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Reviewed by:
  • A Discourse Grammar of Mandarin Chinese
  • Scott McGinnis (bio)
Chauncey C. Chu . A Discourse Grammar of Mandarin Chinese.New York: Peter Lang, 1998. xviii, 484 pp. Hardcover $67.95, ISBN 0-8204-3890-1.

In the two decades since the publication of Feng-fu Tsao's A Functional Study of Topic in Chinese: The First Step Towards Discourse Analysis (1979), an ever-increasing corpus of research examining various aspects of the structure of the Chinese language has served to provide ample support for Tsao's contention that Chinese is a discourse-oriented (as opposed to a sentence-oriented) language—one within which, particularly in comparison to English, the sentence is not clearly defined in syntactic terms. Simultaneously, in fields complementary to applied linguistics such as language pedagogy and testing, linguistic units larger than the sentence that reflect language in its communicative context rather than as isolated sentential units have been crucial to the development of curricular designs and proficiency guidelines. In short, describing language in its natural production setting rather than exclusively at the single-sentence level—which we might call "supra-sentential syntax"—has become increasingly essential in our work as language teachers and linguistic researchers.

Chauncey Chu's A Discourse Grammar of Mandarin Chinese (hereafter Discourse) is at once a testimonial to his own impressive and influential career as a Chinese linguist and language teacher and to those other researchers who have contributed to the development of this fledgling subdisciplinary field. There are certain sections of Discourse that will prove to be of greater value to those with a more purely linguistic than language-pedagogical orientation, such as the section on the application of Mann and Thompson's Rhetorical Structure Theory to Chinese text organization. And there are some statements that may well be subject to contention by those with a primary interest in discourse-analytical models, in particular Chu's claim that discourse analysis is primarily communicatively rather than structurally oriented (p. 3). Nonetheless, this is a genuinely useful work for both the formally focused scholar and the practically oriented teacher—and student— of Chinese as a second language. It will undoubtedly join the ranks of sentence centered works such as Chao 1968, Li and Thompson 1981, Lü 1980, and Liu et al. 1983 as one of our truly essential reference grammars for modern standard Chinese.

Discourse consists of eleven chapters, with an Introduction and Conclusion sandwiching nine broad topic areas. At first glance, the topics of some of these chapters seem little different from many of the previously cited works, which tended to focus on morphological word-class categories as the basis for analytical organization—for example, verbal affixes, adverbs, and particles. What makes Chu's work different is that these topics are all presented with an ultimate focus [End Page 410] on the discourse rather than on the syntactic and/or semantic roles of such "parts of speech." In addition, well over half the book deals with topics that are at best only cursorily dealt with in existing grammars and that constitute critical and ongoing areas of dispute within discourse analysis in general and for Chinese in particular: namely, information structure, subordination, topicality, anaphora, and topic chains. There are also two appendixes, one brief (regarding Chinese script) and one extensive (providing the character versions of the text examples).

What distinguishes this book and makes it all the more valuable is the regular incorporation of the work of a number of contemporary linguists, either cited or integrated into Chu's own analytical framework. There are also a few linguists whose omission seems all the more conspicuous given the large number of those that are included (well over three hundred references are cited in the bibliography), in particular Light's 1989 treatise on -zhe and Tao's 1993 dissertation on discourse units in Mandarin. But on the whole, Discourse provides a balanced overview of almost all the relevant works. Equally essential as the qualitative breadth of Chu's scholarly resource base is the quantitative depth of his body of data, justified (and indeed made requisite) by his adoption of a discourse-analytical model. Discourse provides both analyses and, in some cases, reanalyses of data previously...


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