transcribe this sample into Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, 简体 characters and 繁體 characters.

b.  What does the last symbol represent in terms of morphology?

Hint: see Chao's (1968) Grammar, section 8.5.5, under "P 27" & "P 28".

c.  If you are a native speaker of Mandarin:

check if this sample could match your own pronunciation.

– or if Mandarin is a second language:

check if this sample matches what your have learned about Mandarin pronunciation.

30.  The (1930) issue of the Le maître phonétique journal in which Chao's article was published also contained a so-called "Specimen" of Amoy Chinese.

"Specimens" are demonstrations of IPA usage for as many languages as possible;

they are recurring items in the journal, like columns in a newspaper.

Here is one page of that Amoy transcription.

How does the transcription of tone on this page compare to the IPA (1930) standard?

And to the IPA (2015) standard?

31.  For the above questions 23 thru 30,

please select maximally three (sub-)items you would like to prioritize for discussion in class, in case we are running out of time.

Session 4 (Thursday, 15 July 2021) The National Normalist

Catch-up time

Today, we will take out some time to reflect on a number of unresolved issues from this week's sessions.



Texts & Background


32.  Following up on yesterday's session, here is the quick-and-dirty info on vowel formants I showed you,

now translated into English.

Check and see if there are any questions left here.

33.  At the outset of today's session, we will inventorize which assignments from the first three sessions you want to address in this catch-up session.

Please have these ready:

You may pick items that we had to skip because time was running out;

or you may choose items already discussed if you wish to cover more ground.

34.  Class request: Chao's (1959) article from the Toóhoo Gàkkai Transactions.

Read the article, write down any difficulties you may have in reading the text, and bring your notes to class.

Session 5 (Friday, 16 July 2021)

Excursion to Leiden University's Special Collections and Asian Library

Today, Leiden Librarian and Curator Marc Gilbert will receive us at the Asian Library.

We will be shown early masterpieces from the Leiden collections in the area of Chinese linguistics.

We meet online at our normal time, 2:30pm.

Those of you able to make it to Leiden today are most welcome to be present in the library.

If you are joining us there, do make sure you bring your laptop to join our video session (the big screen at the library may be unavailable).

Please note today's venue:

the Vossius seminar Room, on the second floor of the University Library.

Session 6 (Monday, 19 July 2021)

The Musing Musician

According to one of the founding fathers of modern linguistics, Otto Jespersen,

"the genesis of language is not to be sought in the prosaic, but in the poetic side of life; the source of speech is not gloomy seriousness, but merry play and youthful hilarity” (1894: 357).

These early bonds between music, singing, poetry and language are a central theme in the cognitive and linguistic evolution of humankind. Speech arises in babies as soon as sucking, blowing, crying and humming noises become meaningful. But the sustained relevance of melody and rhythm for adult language is not always recognized, even in linguistic studies.

For Yuen Ren Chao, one cannot help wonder if personal skills in music, singing and poetry were what him so refreshingly innovative in his professional life as a linguist.



– roughly in order of relevance


Reading notes

35.  On p. 1, line -11, 蓄音機 xùyīnjī means 'sound recording equipment'.

At the time, this was probably a phonograph with wax cilinders.

36.  Starting on p. 1, line -7, the character 底 appears regularly

to write the subordinative particle pronounced di ~ de as it appears between an attribute and a noun.

In the current character script, this function has been superseded by 的 de.

37.  On p. 2, line -6, 句讀 is pronounced jùdòu and means periods and commas', or 'sentences and phrases'.

38.  On p. 6, line -6, the comma should have been be placed one character to the right.

39.  On p. 7, line 8, note the two technical phrases placed in quotation marks.

These are Japanese linguistic terms: 音讀 onyomi and 訓讀 kunyomi.

40.  Starting on p. 62, the 甲子歌 Jiázǐ gē 'Sexagenary songs' form a large part of the corpus of lyrics collected here.

In case you need help with this traditional ordinal-numbering system:

loads of resources (literature & videos) are available at last year's sinographic Memory Challenge.



41.  Here are some notes relating to your feedback in earlier sessions:

a.  Further to Lei's comments in assignment 17(a), ("How did Chao pronounce the Mandarin sentence for 'Please give me some of that wine!'?")

