CHINA SEMINAR | 22 MAY 2013 | Jeroen Wiedenhof | Chao’s Grammar: Historic or historical?


Chao’s Grammar: Historic or historical?

Speaker: Dr Jeroen Wiedenhof (LIAS, LUCL)
Expertise:  Chinese linguistics, syntax and semantics, evolutionary linguistics, writing systems, language teaching (Mandarin, Classical Chinese)
Date and time:  Wednesday, 22 May 2013, 15.15-17.00
Venue:  Arsenaal building, 014

Language:  English

Yuen Ren Chao’s 趙元任 Grammar of spoken Chinese represents a milestone in Chinese linguistics. At the time of its publication in 1968, it brought a wealth of new data and insightful analyses to the field. But in 2013, how relevant can this inventory of the language still be? In this lecture, I will consider the work’s windfalls and pitfalls for linguistic research, for linguistics teaching, and for language pedagogy.

This China Seminar session serves as a try-out for my contribution at the 25th annual North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics <>. I am eager to hear your suggestions about its contents, and about my presentation. The talk is intended to be of interest for students, fellow linguists and fellow language teachers.

Students: teaching programs are always evolving. A recent example is the launch of a Chinese Linguistics track as part of the Leiden University MA program in Linguistics. Within this track, a course on the History of Chinese linguistics is in the making. The subject of this talk would have a home in such a course: I am interested in your comments.

Linguists: an excellent grammar outlives the language it describes. Since Chao’s Grammar, no treatment of Mandarin has approached his work in scope and detail. But the language has changed, reflecting China’s social transformations. In keeping with the spirit of Chao’s documentation of spoken norms, I will present clear instances of recent linguistic change.

Language teachers: close ties between language teaching and linguistics were a hallmark of Chao’s work. I will discuss the current relevance of this relationship for curriculum planning in second-language acquisition, especially for languages with non-alphabetic scripts.

About the speaker: Jeroen Wiedenhof is a linguist and language teacher at Leiden University, with joint appointments at the institutes for area studies and for linguistics (LIAS, LUCL). He was trained as a sinologist in Leiden and Peking. Apart from his work in Chinese and general linguistics, he has published on the origin and evolution of language in humankind.


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