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222Reviews A Chinese-Russian-English Dictionary Arranged by the Rosenberg Graphical System (Mudrov's Chinese-Russian Dictionary with an English Text and Appendices).John S. Barlow. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1995. Pp. xxii + 829. $125 (cloth). The invention of the Chinese language," wrote the ReverendJustus Doolittle (1865), "has been ascribed to the devil." Many are the students of the Chinese language who would agree with that attribution.1 Until the May Fourth Movement in 1919 led to the trend of writing Chinese in a style close to the spoken language rather than in the dead classical language, the Chinese people spoke their modern versions of various Chinese languages and dialects, but they wrote in a single, dead language that differed greatly in both grammar and vocabulary from what they spoke.2 The difficulties of the written language, with its thousands of individual ideograms ("characters") led to widespread illiteracy, as few but the wealthy could afford the expense and the time required to learn to read and write, and those who could were ordinarily the boys of a family. Of course many women learned to read and write, and the literature they produced is only now being recognized and studied (Widmer and Chang 1997). And some women invented a secret script (nûshu) that men did not even know existed (Chiu 1992); they used it to record their sadness andjoys and left it to be destroyed when they died, so that few examples of it exist today. Modern spoken Chinese has relatively few sounds and, thus, numerous homophones, making it a wonderful language for puns. In standard Chinese — known in the West as "Mandarin," in China as putonghua ("common language"), in Taiwan as guo yu ("national language") and in Singapore, where it is one of the four official languages, as huayu ("Chinese language") — each of the homophones might be pronounced in one of four tones, or pitches: high, high rising, low rising, and falling (or in a "neutral" tone) . Moreover, the tone of individual sounds might change depending on the tone of the syllable preceding or following, and the written form of the syllable might be one of five or more characters having identical pronunciations. This variation poses •Doolittle (2: 420) , an American missionary, was referring to the difficulty of making converts to Christianity when one had to attempt it using such a problematical language. 2After Germany's defeat in WWI, the Chinese Government, at the Paris Peace Conference, confirmed Japan's position as the holder of the rights Germany earlier held in China's Shantung peninsula. That resulted in a large student protest in China on 4 May 1919, the beginning of the "May Fourth Movement." The Movement led to a new nationalism and a new appraisal of traditional culture , one result of which was the change from writing in the classical language to writing in the vernacular. Reviews223 few problems in speech because speech has a rich disambiguating context. In modern written Chinese, which now closely replicates the spoken language, each syllable requires a separate written form (or character) .3 For those who can read the written language in the 7,000 or so individual characters in common use in the national language of both China and Taiwan, this, too, presents no overwhelming problem. But who can read Chinese?4 The "classical" written language changed over time, both in grammar and vocabulary, but the terse texts and documents remained unpunctuated, and word groupings were clear only if the reader already knew what he was reading. This is still true of modern written Chinese. Whereas the Latin alphabet is mostly phonetic with the sounds of a single word joined together and more or less separated from other words, this is not the case with Chinese. Every single character is allotted the same amount of space on the page; there is no clear delineation between single-character and multicharacter words. Because of these difficulties, it would seem that Chinese dictionaries must have been produced even before the language came into being. How else could anyone have learned the language? And not only is the language complex , but even learning to use dictionaries can be a daunting task. It is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 222-237
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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