Languages & Cultures of East Asia

Trad 101, Sections 18-19-20-21   Fall 2000

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Lecture Outline, 8/28/00 - Overview of Chinese

* To find out about a language

1. Where the language is spoken
2. The number of speakers
3. Its family roots
4. Its neighbors
5. Dialectal varieties
6. Typological characteristics

* Non-uniformity of the Chinese language

Varieties of Chinese not mutually intelligible

"Chinese" a comprehensive term; referring to a large variety of Chinese forms:

(a) modern and old, (2000 BC to 2000 AD)
(b) spoken and written
(c) standard and dialectal

Old Chinese vs. Modern Chinese = Latin vs. French or Italian

Mandarin and Cantonese further apart than French and Italian

* How is the notion of Chinese as a single language sustained?

     (i) the writing system
     (ii) cultural and political unity

* Terms the Chinese use to refer to the language:

     (i) Hanyu 'the language of the Hans'
     (ii) Zhongwen 'the language of the Middle empire'
          Zhong Guo 'Middle empire'
     (iii) Putonghua 'the common language', China
     (iv) Guoyu: 'the national language', Taiwan

The Chinese tradition talks of the Chinese dialects (rather than the Chinese languages)

* Location and speakers

Location: China, Taiwan, Singapore,
Southeast Asia, US

Speakers: more than 1,000,000 (far more than the language with the 2nd most speakers: English, 350,000)

* Genetic roots (family roots)

Germanic--> English, German, Icelandic.

Indo-European--> Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic...

Some of the major language families:

Afro-Asiatic: Hausa, Arabic
Altaic: Turkish, ?Japanese, ?Korean
Finno-Uric: Finnish, Hungarian

Sino-Tibetan> Chinese, Tibeto-Karen;
Tibeto-Karen> Karen, Tibeto-Burman

* How do we support a genetic relationship?

show a pattern of sound correspondences in the lexicon

Correspondences between Chinese and Tibeto-Burman noticed in the 19th century.

Tibetan: SOV, writing system adopted from Sanskrit, consonant clusters

* Neighbors

North: Altaic languages (Mongolian)
     non-tonal, agglutinative

South: languages of Southeast Asia (Thai, Vietnamese, Miao-Yao)
     tonal, mono-syllabic

features shared with neighbors:
     Altaic: SOV, modifier-noun
     Southeast Asia: SVO, tonal, mono-syllabic

* Dialectal variations

Varieties of Chinese classified into 7 families.

Classification based on a comparison of sound structure

     (a) Mandarin
     (b) Wu: Shanghai
     (c) Yue: Cantonese
     (d) Min: Taiwanese
     (e) Xiang: Hunan

* characteristics

1. Monosyllabic

syllable = morpheme 99% +
morpheme: the smallest meaningful element of a word

     e.g. happy -- 1 morpheme
     happiness -- 2 morphemes
     happily -- 2 morphemes

Is English a monosyllabic language?

words: 1, 2, 3 syllables

     1 syllable: hao 'good', che 'vehicle'
     2 syllable: hao-chi 'good to eat, delicious', huo-che 'fire vehicle, train'
     3 syllable: jiao-ta-che 'foot-pedal-vehicle, bike'


     1. borrowed words e.g. hudie 'butterfly', putao 'grapes'
     2. Foreign names: Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky

2. Tonal

tones are contrastive:
differentiate words (change of tone--> change of meaning)

Mandarin: 4 tones + 1 neutral tone
Cantonese: 9 tones
Taiwanese: 8 tones

Most native speakers don't know how many tones there are in their language (until they go to school)

Does English have tones?

How does English make use of pitch or accent?

3. Lack of inflections

Grammatical relationships are shown by word order or by the use of independent grammatical particles.

isolating language

Wo zai kan dianshi
'I'm watching TV'

Ni shi xuesheng ma?
'Are you a student?'

zai: progressive
ma: question

In Old Chinese, tones were used to indicate inflection.

hao3 'good'
hao4 'to like'

4. Measure words

Most nouns are accompanied by a measure word, similar to 'a cup of tea', 'a group of students'

difference between English and Chinese:
     Chinese: measure words obligatory with most nouns
     English: used with mass nouns or plural nouns

Some compatible with the objects they go with.

e.g. tiao 'strip, branch', goes with:
fish, belt, road, snake, cucumber...

But some are arbitrary