The form bǎi as a pretransitive marker, corresponding to in the current Mandarin standard

is treated in more detail in my (2005) Purpose-and-effect article.

The relevant passages from Chao (1968) are at pp. 330-331, 342-350, 474-475, 704-705, 764-765.

And/or you can check a very short summary and conclusion on p. 154 in my Grammar of Mandarin (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015).

(Available from the Leiden Asian Library as an e-book\k; complementary access to Leiden's University Libraries comes with your enrolment in "Chao Now".)

b.  Further to Wesley's comments on assignment 19(b), ("Under what circumstances does a second tone change to a first tone?")

The explanation I offered in class was based on Figure 2.8 of my Grammar of Mandarin:

"Pattern E" – Click to enlarge


However, as suggested by Wesley, Pattern E may be incomplete, as the tonal context preceding the second tone may not be restricted to a first (陰平 yīnpíng) or second (陽平 yángpíng) tone.

The example he adduced during our session was quoted from this video course:

  • Lǐ (2018)

李永乐 Lí Yǒnglè, 这个世界是由什么构成的?五行论与元素论有什么区别?李永乐老师讲原子说

"Zhè ge shìjiè shi yóu shéme gòuchéng de? Wǔxíng Lùn yǔ Yuánsù Lùn yǒu shéme qūbié? Lí Yǒnglè lǎoshī jiǎng yuánzi shuō"

[What is this world made up from? How do the Five Elements Theory and the Principles Theory differ? Lí Yǒnglè explains the details.]

Youtube video, uploaded 5 July 2018.

The relevant sentence appears at 7m56s of the video.

Here are transcription, glosses and a translation, as kindly provided by Wesley:

Click to enlarge

This raises two questions,

b-1.  in terms of terminology:

in tonal phonology, check that your comfortable with the difference between sandhi and neutralisation.

Is pattern E a case of sandhi and/or neutralisation?

b-2.  in terms of analysis:

Wesley's point was that

- following the third (上 shǎng) tone in yǎn-, the neutral (輕 qīng) tone in -jing will be pronounced with a high pitch;

- this preceding-high-pitch context ensures that cái => cāi follows Pattern E

Now the question is: can you think of alternative explanations; and how can we check the validity of the analysis?



42.  Read the 序言 "Xùyán" [Preface] (pp. 1-9) of Chao's (1930) Phonetics of the Yao Folk-Songs.

Note down any questions and comments, and bring your reading notes to class.

As usual, we will start this session with your own reflections on this text, page by page.

43.  At the bottom of p. i (the grant-recognition page), what does the term 白 bái mean?

44.  Part I 記音情形 "Jìlù qíngxíng" [Recording Circumstances] of the Preface records some challenges in linguistic fieldwork.

Please identify some point-by-point do's and don'ts in fieldwork, on the basis of this section.

Do you have first-hand experience in linguistic data collection?

If so, please tell us how these compare with the circumstances described here.

If not, try to point out differences between fieldwork circumstances Chao's time and today, e.g. on the basis of Matthijs' work.

45.  Can you identify the place-names mentioned in this Preface?

猺山 Yáoshān (passim),

龍軍 Lóngjūn (p. 3, line -8)


In order to find these places, where and how would you start looking?

46.  On p. 5, line -8, can you think of a reason why 意見 yìjian 'opinion' is printed between quotation marks?

47.  Compare the long paragraph at the center of p. 6 with Jespersen's words, quoted above.

Are these observations compatible?

48.  Section III 記音凡例 "Jìlùfánlì" [Recording Conventions] (pp. 7-9) provides a good example of Chao's active role in the development of Chinese linguistic terminology.

Can you spot later and/or recent changes in the development of the phonetic terms used in this section?

Please consider Mandarin terms as well as any English, French and Classical Chinese terms on which these were based.

49.  Many thanks to Matthijs for sharing his work!

If your own interests can be made relevant to this course, please do contact me by email to check the options for sharing your work


Session 7 (Tuesday, 20 July 2021)

The Liberal Lexicographer

In Chinese philology, the sounds of language constituted as a central domain, leading to a strong and diverse tradition of pre-modern phonetics and phonology.

The lexical domain, likewise, formed a central pillar of native philology, the earliest extant sources going back to the 4th century BCE.

