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Phonology, Overview

(1,448 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
This article provides an overview of the large and complex field of Chinese phonology, giving cross-references to other articles in the ECLL that provide more detailed information. It summarizes three main aspects of Chinese phonology: synchronic, historical, and traditional. 1. Synchronic Although Chinese is a large family made up of (at least) dozens of mutually unintelligible languages, each with considerable internal dialectal diversity, the family is fairly compact and homogeneous when it comes to phonological typology. All Chines…
Date: 2017-03-02

Palatalization

(2,833 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
1. Introduction Palatalization ( èhuà 腭化) is recognized as one of the most commonly occurring synchronic and diachronic processes in languages of the world. Chinese is no exception. As a synchronic process, non-contrastive palatalization of dental sibilants is common throughout the southern varieties of Chinese. In northern and central varieties, palatal sibilants are typically analyzed as phonemically distinct, although alternative analyses are possible. In the history of Chinese there have been tw…
Date: 2017-03-02

Fifth Tone

(1,057 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
“Fifth tone” is a term that has been employed in characterizations of Mandarin phonology with several different meanings. It is most commonly used to refer to the so-called neutral tone or light tone ( qīngshēng 輕聲). This term is employed in analyses that view the unstressed, short tone found in a small number of grammatical particles (e.g., the subordinating particle de [tə] 的) as a phonemic lexical tone distinct from the four basic tones of modern standard Mandarin. It is also often employed in informal descriptions of the standard Mandarin tone system…
Date: 2017-03-02

Chinese Loanwords in English

(2,657 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
The most recent edition of the American Heritage Dictionary lists about 175 loanwords with Chinese etymologies, which have entered English via many different pathways over the past half millennium. A few dozen of these are obscure, specialized, or obsolete, but the majority are familiar to most American and British speakers of English. (The figure also includes some proper names, such as the names of the major dynasties and units of currency.) The dictionary does not include a number of older words that…
Date: 2017-03-02

Dialect Diversification, Major Trends

(3,252 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
Chinese (a.k.a. Sinitic) is a large language family, whether measured in terms of distinct, mutually unintelligible languages (dozens, at least) or number of speakers (around a billion or more). This article explores the question: Where did this size and diversity come from? It should be noted at the outset that the terms “language” and “dialect” are confusing and contested when it comes to Chinese (Language versus Dialect). In this article, simply for convenience, we will use the term dialect in a very general sense, to refer to all the regional varieties of…
Date: 2017-03-02

Zodiac

(2,947 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
The Chinese zodiac ( shí’èr shēngxiào 十二生肖 ‘twelve birth signs’ or ‘twelve birth resemblances’) is an ordered cycle of twelve animals with cultural, calendrical, and astronomical significance used throughout China and many parts of North, East, and Southeast Asia, including Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, among others. The animals are most commonly associated with years of the traditional lunisolar calendar, in one-to-one correspondence with the twelve cyclical signs called dìzhī 地支 ‘earthly branches’ that have been employed in Chinese time-kee…
Date: 2017-03-02

Chinese Characters

(1,456 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
Chinese characters are the indigenous writing system of China. That writing system is among the handful of independent inventions of writing by human beings, along with Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Mayan hieroglyphs. But Chinese characters are unique in being the only such writing system to have been in continuous use up to the present day. For thousands of years, they have not only functioned to write Sinitic languages, they have been borrowed and adapted to write many other languages of Asia. They remain a component of other modern writing systems, most notably (as kan…
Date: 2017-03-02

Non-IPA Symbols in IPA Transcriptions in China

(979 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
Chinese linguists typically make use of a number of phonetic symbols that are not part of the official International Phonetic Alphabet [IPA] standard (International Phonetic Association 1999). These symbols are commonly encountered in introductory textbooks in phonetics, and are frequently used in works of descriptive linguistics. They are seldom explicitly acknowledged as non-IPA symbols, and it is unclear to what degree their non-official status is recognized within the Chinese linguistic comm…
Date: 2017-03-02

Rime Group

(550 words)

Author(s): Zev HANDEL
The English-language term “rhyme group” (also spelled “rime group”) is commonly seen as a translation of three distinct terms in traditional Chinese phonology: yùn 韻, yùnbù 韻部, and shè 攝.  The first term, yùn, is polysemous. It refers (a) to a part of a Chinese syllable; (b) to a set of characters that have been classified together within a rhyme book because their pronunciations are considered to rhyme. When referring to part of a syllable, yùn is always rendered in English as 'rhyme' (or 'rime'), never as 'rhyme group'. When referring to a set of characters, yùn is sometimes rendered in …
Date: 2017-03-02