In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Baihua: Zum Problem der Verschriftung gesprochener Sprache im Chinesischen: Dargestellt anhand morphologischer Merkmale in den bianwen aus Dunhuang
  • Christian Wittern (bio)
Thomas Zimmer . Baihua: Zum Problem der Verschriftung gesprochener Spache im Chinesischen: Dargestellt anhand morphologischer Merkmale in den bianwen aus Dunhuang. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 40 , Institut Monumenta Serica, Sankt Augustin. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1999. xiv, 287 pp. Paperback, ISBN 3-8050-0428-1.

The subtitle of this publication could roughly be translated as "A Contribution to the Problem of the Transition from Spoken to Written Language in Chinese: Described Using Morphological Features in the Dunhuang Bianwen." The work is divided into two parts. Part 1, which comprises roughly one third of the book, is a methodological introduction, laying out the purpose of this study and the way it is conducted, while part 2 offers a systematic application of the methodology introduced. Zimmer makes a copious analysis of eight texts: seven bianwen and the Li Wa zhuan, a text of the zhuanji genre dating from the early ninth century. For each of the texts a short introduction is given, followed by a statistical breakdown of characters and compounds and a list of morphemes arranged in different morphological categories. The words are arranged alphabetically, separately for each category and each text, and are annotated and translated into German. A short conclusion as well as a summary in English and Chinese is appended, followed by a bibliography and an alphabetical list of all morphemes discussed in part 2.

Part 1 is divided into four chapters. The first gives a very short outline of the term baihua. Zimmer contrasts baihua with wenyan, discussing both in a linguistic framework inspired mainly by Germanic philology. He applies Fergusson's concept of diglossia, which distinguishes two varieties of a language in a given community, usually a high variety (H) and a low variety (L) in this kind of dichotomy. He then continues to distinguish both from literary language [End Page 578] (Literatursprache) and spoken language (Umgangssprache). His discussion fails to give any historical dimension to this concept and also avoids discussing the relationship of baihua to dialects or other sinitic languages. More pointedly, although he sees baihua as "a new form of written language, evolving since the end of the Tang" (p. 25), he does not frame this perception within the development of the Chinese language and the role of baihua therein. Another important omission in this discussion is the absence of any argument relating to the specific medium of the Chinese morphemic script.

Zimmer then discusses some attempts to distinguish baihua from wenyan. He dismisses an earlier heuristic attempt by this reviewer to use a comparative approach by locating suspected baihua terms in general reference works of the established literature. He also dismisses very careful research by Bernhard Karlgren based on the analysis of particles. His own answer to this problem is to analyze what he calls "morphological features" in a text and to use a statistical breakdown of these features to distinguish baihua from wenyan texts. A morphological feature basically is any case where more than one character can be understood as a distinguishable semantic unit. Zimmer comes up with a list of seven basic features (inflection, derivation, composition, monomorphemic-polysyllabic abbreviation, repetition, and hybrid), some of these further subdivided so that his list ultimately includes thirteen features. He thus tries to avoid the terms "word" or "word form," which are not easily applied to the Chinese language. Unfortunately a fair amount of the examples he gives are either from German or from modern Chinese and thus of debatable relevance to the topic at hand.

The list of bianwen is taken from Victor Mair's T'ang Transformation Texts, following Mair's argument for the selection, which also includes the criterion that the texts should be in the vernacular language. The texts themselves are cited according to the annotated edition by Xiang Chu , Dunhuang bianwen xuanzhu (Chengdu, 1989). Now, since the purpose of this study is to assess the character of the language, it seems quite problematic to use this very criterion for selection. Some important texts that are almost universally considered to be bianwen, like the Wu Zixu bianwen, are thus...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 578-580
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.