- Series: Pathways to Advanced Skills, 8 (Book 8)
- Paperback: 213 pages
- Publisher: Foreign Language Publications (November 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0874153492
- ISBN-13: 978-0874153491
- Package Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,627,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts: Zhongguo Yu Wen Di Shi Dai Yan Jin (Pathways to Advanced Skills, 8)
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Zhou Youguang, The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts, (translated by Zhang Liqing) Ohio State University NEALRC, 2003
Zhou and DeFrancis were both trained economists who turned to Sinology and linguistics: Zhou, to help Chinese understand their language(s); DeFrancis, to help Westerners understand China (see: "Professor John DeFrancis Chinese Language Learning" at Teton Sands.)
In 1955, Zhou - who has been called the father of Pinyin - was appointed head of a PRC committee charged with increasing literacy by standardizing an alphabet for "official" spoken Chinese. (See Note) There, he was at the center of the broader language reform movement.
It was an exciting time for linguists. Chinese language was undergoing rapid change. A hundred Chinese topolects and dialects were being cataloged and studied. Putonghua, a Mandarin dialect, was adopted as "the" Common Chinese Language. Hundreds of characters were in the process of being eliminated: others, simplified. Archaic writing styles were coming under "Writing 101" critique. Several alphabets, such as Wade-Giles, were in use. By some accounts, only ten percent of the population spoke Putonghua. International interest in Chinese language and culture was growing. DeFrancis describes the situation prior to 1950 in his Nationalism and Language Reform in China,.
Times were especially interesting for those in the fray. Consider the practical and political consequences of simultaneously officially adopting Spanish and Cyrillic in the USA. Such a change would be minor compared to what China faced: there, no style manuals, reading material, or courseware existed for the new standards. "Writings of ox demons" and "language of low class peddlers" are examples of phrases bandied during the inevitable debate. Adding to the excitement, progress was interrupted when Zhou and others were hauled off for reeducation during the Cultural Revolution.
Despite the hurdles, Pinyin was born and adopted. Zhou's book -- published in 1997 by Tsinghua University Press (Beijing) as 中國語文的時代演進 -- is a survey of conditions and events leading to language reform, including Pinyin. It is also the basis of The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts which is, however, an entirely different work.
Three events fortuitously converged to shape Zhou's "little book" as a bilingual, uniquely useful tool for English speaking audiences.
a) China's latest language reform broke a lot of rice bowels. An officially sanctioned framing of language history and condition was one of the most persuasive instruments that could be used to justify the tzuris. A billion people's inability to speak to one another and ninety percent illiteracy are unacceptable - no matter how attached one might be to traditional characters or a particular dialect. Zhou's book was aimed at a wide audience. Publishing required a delicate touch. A combination of erudition and plain language was needed: erudition, to satisfy classical purists; plain speaking, to be understood, and not be perceived as elitist, by apparatchiks and proletariat. CPC dialectic surfaces on such matters as: conflation of CPC and PRC; PRC's founding; and, Taiwan's status. Certain other topics are avoided (e.g. 'Phags-pa).
b) When Zhou asked Zhang Liqing to translate his book she already had her hands full - proofing some 200,000 entries for DeFrancis' ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary (ABC Chinese Dictionary Series) . Over the next two years she completed both projects.
c) Ohio State University's National East Asian Languages Resource Center ("NEALRC") was seeking material to publish as a bilingual work in a particular register. (NEALR uses the pedagogical technique of developing students' competency within a register or domain - and then expanding that competency outward.) Mair introduced Zhang's translation to NEALR which published it (see: "Footsteps" at Teton Sands.)
The resulting work delivers on several fronts. It's as much a preliminary style guide for writing "Modern Chinese" as a history. Background information contributes insight about language reform objectives and potential future direction. "English-only" readers will find Zhang's text a succinct summary of a complex, contentious subject. Politically fine-tuned treatment of touchy issues will help readers skirt political faux pas. The Putonghua text serves as an example of exemplary orthography, typography, and writing style.
On another level, the book illustrates certain complexities of developing an alphabet and hammering-out its associated conventions (e.g. pages 113-127 and Appendix II.) The "Pinyin Project" set a lofty goal. It aimed at producing a result in less than fifty years that took centuries to evolve in the West.
Pinyin is an alphabetization of spoken Putonghua (a Mandarin dialect which is China's official language.) Its primary purpose is to increase literacy and promulgate Putonghua as China's spoken and written language standard. Pinyin is used as a tool to explicate Putonghua pronunciation and facilitate looking-up characters in dictionaries. It is not intended as a replacement for characters or as a written communication vehicle.