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  • Yunnanese and Kunming Chinese: A study of the language communities, the phonological systems, and the phonological developmentsby Ming Chao Gui
  • Lauren A. Hall-Lew
Yunnanese and Kunming Chinese: A study of the language communities, the phonological systems, and the phonological developments. By Ming Chao Gui. (LINCOM studies in Asian linguistics 28.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2001. Pp. 147. ISBN 3895866350. $70.20 (Hb).

Following Gui’s previous work, Kunming Chinese, this volume elaborates on the dialect diversity of Southwestern Mandarin by going into greater detail about the region’s ethnic history. This interdisciplinary volume contrasts with Kunming Chinese through its extensive ethnohistorical research and an expanded focus on the varieties of Yunnanese found throughout the whole of Yunnan province. The linguistic information also focuses exclusively on phonological phenomena and gives a more thorough discussion than is found in Kunming Chinese.

Yunnan province is extremely diverse, with twenty-four of China’s fifty-six ethnic groups, and the influences of languages within Yunnan as well as in neighboring provinces are key to the development of the Southwest Mandarin variety found in the area. G begins and ends the book with a thorough catalogue of the civil history of Yunnan as a background for the phonological material in the volume.

Much of the book takes as a point of departure work from the 1940s (Jicai Wu and Xiaoyun Yan, On the sounds and sound system of Yunnan dialects, Kunming: Yunnan Education Publishing House, 1991), making G’s real-time research on sound changes possible. G’s discussions on the historical-phonological development are crucial to explaining the nature of modern Yunnanese. Some of these phenomena are particularly striking, such as the major differences in tone values compared to standard Mandarin. In particular the third tone (T3) in standard Mandarin is a mid-low-high dipping tone and the fourth tone (T4) is a high-low falling tone. In contrast, T3 in Kunming Chinese resembles a high-mid falling tone, and T4 has the value of a mid-low-mid dipping tone (51).

G’s phonological rules are based on a comparative study of 135 locations where Yunnanese was spoken, and the spectrographic data on which they are based are included in-text. Following the discussion of phonological rules is a carefully constructed analysis of tone sandhi variation in an autosegmental and metrical framework. The book concludes with five useful appendices: a list of administrative regions in Yunnan, an extensive list of examples of the Kunming Chinese reduplicated structure, the tone category and value of every Yunnanese variety, wave forms of the tone contours, and census data of Kunming based on age.

The criticisms are minor. LINCOM Europa has produced a nice, compact volume but at the expense of a layout that is comfortable to read. Chapters start in the middle of the page, line spacing is irregular, not all of the graphs are clearly labeled, and there are distracting spelling errors throughout. However, none of these problems is significant nor do any detract from the quality of scholarship.

G has a deep connection to the city of Kunming and to Yunnan province. His occasional personal anecdotes not only are appropriate but also stimulate the text, and his dedication to his linguistic community is commendable. He shows himself to be well-versed in general phonetics and historical theory. The result is a sound piece of work, a language grammar that is useful to scholars of Chinese and of language in general alike.

Lauren A. Hall-Lew
Stanford University