cancelled (no funding)

Recent change in Peking Mandarin: Y.R. Chao’s Grammar revisited

Jeroen Wiedenhof

  Date & time      30 June 2007, 10:00h
  Venue     École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
  105 boulevard Raspail
  75006 Paris


When Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任 (Zhào Yuánrèn, 1892-1982) published his Grammar of spoken Chinese in 1968, well over forty years of experience in linguistic fieldwork, phonetics, logics, grammar and language instruction came to fruition in a single grammatical handbook. The field of Chinese linguistics, with its traditional focus on the written word, was suddenly enriched with an abundance of spoken data, carefully recorded, meticulously analyzed, and described in a plain, narrative style.

Despite its broad title, the book is essentially a description of Peking Mandarin, occasional excursions into other languages and dialects serving as comparisons with the phenomena observed in the speech of Peking. The succes of the work may be due to Chao’s rare ability to keep his linguistic analyses from interfering with his judgments as a native speaker. Due to this neat separation of facts and analysis, the Grammar constitutes both a huge corpus of raw data and a collection of well-argued grammatical insights.

Forty years after their publication, Chao’s data show phonological, morphological and syntactic disparities when compared with current usage. A number of these developments will be illustrated and discussed in detail.


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

last modified: 4 June 2007