This week in grad school class about Chinese grammar, we covered the topic of grammaticalization. Of interest to me was one paper in which the author made a case for the demonstrative pronoun 这 beginning to take on the role of definite article in Beijing dialect. In this usage, 这 is pronounced “zhe” (neutral tone). The author also examined 那, and the same thing is not happening.
This made me think of English. We have the demonstrative pronouns “this, “that,” “these,” and “those.” Our definite article is “the.” Might “the” have evolved the same way? It seems almost the same… Just as 这 goes from fourth tone to neutral in the change, “this” perhaps lost its final consonant and the vowel was reduced to a schwa. Or actually, “the” could just be capturing the initial consonant sound of all four of those demonstrative pronouns. Does anyone know anything about the historical grammaticalization of English? I Googled it but didn’t find much.
The paper also talked about the development of an indefinite article (like “a” or “an” in English). The author explains that in Beijing dialect, 一个 is often shortened to 一, but is pronounced “yí” (second tone) rather than “yī” (first tone). It stays second tone because in 一个 the 一 has to be second tone due to Mandarin’s tone changes for 一. It’s not normal for that tone change to stick if you remove the reason for it, though. The author says this tone change sticks no matter what noun precedes it, and gives the examples of 一狮子, 一熟人, 一老外, 一耗子 (which demonstrate that the second tone sticks no matter which of the four tones follows it).
So it makes you wonder… if this trend in Beijing dialect becomes a rule, will it make it into Mandarin as a whole? How soon might students of Chinese have to learn the Chinese definite and indefinite articles?
The actual article goes into 11 pages of examples, as well as semantic and syntactic analysis. If you’re interested, it’s called 指示词“这”和“那”在北京话中的语法化 and it’s by 方梅, published in 2002.
Some of you may have noticed that the URL of my weblog has changed. It’s now
/life/ instead of
/weblog/. This is not because I think “Life” is a great name for my weblog, or because I think this is not a blog or something. I actually liked using the name “weblog” because it’s the simplest, most accurate description.
The reason for the change is Google. I had the word “weblog” in both the title of the HTML document as well as in the URL, and as a result, almost all the Google ads going on my archived pages were for blogging services instead of something related to the actual content of the entries. This means I was losing out on potential ad revenue, and possibly that Google search results in which Sinosplice turns up were skewed as well. All because of my stupid title tag and weblog URL.
So I did the practical thing and changed them. Hence
/life/. All I had to do was change the directory and make a few changes in WordPress. Then I was able to avoid dead links with a bit of code in my
.htaccess file (which normally all fits on one line):
Redirect permanent /weblog http://www.sinosplice.com/life
I think my ads are doing better already, but it’s hard to say this early.
/feeds/ page I created a while ago. I like the new page.
I also finally redid my
/china/ page, so now the five sections of my site (as listed in the top nav bar) have a uniform look and feel. (Next up: the sorely outdated
/network/ page. I’m glad to get this stuff done; it helps pave the way for new content.
I have a presentation on Noam Chomsky in one of my linguistics classes coming up in early December that I’ll be working hard on in the next two weeks, but more (non-blog) content is coming soon after.
Bingfeng of Bingfeng’s Teahouse did this week’s Top Ten List for the China Blog List. I think it’s kinda interesting to see which blogs about China–by foreigners–a Chinese guy reads. There you have it.
In other news, for the blogs that provided the URL, I have added RSS links to the lower right corner of the entries in the list… sort of. I can say for sure that it works in Firefox, but there’s an occasional 1-pixel lower gap. (Firefox, what part of
bottom: 0; don’t you understand??)
The interesting (or maybe “interesting”) thing is that while the CSS doesn’t work in IE, it has absolutely no ill effects… the links are just totally not there. I have no idea why, or where they went. As is often the case with IE’s rendering, it’s a mystery. If anyone can take a look at the CSS and clear it up for me, I’d appreciate it.
Did you ever have to diagram in gradeschool? Remember how that worked? Here’s an example:
They mixed the dough quickly, put it into the oven, and waited.
It’s intended to help the mind better grasp parts of speech and how they relate to each other in a sentence. I don’t think it really helps much, though. It seems more like demented grammarians forcing their “fun” on innocent children.
Here’s a quote from Gertrude Stein: “I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.” According to her biography on Wikipedia, she was a “conservative fascist.” Makes sense. Still, some people really do like diagramming, taking on such challenges as the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.
The point is this: the Chinese diagram sentences too! Perhaps it is a universal trend uniting the world’s grammarians. Here’s an example of Chinese diagramming (three different phrases):
Although these are only phrases, the same principles apply to entire sentences. It’s a less visually transparent system, based on hierarchical phrase categorization. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to diagram sentences using this method (called 层次分析法) on my big test next Friday. Fortunately I find it pretty easy.