As we saw, Yuen Ren Chao's formative work in modern linguistics revolutionized Chinese phonetics. Today we will see that his endeavors in lexicography and lexicology were no less ground-breaking.

In his lexical work, the synthesis of these two domains proved a powerful mix. Chao demonstrated that phonetic and semantic information about the Chinese lexicon could be matched and documented to an unprecedented degree of detail.

Image credit: Pinyin News (2008)


Reading notes

50.  For both articles, check that you can read all expressions in GR transcription.

See assignments 12 & 13 for details.

On Chao (1951):

51.  For the division "phonology, grammar and vocabulary" introduced on p. 204, compare our earlier discussion.

Please any terminological issues as needed!


52.  Read the two articles, note down any questions and comments, and bring your reading notes to class.

As usual, we will start this session with your own experiences with these texts, going page by page for both articles.

You are now familiar with this teaching format.

Since it allows us to focus on more issues that you care about in studying these materials,

we will adopt this as a leading strategy in week 2.

In short, we will be devoting for more class time to your questions, and less to mine.


On Chao (1951):

53.  Chao notes "the greater likelihood of friction when there is aspiration" on p. 205.

Can you rephrase this observation in your own words?

And do you agree with this observation?

54.  On p. 209-210, what exactly is an "apical high vowel"?

55.  P. 212, mentions "the raising of a 3d-Tone word before another 3d Tone"

Terminology check: is this a matter of sandhi and/or neutralization?

Compare assignment 41 (b-1) above.

56.  The lexicon on pp. 222-226 are preceded by a description of the collection strategy.

Please share your comments on this methodology.

On Chao (1953):

57.  On p. 379, Chao mentions "the principle of total accountability".

Please formulate this principle in your own words.

58.  In sections 1.12.1 & 1.12.2 (p. 385), can you think of English botanical names with the same morphology?

59.  On p. 402, note 9 mentions the nomenclature of citrus varieties.

If you are a native speaker of Mandarin:

check if this note matches your own lexicon.

– or if Mandarin is a second language:

check if this example matches what your have learned about Mandarin citrus terms.

60.  More generally, you will find that the lexicon presented here is outdated at various points.

In Mandarin, and/or across languages, can you think of factors influencing different rates of change for different parts of the lexicon?

Session 8 (Wednesday, 21 July 2021)

The National Normalist

In the final decades of the Manchu 清 Qīng empire, social movements were calling for reforms in the areas of language, script and general education. Against this backdrop, politicians and language specialists joined forces to establish a national standard Chinese language after the Chinese Republic was founded in 1912.

This quest for reform and standardization took place at a time when linguistics had barely been recognized as a discipline in its own right. Chao's active consultative role made him a true pioneer, mapping the Chinese linguistic landscape as well as developing practical tools to record, transcribe and analyze its details.

Today we review Chao's own recollections of this process, including his now famous description of the moment in 1932 when "for more than ten years I had been the only speaker of the National Language, and now more than a million native speakers suddenly became available as potential teachers".


Image credit: Language Log (2015)


Reading notes

61.  "so-called Ancient Chinese" (p. 98):

so called by Bernhard Karlgren, now called Middle Chinese

62.  On p. 104, line 13, "redistributes" refers to subsequent stages of the standardization process.


63.  Read the article, note down any questions and comments, and bring these notes to class.

As usual, we will go through your notes first.

64.  On p. 97, Chao notes that "the kinship of Sino-Tibetan is much firmly established than, say, the branches of the Indo-European language".

a.  Is this still the case?

b.  Can you spot the silent assumption(s) in Chao's statement?

c.  Please formulate, preferably in one sentence, what kind of risk(s) silent assumptions hold in terms of scientific methodology.

65.  This first page presents two kinds of comparison: (1) about dialects; and (2) about classical languages.

Please comment on the relevance and/or validity of both comparisons.

66.  In his appraisal of the French linguistic situation, Chao writes "and usually does" (p. 98).

Is this (still) the case? And/or what are the exceptions?

67.  In addressing the Chinese linguistic situation, Chao mentions phonological aspects as "the main concern" (p. 101).

In light of yesterday's session, please

a.  comment on this concern, and

b.  assess its effects on 20th-century attempts to create a Chinese standard language.

