Month: October 2014

A Tale of Two Tribes: the Sino-Tibetan origins recorded in historical texts

To determine the common origins of languages and peoples, the most reliable methods include: the comparative reconstruction method and other numerical methods in linguistics, archaeological evidence, and population genetics, according to Wang (1998). When I was writing my book A History of the Chinese Language, I initially wanted to introduce arguments made by Yu Min (1980) for the common origins of the Sino-Tibetan languages and peoples, based on early historical texts. This argument was in chapter 2 of my original manuscript, and the title of chapter 2 was originally titled “A Tale of Two Tribes: Prehistory”, where the “two tribes” refers to the legendary Huangdi and Yandi tribes, as described in Yu Min’s (1980) article. But then based on the criticism from an anonymous reviewer, I agreed to remove that section from chapter 2 and the title was changed to “Where it all began: Prehistory”.

two tribes

The reviewer’s comments are very reasonable, since historical texts are not hard evidence, and any historical text could be distorted by people during the process of transmission. However, if taken with a large grain of salt, a study of such historical texts can actually add to the validity of both the independent findings in other disciplines such as historical linguistics, archaeology and population genetics, and the historical truthfulness of the text itself. Let me explain in a little more detail as to how this is possible. Read more… »

Linguistic Variations Outside the Mainstream

As linguists we make the distinction between descriptive grammar and prescriptive grammar, and insist that we are more concerned with the descriptive facts and try to come up with theoretical analyses and explanations of these facts, rather than focusing on what is considered proper grammar, or even so-called correct usage. Admittedly there are definite merits to linguistic standardization and proper usage should be encouraged, e.g. in schools and in academia. But that’s not what most linguists are interested in. However despite our focus on linguistic usage, sometimes it seems that in most aYaleGrammarrticles we do not really see much reference to non-standard usages. Linguists are normally very good at proper grammar and sometimes this advantage in language becomes a disadvantage, because it is not easy for us to take notice of real non-standard linguistic variations. Recently I came across the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, which is indeed a very fascinating project. A few years back when I was still in graduate school, I had the pleasure of being in the audience of a talk given by Professor Raffaella Zanuttini on Appalachian English. It was definitely a great talk which drew our attention to lesser-known facts of English outside the mainstream. So it is only natural that Professor Raffaella Zanuttini is actually the leader of this Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Read more… »