Documenting and Revitalizing Austronesian Languages: free online book

Language Documentation & Conservation, a refereed, open-access journal sponsored by the National Foreign Language Resource Center and published online by the University of Hawai‘i Press, has released its first online book: Documenting and Revitalizing Austronesian Languages, edited by D. Victoria Rau and Margaret Florey.

Half of the chapters in the new book (ISBN 978-0-8248-3309-1) focus specifically on Austronesian languages of Taiwan. I have indicated those with bold text below.


Introduction: documenting and revitalizing Austronesian languages
I. International capacity building initiatives

  • The language documentation and conservation initiative at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa
  • Training for language documentation: Experiences at the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • SIL International and endangered Austronesian languages

II. Documentation and revitalization activities

  • Local autonomy, local capacity building and support for minority languages: Field experiences from Indonesia
  • Documenting and revitalizing Kavalan
  • E-learning in endangered language documentation and revitalization
  • Indigenous language-informed participatory policy in Taiwan: A socio-political perspective
  • Teaching and learning an endangered Austronesian language in Taiwan

III. Computational methods and tools for language documentation

  • WeSay, a tool for engaging communities in dictionary building
  • On designing the Formosan multimedia word dictionaries by a participatory process
  • Annotating texts for language documentation with Discourse Profiler’s metatagging system

There have also been two issues of the journal issued to date, though neither of these has anything specific about languages spoken in Taiwan.

This is indeed a promising beginning. I look forward to more such titles from the journal.

Introduction and notes for the Tao Te Ching

Victor Mair’s translation of the Tao Te Ching has certainly more than earned its place in a crowded field. Mair’s introduction and notes to the Tao Te Ching (Dàodéj?ng, to give the Pinyin form) are now available for free as part of the rereleases of the journal he edits, Sino-Platonic Papers.

Here’s the link: [The] File [on the Cosmic] Track [and Individual] Dough[tiness]: Introduction and Notes for a Translation of the Ma-wang-tui Manuscripts of the Lao Tzu [Old Master] (6.4 MB PDF). The work explains the reasons for this odd title, and in the process provides all sorts of linguistic and other goodness. This is well worth reading.

Here is how it begins:

Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gītā (BG), the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world. Well over a hundred different renditions of the Taoist classic have been made into English alone, not to mention the dozens in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Latin, and other European languages. There are several reasons for the superabundance of translations. The first is that the Tao Te Ching is considered to be the fundamental text of both philosophical and religious Taoism. Indeed, the Tao or Way, which is at the heart of the Tao Te Ching, is also the centerpiece of all Chinese religion and thought. Naturally, the different schools and sects each bring a somewhat different slant to the Tao, but all subscribe to the notion that there is a single, overarching Way that encompasses everything in the universe. As such, the Tao Te Ching shares crucial points of similarity with other major religious scriptures the world over.

The second reason for the popularity of the Tao Te Ching is its brevity. There are few bona fide classics that are so short, yet so packed with food for thought. One can read and reread the Tao Te Ching over and over scores of times without exhausting the insights it offers.

The third aspect which accounts for the wide repute of the Tao Te Ching is the fact that it is supposedly “very easy to understand” (LXX.2 and see the note thereto) when actually it is exceedingly impenetrable. Paradox is the essence of the Tao Te Ching, so much so that even scholars with a solid grounding in Classical Chinese cannot be sure they have grasped what the Old Master is really saying in his pithy maxims. This deceptive ease which masks tortuous difficulty is both a challenge and an invitation, a challenge to the honest scholar and an invitation to the charlatan. Since no one can fully plumb the profundity of the Tao Te Ching, even the amateur cannot be held responsible for misrepresenting it. Hence the plethora of translations, many by individuals who command not one iota of any Chinese language. In the words of the eminent Dutch Sinologist, J.J.L. Duyvendak:

Not only do translations made by competent Sinologues vary considerably, but there also exists a multitude of so-called translations made by people who try to make up for their entirely imaginary or extremely elementary knowledge of classical Chinese by philosophical speculations which often are completely foreign to the Chinese spirit. With due acknowledgement of the interest which this Chinese classic has been able to arouse in a large circle, one cannot help regretting that the Tao-tê-ching has thus become the object of the worst dilettantism.

It is precisely because of my annoyance at the sheer presumptuousness of those who pretended to convey the words of the Old Master to others, when they themselves had not the slightest idea how to read them, that I vowed two decades ago I would never be so bold as to add my own voice to the cacophonous chorus of Tao Te Ching paraphrasts. Two unexpected and celebrated events, however, conspired to make me recant. One was the egregiously large advance and effusive national publicity awarded to an absolute tyro a couple of years ago who dared to dabble with the daunting Tao Te Ching. Although the individual concerned will remain mercifully unnamed, I felt duty bound to reclaim translation of the Tao Te Ching as the proper province of the conscientious Sinologist.

