EACL Spring School 2010 / Ruhr-Universität Bochum

From syntactic description to descriptive syntax

Jeroen Wiedenhof

 schedule  materials  assignments  links


General information

This course offers practical and detailed exercises in syntactic analysis. We will process and present raw data from spoken sources; compare these data with existing accounts; and formulate original arguments and conclusions which are not just linguistically sound, but also interesting and meaningful for wider audiences.

The collection, assessment and analysis of Mandarin data will be discussed in four sessions in one week. Participants are expected to read excerpts from Yuen Ren Chao's Grammar of spoken Chinese and prepare assignments prior to the course, as well as during the week.




time venue assignments

Mon 3 May 2010  

4:00-6:30 pm GBCF 04/356  
Please hand in assignment 2:
either before Friday afternoon (30 April) by email to ; PDF files only!
or on Monday morning (3 May) at the beginning of Klöter's first session of Course 1; printed on paper only!

Assignments 1 through 3 are for discussion in class.


Tue 4 May

4:00-6:30 pm GBCF 04/356    

Please prepare assignments 4 through 10.


Wed 5 May   

9:15-11:45 am   GBCF 04/356
as promised, here is a link to a set of editing and proof reading conventions from the Colorado Style Guide.
please consider the possibility that the meanings of language are about things
for Chao's Grammar, we will continue with Tuesday's assignments (i.e. no new assignments for today)

Fri 7 May

1:00-3:30 pm GBCF 04/356 Please prepare the remaining assignments below.


1. Video

Instruction: Consulting the 优酷/Youku link below should suffice for all assignments about this video.
– Four short excerpts from the video are also provided as an extra.
– These four files are in the MOV video format, which may run better on Mac operating systems than on Windows.
– Installing the free VLC Player often helps to play MOV files smoothly on Windows.

excerpts (MOV files, a few seconds each; see the instruction above!)
潘家园免费摊位变收费 (2'18")    

潘坤 Pān Kūn, 李昆 Lǐ Kūn

TV channel






市民 1   市民 2

2. Text

All texts are taken from Yuen Ren Chao, A Grammar of spoken Chinese, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

3. Reading aids

Background –

Yuen Ren Chao was trained in mathematics and philosophy and became one of the great contributors to Chinese and general linguistics in the 20th century. Throughout his long scholarly career, he combined outstanding powers of observation with great clarity of description.

A grammar of spoken Chinese was published in 1968, when Chao was 76, thus bringing together a lifetime of experience, knowledge and insights in Chinese linguistics.

The book remains the most accurate and complete account of spoken Mandarin to this day. However, more than fifty years and a number of social revolutions later, the language has changed in many ways which deserve new documentation and new analyses.

Transcription –

When 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.

One of the main differences with Pinyin is that GR spells tones with letters instead of diacritical marks over the vowel. Compare, for instance:

Pinyin GR character meaning         Pinyin GR character meaning
guō guo 'pan' iu 'sediment'
guó gwo 'country' yu 'fish'
guǒ guoo 'fruit' yeu 'rain'
guò guoh 'pass by' yuh 'jade'

Unfortunately, GR does not always spell the same tone with the same letter. All ins and outs are given by David Prager Branner's Guide to Gwoyeu Romatzyh Tonal Spelling of Chinese and the ScriptMaster online conversion tables.

To get a feel for GR, it will help to attempt reading out each example aloud; Chao's characters will assist you. After just a few pages, you will discover clear patterns in this spelling system. For instance:

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'.



Please listen to the 优酷/Youku video link given above. Do not worry if you cannot understand everything. Your first task is to get a general picture of the context, and of the local issues reported here.

Write down what this report is about in (maximally) two English sentences.
Translate the title of the video into English.
Can you spot 潘家园 on the map?
What can you find out about the date of this report?

In linguistic work, examples are often quoted in three separate lines. The first line contains a transcription of the original utterance; the second line contains glosses, and the third line offers a running translation.

If you are unfamiliar with this format, just check out the five examples on page 395 of "Purpose and effect in the transcription of Mandarin".

Some details on the glosses in the second of these three lines are provided by the Leipzig Glossing Rules of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; but note that different conventions may apply in the description of different languages.

  • Now listen carefully to 摊主 1 and to 摊主 2, and use this three-line linguistic-example format to represent what these two speakers say.
  • Separate sentences may be numbered consecutively as (1), (2), (3), etc.
  • Although the information about the source of these materials is limited, please add a source reference for your example sentences as conscientiously as you can.
  • Please add your name and the date to all hand-in assignments.

Please hand in assignment 2 before the first session on Monday; see the details above.


Optional extra assignment: if you are getting the hang of this, you may also have a go at presenting the comments made by 市民 1 and 市民 2 in the same three-line format.

Please keep these transcripts for later reference: they are not part of the hand-in assignment.

4. Before you start reading Chao's text, please have a look at his Conventions on pp. xxi-xxii and xxx-xxxi; and at the Reading aids above.
  • Please read p. 350-358, § 5.6 "Verb-Complement constructions", noting down any questions about the text.
  • Bring your notes to class for discussion. In class, we will go over the text page by page, and you will be given the opportunity to present your questions as we go along.

As noted above, in the Reading aids on Transcription, the neutral tone is indicated in GR by a placing a dot before the transcribed syllable, e.g. woo .de kann.fa 'my opinion'. Can you find out how and why the transcription of neutral tones differs in Chao's spelling of the two sentences in the first paragraph of page 350?


Also on transcription, consider the 'Dog bites man.' example on page 351. Which tones have been indicated here? (again, consider the Reading aids). Could this have been done differently? If not, why not? If yes, would this have consequences for a syntactic analysis?


Please paraphrase Chao's definitions of object and complement in your own words; or, alternatively, formulate your own definitions.


Please paraphrase Chao's definition of copula in your own words; or, alternatively, formulate your own definition.


On p. 351, what point is Chao making by comparing Nah sh woo. 'That is I." and Ta shianq woo. "He resembles me.'? Please provide (a) syntactic comment(s) on this comparison.


In the next paragraph of the same page, Chao mentions "pretransitive bae". You will find several examples of this expression in the second paragraph of page 350 (i.e. the paragraph preceding § 5.6). Please read those examples aloud. Have you heard this expression before?


On p. 354, please comment on the argumentation in the last paragraph of §; in this connection, also consider the title of Chao's book.


In the second paragraph of p. 357, try to spot and correct the printing error.

In the third paragraph of the same page, "IC" means 'immediate constituent', i.e. a syntactic element in a larger whole. In the examples on this page, ICs are separated by a plus sign "+".

Please summarize and evaluate the argument in the last paragraph of p. 358.


According to p. 435, the three examples nonq-hao, kehfwu and gershin represent two "extremes" and a point in between. Please provide your own examples for each of these three types.


On p. 440, please represent the analysis given for Ta taur.de-chulai le in the form of ICs (compare #14 above).


On p. 441, can you verify the point Chao is making about the German verb schlagen? Please consult with a native speaker of German and provide some examples.


Consider the etymology of heen 'very' given on p. 443. Can you give examples of the same semantic development in other languages?


 Sektion Sprache und Literatur Chinas, Fakultät für Ostasienwissenschaften, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

 David Prager Branner's Guide to Gwoyeu Romatzyh Tonal Spelling of Chinese

 Linguistic terminology

 Links to the video fragments are give in the Materials section above.

 schedule  materials  assignments  links

last modified: 5 May 2010