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Reviewed by:
  • Kunming Chinese by Ming Chao Gui
  • Lauren A. Hall-Lew
Kunming Chinese. By Ming Chao Gui. (Languages of the world/Materials 340.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2000. Pp. 111. ISBN 3895866342. $34.50.

This is a detailed grammar of the variety of Mandarin spoken by approximately four million people in Kunming, the capital city of China’s Southwestern province. The structure of Kunming Chinese has been influenced by the cultural and linguistic diversity of twenty-six of China’s ‘ethnic minorities’ who live in the province. Still mutually intelligible with standard Mandarin, the most comprehensive account of the similarities and differences of the Kunming dialect is offered in this invaluable volume.

The book begins by placing the language in context, giving brief geographical, ethnic, and historical coordinates in the context of their linguistic importance. The topics are then broken down into phonology, morphology, and syntax. The book ends with a useful transcript from a stand-up comedy show and a wordlist of colloquial Kunming lexemes. The entire discussion is in English, and all of the transcribed Chinese is written in IPA with English translations.

In the section on historical background, Gui presents the important dichotomy between ‘Old Kunming Speech’ (OK) and ‘Contemporary Kunming Speech’ (CK). The vast majority of current speakers use CK, and the differences between OK and CK are important in G’s account of the development of the Kunming variety.

The chapter on phonology includes vowels, consonants, and diphthongs, as well as particular variations in tones and in tone sandhi. The section includes a brief but excellent discussion of phonological development.

The bulk of the volume is devoted to the second chapter on morphology. G discusses such phenomena as morpheme merging, which is found in various dialects of Chinese including Kunming. In colloquial Kunming Chinese, the superlative degree of an adjective is expressed with a resultative device, consisting of a word, wa2, meaning ‘exhaust’, and a resultative particle, t∂4. For example, xɔ-wa2-t∂4 → small-exhaust-result → ‘smallest’ (44). G’s high attention to morphological phenomena is central to the characterization of Kunming Chinese.

The third chapter, on syntax, lists all simple-sentence categories and complex-sentence categories with examples. G gives a succinct demonstration of the topic-prominent structure in colloquial CK, followed by the major phrasal structures of simple and complex sentences. The chapter concludes with lists of demonstratives, major sentence-final particles, and interjections.

The audience of this book is assumed to have a working knowledge of standard Mandarin. Many of the descriptions are presented without an explicit comparison to the standard, and some conventions particular to Chinese linguistics are not explained. Although it is generally safe to assume that interested scholars will be versed in the standard, this assumption possibly limits the scope of the audience.

Kunming Chinese is an anticipated addition to the field of Chinese linguistics. G draws from rich historical, cultural, and linguistic resources and years of personal research to create this expert volume. Not [End Page 890] only is it a needed documentation of a major dialect of Chinese, it is a clear and concise book that I would highly recommend for travelers, students, and researchers.

Lauren A. Hall-Lew
Stanford University