The other prod was the recent discovery of two ancient manuscripts in China which made it possible to produce a totally new translation of the Tao Te Ching far more accurate and reliable than any that has hitherto been published. This is the first translation of the Tao Te Ching based from its very inception wholly on these newly found manuscripts. The manuscripts came from a place in central China called Ma-wang-tui, not far south of the Yangtze River….

Above I expanded Mair’s acronym of TTC for Tao Te Ching.

This was first published in October 1990 as issue no. 20 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Sexism in Mandarin: a study

This week’s free rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Covert Sexism in Mandarin Chinese (1.9 MB PDF), by David Moser (of Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard fame).

Here’s part of the introduction:

Like other cultures, China has a long history of sexist social conventions, and the Chinese language is pervaded with evidence of these. Research in this area has usually sought to identify and catalog aspects of Chinese that embody these sexist cultural traditions, such as sexist idioms, demeaning words for wife, derogatory terms of address for women, or the large number of characters containing the female radical (?) with negative connotations. Such elements tend to be rather easily identifiable and have been some of the earliest aspects to be targeted for linguistic reform. (The Chinese Communist Party, for example, in their attempts to elevate the status of women and eradicate vestiges of feudalism, has from time to time officially discouraged use of pejorative terms of address for women and wives.) Notable contributions have already been made in such research, but there are certain kinds of sexism in the Chinese language that are more subtly embedded in the grammar in such a way that they often escape conscious attention. This article attempts to shed light on some of these phenomena, since it is often in these hidden patterns of linguistic usage that sexist assumptions and notions are most powerfully present.

This is issue no. 74 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in January 1997.

more Dungan

Since earlier this month when I wrote a post on Dungan-language radio, I’ve discovered that Olli Salmi has some great Dungan material on his website, including a paper he wrote and a couple of stories in Dungan, including one he has translated into English.

And for lagniappe he offers “An Unofficial Practical Orthography for the Kiowa Language.”

Dagur (Dawo’er) grammar and sample sentences

This week’s rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Introduction, Grammar, and Sample Sentences for Dagur (1.6 MB PDF), by Üjiyediin Chuluu (Chaolu Wu).

Dagur, which is related to Mongolian, is spoken by the Dagur (a.k.a. Dawo’er, Dáwò’?rzú, ????, ????), who live mainly in China in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

The Dagur language belongs to the Mongolic branch of Altaic languages. Dagur is usually divided into Butkha, Tsitsikar, Hailar, and Xinjiang, four dialects….

Since there is a close historical and linguistic relationship between the Dagur and the Mongols, there has been a dispute about whether Dagur is a dialect of Mongolian or an independent language within the Mongolian languages. In the recent studies, Dagur has been mostly regarded as one of the Mongolian languages. Dagur has many similarities in phonetics, grammatical structure, and vocabulary with the other languages of the Mongolian languages, especially, with Mongolian itself.

Most of the vowels in Dagur have similar corresponding vowels in either classical or modern Mongolian. For example….

The sample sentences (268 in total) are given with IPA and English translation.

This issue of Sino-Platonic Papers was first published in November 1994.

Assimilation of Roman letters into the Chinese writing system: 1994 study

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is The Sino-Alphabet: The Assimilation of Roman Letters into the Chinese Writing System (2.3 MB PDF), by Mark Hansell. This was first published in May 1994. Since then, of course, Roman letters have come to be used even more widely in texts written otherwise in Chinese characters.

Here is the introduction:

One of the most striking changes in written Chinese in recent years is the increasingly common use of the Roman alphabet in both loanwords and native coinages. To modern urbanites, vocabulary such as MTV, PVC, kǎlā OK, and B xíng gānyán are not exotica, but are the stuff of everyday life. The explosion of alphabetically-written lexical items is made possible by the systematic assimilation of the Roman alphabet into the standard repertoire of Chinese reader/writers, to create what I have called the “Sino-alphabet”. This paper explores both the formal structure and the function of the Sino-alphabet. Structurally, the Sino-alphabet represents the adaptation of the English alphabet to the Chinese system in terms of 1) discreteness and 2) directionality. Chinese characters (henceforth “Sinograms”) are “discrete” in that each graph represents an independent chunk of phonological material, influenced very little by its neighbors. Roman letters, in contrast, are non-discrete because only in combination with other letters can they form meaningful units of speech. The use of Roman letters as fully discrete entities sets the Sino-alphabet apart from the Roman alphabet as used in other languages, and makes possible its assimilation into the Chinese writing system. In terms of directionality, the Sino-alphabet exhibits the full range of options that are present in Chinese: left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and right-to-left; while the traditional Roman alphabet as used in the West never allows the right-to-left direction.