68.  The two statements starting with "for over ten years..." and with "now more than a million..." are among Chao's most famous quotes.

Describe the historical events in your own words.

69.  Do you agree with the use of the term "phonetically" on p. 104, line 4?

70.  Explain the pun in the last line of the article (p. 105).

Session 9 (Thursday, 22 July 2021)

Catch-up time

Today, we are taking out some time to reflect on a number of unresolved issues from previous sessions.









71.  We will start by inventorizing assignments from previous sessions that you want catch up with today.

Please have the numbers ready. You may:

  • pick any item we had to skip because time was running out;
  • choose items already discussed, in case you wish to cover more ground;
  • or again: feel free to contribute your own chaoological topic.

Backlog – #1  

Please bring your notes on Chao (1959) for #34.

Backlog – #2  

Please review Wesley's analysis in #41(b).

72.  Further our discussion of national language standarization in session 8,

my "quirky" contribution to a recent sinophone study inventorizes a number of dilemmas for linguists.

Please bring any comments or questions you may have about this text.

73.  Thanks to Vincent for pointing us to a podcast interview with Yurou Zhong

on her book Chinese grammatology: Script revolution and literary modernity, 1916-1958.

The explanation of tone transcription in Gwoyeu Romatzyh, from 27m27s to 28m49s, is illustrated with examples.

First, check that you understand what "the basic form" means here.

Are the examples given from 28m13s indeed an "oversimplification"?



74.  Further to our interesting discussion of classical languages in #65,

here is my colleague Martin Baasten, aka Martinus Bastenius, speeching ad-lib in Latin:

De Pici illius Mirandulae super arte Cabbalistica opinione

75.  Chao's (1959) article on the National Language Movement mentioned the use of "overal pattern in the Henry Lee Smith sense".

The term appears repeatedly in Smith's (1967) morphophone article.

–– Thanks to Simon for the reference!

76.  We discussed the nomenclature of citrus varieties in #59.

Thanks to Li for forwarding his comments, which were partly lost in our session due to network connectivity issues.

In this connection, I am adding a reference to Geoffrey Pullum's (1991) "Great Eskimo vocabulary snow hoax".


Session 10 (Friday, 23 July 2021)

The Carrollian Character

In this last session, our cheerful summer-school spirit comes into full play, as we witness Y.R. Chao's skillful treatment of Lewis Carroll's masterpieces. For Chao, the first Chinese translations of Alice and the Looking glass were among his earliest claims to fame.

Having studied, worked and lived in the United States for ten years, Chao returned to China to teach maths and physics at 清華學校 / Tsing Hua College (now 国立清华大学 / National Tsing Hua University) in 1920.

This was the year (as he reminisced half a century later) when he was juggling his Carroll translations with intensive interpreting work for Bertrands Russell's China tour, audio recording stints for the National Language, and agonizing efforts to avoid an arranged marriage.

Today we will find out why so many linguists adore Carroll's literary work. We will compare his originals with Chao's translations, and look at linguistic work inspired by both.









77.  Read both excerpts from Chao's translation:

  • for the Wonderland text, we will waste as little time as possible on the long "quoted" poem on p. 53-55;

and concentrate on the passage

starting on p. 55 "那毛毛蟲先開口。"

and ending on p. 57 with "...塞了一小塊左手裏的蘑菇".

  • for the Looking Glass text, we will be concentrating on the passage

    running from " "Jen de ma?" Alihsy shuoj yow gaushinq.chiilai..."

    to "...Huendih Duendih shuo, "Tzarmen yaw wenn de sh, dawdii sheir tzuoh-juu---jiow sh jey-deal." "

78.  Note down any questions and comments, and bring these notes to class.

As usual, we will go through your notes first.

79.  Among the seven items suggested under "Background", you will find two types of texts:

    literary criticism commenting on Carrolls' original and Chao's translation:

      items #2 to #5; and

    linguistic work inspired by the original work and its translation:

      items #6 and #7.

Pick whatever you prefer from among these options, and

      please share your notes, questions and suggestions with us.


80.  Here is a clip from a 1933 Alice in Wonderland movie, with W.C. Fields playing Humpty Dumpty.

The linguistic argument ("There's glory for you!", cf. Kortlandt 1985) starts at 5m25s.


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Updated 22 July 2021 | home