A Grammar of Mandarin by Jeroen Wiedenhof (review)
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A Grammar of Mandarin. By Jeroen Wiedenhof. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015. Pp. xxv, 477. ISBN 9789027212276. USD $158.00. (HB)

This grammar represents a consummate work by Jeroen Wiedenhof (JW), a scholar who has devoted much of his research career to the study of the Beijing variety of Mandarin Chinese, his familiarity and ease with the subject shining through the pages of his detailed description.

Composed of twelve chapters with an enormous tally of useful tables and figures (over 70 in fact), glossaries of terminology and appendices for the different transcription systems of Mandarin and its syllable inventory, this grammar should prove to be invaluable to linguists, sinologists and students alike.

One of the many pluses of this book is its use of authentic data from a corpus of colloquial Beijing Mandarin transcriptions, for which the author (JW) does not fail to indicate the precise usage and pronunciation. This is information largely lacking in grammars to date which tend to present the standard or official pronunciation, and typically only in the form of the pīnyīn transcription, adopted by China in 1958. As the author states in his preface, the focus of his grammar is on actual language use, embracing the two perspectives of language variation and change. To this end, JW not only makes comparisons between contemporary Beijing and Taiwan Mandarin speech usage, but also with the description of spoken Mandarin in Chao Yuen Ren's classic grammar, published 50 years ago, in order to identify diachronic changes that may have occurred.

As a consequence of adopting this unswervingly empirical approach, many interesting theoretical considerations are raised in the [End Page 212] course of the twelve chapters that have not necessarily been tackled in other grammars such as Li and Thompson (1981) or Huang et al (2009), such as an up-to-date description of rhotacism or fusion phenomena affecting high frequency function words such as the negative bu or the indefinite article yi.

The style of the grammar is in fact closer in approach to Chao's A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (1968) given the plenitude of excursus, formatted in small print in indented paragraphs, intended for those readers who wish to gain more information on a particular topic. Furthermore, the fine attention to detail for the phonetic and prosodic values of the data presented is to be much appreciated and noted as a hallmark of this grammar. The in-depth discussion of important lexical features such as tone sandhi or the neutralisation of tonal values is quite striking in its degree of precision. This feature, combined with the unwavering description of real discourse data, accounts for the great originality of the work.

Nonetheless, a minor objection is that some of the chapters suffer from a lack of coherence in thematic matter, for example, the chapter on verbs (Chapter 5) flows into a major presentation of grammatical constructions which surely deserve a chapter in their own right (causative, passive, ditransitive and constructions inter alia). Yet the same chapter on verbs does not include the topic of resultative verb compounds, nor indicate associated characteristics of verbs such as the possibility of aspectual modification. (These topics are, it is true, subsequently considered in chapter 8 on tense, aspect and mood and chapter 10 on morphology but could have been usefully foreshadowed here.)

As a consequence, the order of presentation and selection of topics to be discussed in any given chapter is not always transparent, and neither is the issue introduced or commented upon by the author. There are overall, however, more than sufficient meritorious aspects to compensate any such organisational deficiencies. Another minor point regarding the presentation: it is a pity that the Chinese characters are not provided for the indented examples from the corpus of Beijing and Taiwan Mandarin materials.

A more detailed look at some of the interesting features of each chapter next follows in the form of a critical overview which weighs up both the pluses and minuses of this very solid and comprehensive grammar. [End Page 213]

Chapter 1 Mandarin

This is a short introductory chapter on the history behind adopting Mandarin as the official language and its standardization...


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