MA course 2018-2019

Sinographics

 

Chinese writing & writing Chinese

 

Jeroen Wiedenhof

Index

General information

e-Prospectus catalog number: 5174KCH45

For details see

Time and venue

Time: 11:15am - 1:00pm

Venue: Vrieshof 1, room 006

Sessions

Block 3

Week 1 (4 Feb 19)

Intro / Speaking and writing in China

Writing is – in most definitions – connected with language. But if language travels through sound waves and writing is a visual medium, then how do these two domains interact?

Writing systems displays intricate and diverse ways of mapping the sounds and meanings of language to a visual format.

Once written down, some elements from speech are preserved and some are lost. And vice versa: the visual signal may transmit components from the spoken original, but also features which are absent in spoken form.

In this first session, we will explore how language comes to us through the Chinese script – and how fast such modes can change.

Texts


Study suggestions

Time management: do not underestimate assignment #5 below. It may involve more reference checking than would seem at first glance.

Assignments

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

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.  In English, do you know a term for the study of writing systems? And in Mandarin?

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

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

d.  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 (简体 & 繁體) for each name.

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

f.  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.  Pages 67-69 introduce the 說文解字.

In one or two sentences, summarize the significance of this work

  • for the study of the Chinese script; and

  • for Chinese lexicography.

5.  On p. 76, please study Table 3.6 carefully, including the notes on p. 77.

a.  Can you read all characters listed in the Table?

For your reference: see e.g.

b.  Can you give more recent examples of individual characters created in order to "adapt[...] the traditional script to the modern language" (p. 75)?

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

7.  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 another example of this unusual type of alternation in the traditional character script.

8.  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?

For each unit, give English and Mandarin names, as well as the Chinese characters (简体 & 繁體).

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


Week 2 (11 Feb 19)

Language and script (1):

The structure of Chinese characters

The Chinese script has been studied for millennia, both in and outside China, giving rise to a bewildering set of principles, approaches and perspectives.

This week, we are covering some groundwork in terms of data, units of analysis, methods and terminology.

We will also check on the logistics of this course: finding your way around the relevant catalogues, the course reserves shelves and the library collections.

Texts

Assignments

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

9.  Group efforts:

(a)  Next week (in session 3), we will be reading a text in Chinese.

For now, if you cannot read modern written Chinese:

  • Prepare to buddy up!
  • Please make sure to contact classmates now, and to set a date & time to prepare next week's text together.
  • If needed, make use of the Blackboard "Course Tools" option to send group emails.

(b)  Meanwhile, here is some of the feedback I received since Session 1:

  • Thanks to Mara for pointing out that Norman's linguistics classic Chinese is also available as an e-book [info added 8 Feb 19]
  • Thanks to Valéri for pointing out access problems with the 國際電腦漢字及異體字知識庫 database [options added 8 Feb 19]

On Chao (1968):

10.  Bibliography

On the basis of the University Library catalogues, inventorize all editions of Y.R. Chao's Grammar of spoken Chinese. For each title,

(a)  Note place & year of publication, name of the publisher and other relevant details;

(b)  Check which transcription for Mandarin has been used;

(c)  Check if the work is available on the Asian Library's open shelves;

(d)  If (c) = yes, find one example of an empty square representing a spoken expression without a character and note down the page number.

On Norman (1988):

11.  Review

of last week's text & assignments:

On Dougherty e.a. (1963):

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

13.  In the Preface, check which personal names ring familiar.

14.  On p. ix/L,

a.  What is meant by "the standard pronunciation(s)"?

b.  What is the difference between transcription, "transliterations systems" and "romanization"?

15.  On p. x/R, in Figure 2, check and see if you are missing any details.

16.  On p. xi/L, character #5536 is shown twice in Figure 3.

Now compare character #1788.1 in Figure 2. What is the reason that this character is not shown twice?

17.  Make sure you are familiar with the calligraphic terminology on pp. xi/R-xii/L.

In one sentence, describe the relevance of these terms are in this context; also compare assigment #19 below.

18.  Check the Rules on pp. xix-xxi and the Concordance on pp. xxii-xxix. And/or look up any online resource on the Gwoyeu Romatzyh transcription.

