Chao’s Grammar: Historic or historical?

Jeroen Wiedenhof

  Date & time 

  22 May 2013, 3:15pm  


  Sinological Institute, Leiden

  Arsenaal Building, Room 014


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.


Yuen Ren CHAO, A grammar of spoken Chinese, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

last modified: 7 May 2013