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“Literary reading” or “Literary misreading”: an “archaeological” study of the pronunciation of 車

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UPDATE: I have written a paper on this topic with much more updated information. So you may read the paper on my academia.edu account here.

This weekend I attended a workshop on developing standard teaching materials for Chinese as a second language. One of the presenters from China used a common idiom “bì mén zào chē” (閉門造車) to describe how some teaching materials were created without consulting real makevehiclebehinddoorlanguage data. The idiom 閉門造車 literally means “make vehicles behind shut doors”, and it is now used to describe people who do things without really knowing the relevant facts. What drew my attention to the presenter’s use of this phrase was his pronunciation of 車 as “jū” instead of the standard “chē”. This presenter is from Mainland China. Interestingly, one of my colleagues from Taiwan also pronounced the 車 in 閉門造車 as “jū”, as can be confirmed by Taiwan’s 中華民國教育部重編國語辭典修訂本. But in contrast Mainland China’s 現代漢語詞典 only lists “chē” as the pronunciation. The character 車 is pronounced as “jū” in Chinese chess, as a convention. But the pronunciation of 車 as “jū” is considered non-standard in Mainland China now, although it seems that this pronunciation maintains a certain degree of “literary reading” status in Taiwan. What is worth noting here is that in both Mainland China and Taiwan, the standard pronunciation of 車 in most cases is still chē, and only in certain cases, such as idioms or conventional specialty pronunciations, does the pronunciation “jū” appear. So there is no doubt that in spoken language, the pronunciation of 車 is “chē”.