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Dissertation zugänglich unter
Language change in 20th century written Chinese - the claim for Europeanization
Sprachwandel im geschriebenen Chinesisch im 20. Jahrhundert - der Ruf nach Europäisierung
Dokument 1.pdf (1.516 KB)
Sprachwandel , Europäisierung , Grammatik
Freie Schlagwörter (Englisch):
language change , Europeanization , grammar
Friedrich, Michael (Prof. Dr.)
Tag der mündlichen Prüfung:
Kurzfassung auf Englisch:
Language change in 20th century written Chinese – The claim for Europeanization
By Ruth Cordes
The written Chinese language, object of all statements concerning the Europeanization of Chinese Grammar, changed considerably during the 20th century. This was mainly due to the replacement of the former written High variety, the old de-facto standard Literary Chinese, by a new standard. The new written standard Guoyu (and later Putonghua) on its part emerged from the former written Low variety incorporating further influences – the most discussed being those by European languages, supposedly resulting in a “Europeanized Chinese”.
Whether or not European languages, above all English, exerted a strong enough influence on written Chinese to change its morphology and syntax, is discussed quite controversially. Changes attributed to contact with English, French or German might instead originate from much earlier, long-term contact with other Chinese as well as non-Chinese languages – which would fit the traditional definition of language contact much better.
The starting point of this discussion are two chapters on “Europeanized grammar” by Wang Li published in 1943 and 1944. After him, other authors repeatedly took up the topic, mostly following the same tenor – that the Chinese language has been changed considerably by the influence of European languages, above all English.
The rare exception is Alain Peyraube with his article on “Westernization of Chinese grammar in the 20th century: myth or reality?” that challenges the prevailing view. Still, until 2008 neither the one nor the other standpoint had been tested by proper corpus analysis
The Europeanization hypothesis is tested using methods of corpus linguistics. The results serve less to prove certain theses, than to remind us that unambiguous answers are very rare. Nevertheless, a certain pattern is repeated time and again: an increase of “Europeanized” structures in the middle and decrease towards the end of the 20th century.
The degree of europeanization of the grammar of 20th century written Chinese was overestimated. This overestimation was due to both hopes and fears concerning the development of the Chinese language as the national language of China.
The reasons for hoping for an Europeanization of Chinese grammar have to be seen against the background of 19th/20th century intellectual history and the need for modernization felt by Chinese intellectuals. In addition to a deliberately europeanized style in some writings, incompetent translations created another style taunted as “translationese”. Later on, there was a conscious return to “Chineseness”, combined with the fear of loss of uniqueness.
Changes in the grammar depend not so much on the time of origin of a text than on text type and variety (e.g. written vs. colloquial or Literary Chinese vs. Baihua). A substantial number of phenomena attributed to Europeanization originate instead from earlier, colloquially influenced texts or from contact with e.g. other Chinese languages. At the same time, changes are prevalent in texts where the author experimented with stylistic innovations influenced by his or her own language competence in Chinese regiolects or foreign languages.