On the basis of this information, see if you can read (pronounce & translate) the Chinese book titles listed on p. xxx.

Be prepared to cite these titles by reading them out aloud in class.

19.  On the basis of your reading of this Introduction, can you formulate a technical definition for the term Chinese character as implied here?


Week 3 (18 Feb 19)

Corresponding with Heaven: The early scribes

At the dawn of history, humans were fully modern in the anatomical and in the neurological sense. Their brains, and their languages, were as complex and as diverse as they are today. There were just fewer speakers.

Even at this early stage, the world must have been teeming with linguists. We know nothing about their theories, but their legacy remains with us today, for they created the first writing systems.

The art of writing was invented more than once, and the puzzle how to represent sound and meaning in graphs has been solved in very different ways. The Chinese case offers us a rare insight in the tenacity of some cultural artefacts.

This week, we will:

  • study the material culture which produced a script whose characteristics have survived into the digital age;

  • consider the challenges of interdisciplinary studies; and

  • learn how to introduce a text dating back more than three millennia to a modern audience.

Interactive scans: Hi Res / Low Res
Source: Cambridge UL Oracle Bone CUL.52
Interactive scan by Sketchfab (2015)

Texts



Background

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, "Lunar eclipse essentials"


Reading notes

20.  In case you need help with the Wade-Giles spelling:

– for systematic guidelines & conversion, see Appendix D in A grammar of Mandarin; or

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

21.  In case you need help with the sexagenary cycle:

– for systematic guidelines & conversion, see Tables 9.3 & 9.4 in A grammar of Mandarin; or

– for ad-hoc conversion, see e.g. Wikipedia's Stem, Branch and Stem-Branch tables.

22.  "Wu Ting's reign" (Keightley 1985: 1):

Wikipedia has a list of Shang Kings.


Assignments

23.  Individual items

Cheyann: Your backlog assignments for week 1(written answers to Assignments 1 through 8) are due this Friday, 15 Feb 19, at 1:00pm.

The assignments for this week's session are below.

A friendly reminder: make sure to prepare all your answers in writing, in English!

– Keightley (1985):

24.  Read the assigned texts from David Keightley's Sources.

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

  • technical terms in English and in Mandarin, including the corresponding Chinese characters,
  • – e.g. "hsin-wei, eighth day of the week";
  • names and dates for dynasties, historical periods and historical figures

    – e.g. "Wu Ting";

  • geographical designations

    – e.g. "the powerful Ho".

For hints and suggestions, please consult the Reading notes.

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

25.  In the interactive scan and in the illustration above, please identify the "series of hollows" (Keightley 1985: 18) and "the characteristic pu 卜-shaped crack" (ibid.).

26.  On p. 50, it is explained that "[a]s a rule, the inscriptions appear to have been carved above, or to the side of, the pu cracks and on the side of the crack which lacked the transverse branch".

Can you confirm this general rule for our "月㞢食" text?


– Lǐ (1989):

27.  On the basis of 李圃 Lí Pǔ's helpful notes, read and prepare an English translation of the oracle bone text "月㞢食".

Please note down any difficulties encountered in Lǐ's commentary.

28.  Oracular text, line 4, character 2:

In your own words, define the relationship between the character 㞢 and the character 有.

You should minimally formulate what you know on the basis of Pǔ's comments, combined with your own experience.

In this connection, also compare the comments on character adaptations from our first session.

For more background, you may consult Djamouri (1992).

FYI

29.  In Session 2, Lorenzo's question prompted a brief explanation how textual information used to be stored digitally on paper tape.

Here are some suggestions for further reading & viewing:

[VIDEO] Binary counter (百聞不如一見;-)

– the Baudot-Murray code

– the ASCII code

– the 国标 Guóbiāo code

[VIDEO] Five-hole paper tape: writing and reading digital data

Linguistic toolbox

 Terminology

 Languages of the world

 Proofreading symbols

 e-ANS

 Linguistic transcription

 Writing on language

 IPA home

 IPA sounds & videos

 

Updated 14 February 2019