Reconstructing the history of Chinese dialects through foreigners’ eyes

Mar 5 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

YIU Yuk-man Carine (Associate Professor of Humanities, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; HYI Visiting Scholar 2018-19)
Chair/discussant: C.-T. James Huang (Professor of Linguistics, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Despite that the Chinese language has a recorded history for more than three thousand years, the study of the history of different regional dialects is made possible in part by the discovery of texts mostly compiled by missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To facilitate their evangelical work, the missionaries learnt the local dialects. As a result, they published pedagogical material on the local dialects and translated the Bible into local dialects. Since the texts were excavated in the 1990s, efforts have been made to examine the development of the dialects in vocabulary, sound and grammar as exhibited in the texts. In this talk, the significance of the texts will be highlighted. Moreover, it will be shown how the scrutiny of the texts enlightens us on the changes undergone by the dialects and the internal as well as external factors that have triggered these changes.