The main function of the Sino-alphabet has been the adaptation of graphic loans from English. Graphic borrowing has a long tradition in Chinese; for example, graphic loans from Japanese have contributed a great deal to the modern Chinese lexicon (e.g. 科學, 經濟, 幹部 and hundreds of others). The emergence of English as the main source of loan vocabulary, as well as schooling that has exposed the mass of the population to the Roman alphabet, laid the groundwork for graphic borrowing of English vocabulary .Increasing graphic borrowing solidified the position of the Sino-alphabet, which in turn made possible more borrowing. Now firmly established, the Sino-alphabet is available for other functions such as transliteration of foreign or dialectal sounds.

The adaptation of Roman letters into the Chinese system would seem to highlight the difference between alphabetic and morpho-syllabic types of writing systems. Yet it also shows that Roman letters are not inherently alphabetic, and can quite easily change type when borrowed. Throughout the history of writing, the creativity and flexibility of writers and readers have overcome radical structural differences between writing systems and between languages. The development of the Sino-alphabet is proof that the peculiar structure of the Chinese writing system presents no impediment to the internationalization of the Chinese language.

This is issue no. 45 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Reviews of books about China, languages, Buddhism, etc.

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased the fourth volume in its series of book reviews: Reviews IV (2.7 MB PDF).

This volume was first published in November 1992.

Here are the books reviewed in this volume:

  • YU Taishan. Saizhong shi yanjiu (A Study of Saka History)
  • QI Rushan. Beijing tuhua [Peking Colloquialisms].
  • Parkin, Robert. A Guide to Austroasiatic Speakers and Their Languages.
  • Rosemont, Henry, Jr., ed. Chinese Texts and Philosophical Contexts: Essays Dedicated to Angus C. Graham.
  • Faure, Bernard. Le Bouddhisme Ch’an en mal d’histoire: genèse d’une tradition religieuse dans la Chine des Tang.
  • Bernard Goldman. The Ancient Arts of Western and Central Asia: A Guide to the Literature.
  • Steven F. Sage. Ancient Sichuan and the Unification of China.
  • Joan Grant. Worm-eaten Hinges: Tensions and Turmoil in Shanghai, 1988-9.
  • Michel Soymie, et al., ed. Catalogue des manuscrits chinois de Touen-houang: Fonds Pelliot chinois de la Bibliothèque Nationale.
  • XIANG Chu, ed. and annot. Wang Fanzhi shi jiao zhu [The Poems of Brahmacârin Wang, Collated and Annotated].
  • François Jullien. La propension des choses: Pour une histoire de l’efficacité en Chine.
  • MORIYASU Takao. Uiguru=Manikyô Shi no Kenkyû (A Study on the History of Uighur Manichaeism. — Research on Some Manichaean Materials and Their Historical Background).
  • ZHOU Yiliang. Zhong-Ri wenhua guanxi shi lun [Essays on Sino-Japanese Cultural Relations].
  • Denis Sinor, ed. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia.
  • WU Jiacang and JIANG Yuxiang, ed. Gudai xinan sichou zhi tu yanjiu [Studies on the Ancient Southwest Silk Roads].
  • Derk Bodde. Chinese Thought, Society, and Science: The Intellectual and Social Background of Science and Technology in Pre-modern China.
  • YOSHIKAWA Kojiro. Five Hundred Years of Chinese Poetry, 1150-1650: The Chin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties. Translated with a Preface by John Timothy Wixted. Including an Afterword by William S. Atwell.
  • Mabel Lee and ZHANG Wu-ai. Putonghua: A Practical Course in Spoken Chinese.
  • A. D. Syrokomla-Stefanowska and Mabel Lee. Basic Chinese Grammar and Sentence Patterns.
  • LIU Wei-ping, Mabel Lee, A. J. Prince, Lily Shaw Lee, and R. S. W. Hsu, comp. Readings in Modern Chinese.

This issue also includes a note to the editor from Edwin G. Pulleyblank.

See also

Kazakhstan backtracks on move from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet?

The president of Kazakhstan has announced that his country won’t “advance the transformation of the Kazakh alphabet from the Cyrillic to Latin one.”

That he did so in a meeting with the president of Turkey is puzzling, as this is not something likely to please the Turks.

On the other hand, not advancing is not necessarily the same thing as cancelling.

Here’s the full release from Kazakhstan’s news agency:

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev offered not to advance the transformation of the Kazakh alphabet from the Cyrillic to Latin one. The Head of the State announced about it upon the results of his talks with President of Turkey Abdullah Gul.

“For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation”, Mr. Nazarbayev noted.

source: Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev, Kazinform, December 13, 2007

See earlier: Kazakhstan plans switch to Latin alphabet, Pinyin News, November 18, 2007