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Roman Alphabet in China

(1,155 words)

Author(s): Jeroen WIEDENHOF
Through the ages, the Roman alphabet has played diverse roles in Chinese society, ranging from a marginal foreign script to an essential tool in primary education, and from a one-time rival to character orthography to today’s secure niche as a popular keyboard interface. Early Chinese acquaintance with the Roman alphabet arose through contact with merchants, missionaries, and adventurers, but its use in China was long restricted to foreign tongues. The first systematic romanization of a Chinese language was presented in Matteo Ricci’s Xī zì qíjì 西字奇跡 [Marvels of Western charact…
Date: 2017-03-02

Script Reform (20th century): History and Analysis

(2,075 words)

Author(s): Jeroen WIEDENHOF
In the 1950–1960s, the young People's Republic of China initiated a series of educational policies to spark off a revolution in national literacy rates. Among these measures, Chinese script reforms constituted by far the most challenging enterprise. The long history of Chinese characters is marked by two milestones of standardization: the introduction of the Small Seal Script ( xiǎozhuàn 小篆) as an official norm in the Qín Dynasty (221–206 BCE) and the introduction of script reforms during the 1950–1960s in the People’s Republic. Although separated by o…
Date: 2017-03-02

Names for the Chinese Language

(1,650 words)

Author(s): Jeroen WIEDENHOF
The nomenclature of Chinese language names has a long and complex history both natively and internationally. This complexity becomes less baffling once it is appreciated that (a) “the Chinese language” is really a cover term for an immense range of linguistic varieties; (b) the emergence of new varieties, and new standards, periodically calls for new names; and (c) the choice of language names follows social and political trends which are in constant flux. An off-hand remark by one of the most famous Chinese linguists of the 20th century, Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任 (Zhào Yuán…
Date: 2017-03-02

De 的/得/地

(2,362 words)

Author(s): Jeroen WIEDENHOF
1. Introduction De is a Mandarin grammatical function word with a range of subordinative, nominalizing, potential, and aspectual meanings. De is the most frequently used word in the Mandarin language. Its most common written counterpart, the character 的, likewise tops frequency lists for modern written Chinese. As a suffix and infix, de has various grammatical functions in spoken Mandarin, which will serve as the point of departure here. In written Chinese, some of these functions are spelled with distinct characters: 的, 得, 地, and 底. These ortho…
Date: 2017-03-02

Ambiguity, Homonymy, and Polysemy

(1,765 words)

Author(s): Jeroen WIEDENHOF
Ambiguity, the availability of multiple meanings for the same linguistic form, is universal in human language. This survey explores the phenomenon for Běijīng Mandarin across its lexicon, syntax, and morphology, presenting a range of analytical options and dilemmas. 1. Introduction Ambiguity in language is the availability of multiple meanings for the same linguistic form, as for English trunk, meaning ‘stem of a tree’, ‘luggage space at the back of a car’, ‘elephant’s nose’ etc.; and for Mandarin jiǔ, meaning ‘nine’, ‘liquor’, ‘long time’, etc. In daily conversation, po…
Date: 2017-03-02