interviews with Y.R. Chao

I’ve just stumbled across a book-length series of interviews with Y.R. Chao (Zhao Yuanren / Zhào Yuánrèn / ??? / ???). Even better: The complete text is available for free on the Web!

China Scholars Series: Chinese linguist, phonologist, composer and author, Yuen Ren Chao. An Interview Conducted by Rosemany Levenson, with an introduction by Mary Haas.

Wow. This is absolutely fabulous. The Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, deserves praise for this. Other works of interest to readers of Pinyin News are also available; but more about those later, in separate posts.

In case any readers are not familiar with Chao (1892-1982), he was the finest linguist ever to come out of China. He was also a supporter of romanization; he was even the lead creator of an ingenious if somewhat complicated romanization system for Mandarin: Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But there’s no way a few short sentences could do justice to the depth and breadth of Chao’s learning. To get a better idea of the man, read the introduction to the work linked to above — and then read the rest!


Further reading: Y.R. Chao’s translation into Gwoyeu Romatzyh of the Humpty Dumpty section of Through the Looking-Glass, with Hanyu Pinyin and English

The Tao of semiotics. Zen and etymology.

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free Tracks of the Tao, Semantics of Zen (950 KB PDF), by Victor H. Mair.

After a brief introduction, Mair, who has translated more than one classic Taoist text, asks, “How did Tao and Zen enter our vocabulary? And what do these two extraordinarily powerful words really mean?”

He then enters into a “somewhat lengthy excursion into the neglected realm of philology” but keeps to his word to “try to make it as painless and entertaining as possible.”

It’s a fascinating and wide-ranging essay, especially for those interested in historical linguistics.

This is issue no. 17 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was originally released in April 1990.

‘Indo-European Vocabulary in Old Chinese’

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free Indo-European Vocabulary in Old Chinese. A New Thesis on the Emergence of Chinese Language and Civilization in the Late Neolithic Age (2.9 MB PDF), by Tsung-tung Chang of Goethe-Universität.

Here’s the table of contents:

  1. Recent developments in the field of historical linguistics
  2. Monosyllabic structure of Chinese words and Indo-European stems
  3. Tonal accents of Middle Chinese
  4. Preliminaries on the comparison of consonants and vowels
  5. Some IE stems corresponding to Chinese words of entering tone
  6. Middle Chinese tones and final consonants of IE stems
  7. Some IE stems corresponding to Chinese words of rising tone
  8. Some IE stems corresponding to Chinese words of vanishing tone
  9. Some IE stems corresponding to Chinese words of level tone
  10. Reconstruction of Middle Chinese vocalism according to Yün-ching
  11. Old Chinese vocalism
  12. Vocalic correspondences between Chinese and IE
  13. Initials of Old Chinese
  14. Initial consonant clusters in Old Chinese as seen from IE-stems
  15. Proximity of Chinese to Germanic
  16. Relation of Old Chinese to neighboring languages
  17. Emergence of Chinese Empire and language in the middle of the third millennium B.C.


  • Abbrevations
  • Bibliography
  • Rhyme Tables of Early Middle Chinese (600)
  • Rhyme Tables of Early Mandarin (1300)
  • Word Index
    • English
    • Pinyin

This was first published in January 1988 as issue no. 7 of the journal.

Indian influence on Chinese popular literature: a bibliography

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free another book-length back issue: A Partial Bibliography for the Study of Indian Influence on Chinese Popular Literature (10.8 MB PDF), by Victor H. Mair.

Here are the contents:

  • Journals and Works Referred to in Abbreviated Fashion
  • Catalogs of Tun-huang Manuscripts and Bibliographies of Studies on Them
  • Chinese Studies, Texts, Translations, and Dictionaries
  • Japanese and Korean Studies, Texts, Translations, and Dictionaries; Southeast Asian Sinitic Dictionaries
  • South and Southeast Asian and Buddhicized Central Asian Texts, Translations, and Dictionaries (Includes Indic, Tibetan, Uighur, Indonesian, etc.)
  • Near and Middle Eastern Texts, Translations, and Dictionaries
  • Studies and Texts in European Languages (Other than Translations from the Above Groups)
  • Films, Performances, Lectures, Unpublished Manuscripts, and Personal Communications
  • Articles and Books Not Seen

The introduction is also online in quick-loading HTML format.

This was first published in March 1987 as issue no. 3 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Reviews of books on oracle bones, language and script, violence in China, etc.: SPP

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased the third volume in its series of book reviews: Reviews III (8.3 MB PDF).

This volume was first published in October 1991.

The main topics of the books in this volume are

  • Violence in China
  • Scientific Stagnation in Traditional China.
  • Oracle Shell and Bone Inscriptions (OSBIs)
  • Proto-Language And Culture
  • Language and Script
  • Reference Tools for Sinitic Languages
  • Literature and the Life of Peking
  • Religion and Philosophy
  • Words
  • The New World
  • “Barbarian” Business
  • South Asia
  • Miscellaneous

For those who hesitate to download such a large file without knowing which books were reviewed, you may consult the table of contents (small HTML file).

linguistic nationalism and Hoklo (Taiwanese, Minnan)

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased its August 1991 issue: Linguistic Nationalism: The Case of Southern Min.

An excerpt from the introduction:

In this paper, I will explore aspects of the social value of Southern Min. I draw on data collected in three Southern Min-speaking communities in which I have done participant-observation fieldwork: Penang, Malaysia; Tainan, Taiwan, and Xiamen (Amoy), the People’s Republic of China, focusing in particular on the political importance of Southern Min in Tainan. I take as one goal that of drawing attention to the importance of regional identities and differences in Chinese society, differences all too often disregarded by those who seek to reify ‘Chinese culture’ as a monolithic entity.

Also, the color scheme of the online catalog for Sino-Platonic Papers has been adjusted a little in order to make clearer which issues are presently available for free download.

SPP: Ch’an/Zen Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased Buddhist Influence on the Neo-Confucian Concept of the Sage, by Pratoom Angurarohita.

This is issue no. 10 and was first published in June 1989.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction.

There are three lines of thought that can be traced as the main sources of Neo-Confucianism. The first is Confucianism itself. The second is Buddhism, via the medium of the Ch’an [Zen] sect, for of all the schools of Buddhism, Ch’an was the most influential at the time of the formation of Neo-Confucianism. The third is the Taoist religion, of which the cosmological view of the Yin-Yang school formed an important element. The cosmology of the Neo-Confucianists is chiefly connected with this line of thought.

Since Buddhism had become an intimate part of Chinese intellectual life for several centuries, it was impossible for the Sung reformists to replace Buddhism entirely by their new philosophy. While using concepts found in the Confucian Classics, the Neo-Confucianists interpreted them in the light of Buddhist understanding. To limit the topic of study, this paper will examine only the influence of Buddhism on the Neo-Confucian concept of the sage, focusing on sagehood as an attainable goal and self-cultivation. The study of the concept of the sage in Neo-Confucianism will show not only the Buddhist influence, but also the development of the concept from early Confucianism.

The full essay is also available as a PDF (1.6 MB), which preserves the look of the original printed issue.

scripts related to Chinese characters — an article

sample of some of the scripts discussed in the paper; click to view the articleThe most recent rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is The Family of Chinese Character-Type Scripts, by Zhou Youguang, one of the main people behind the creation of Hanyu Pinyin. So it’s no surprise that his name has come up before in Pinyin News.

This article, from September 1991, categorizes and briefly discusses more than a dozen scripts derived from Chinese characters, most of which were used inside China by non-Han people.

The link above is to an HTML version. The original format of the article is preserved in the PDF file (650 KB).