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Linguists pursue cross-over studies

Author  :  LU HANG and DUAN JINHANG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-12-11

A seminar on the interdisciplinary and intercultural studies of linguistics in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, Nov. 14–15 Photo: Chen Yingzhuo/XISU

The Ninth Seminar on Chinese Linguistics Research Methods and Methodologies was held in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, Nov. 14–15.

Under the theme of the interdisciplinary and intercultural studies of linguistics, scholars dug deep into the academic thoughts and fine academic traditions of Chinese linguistics, actively exploring innovative linguistic research methods.

Classical Chinese documents provide a wealth of materials for linguistic research, said Dang Huaixing, vice president of Shaanxi Normal University. Linguists should pay attention to the Chinese language’s characteristics and development laws. Our philology, with a profound historical accumulation, takes Chinese writing as the research object, embodying the features of traditional Chinese linguistics. At present, integrating the Chinese language with Chinese characters and revealing their close relationship is important for constructing a discourse system, building linguistics with Chinese characteristics.

The interdisciplinary development of linguistics deserves deeper dialogue, said Li Depeng, a professor of editorship at the editorial office of the Journal of Yunnan Normal University. Trans-disciplinary development involves the intersection of both research content and research methods. Attention should be paid to the crossover of linguistics and other disciplines to promote the innovative development of linguistic research.

Identifying pronunciation changes in Chinese dialects is an extremely complicated task within China’s vast national territory, containing high research value. When discussing pronunciation changes in Chinese dialects’ verbs, we can study relationships between forms and meanings as well as the morphological status, through comparing existing dialect materials and systematically analyzing the definitions of morphology. Most dialect studies uphold the multi-source theory. Meanwhile, the multi-functionality of changes in Yunmu (the medial and final of a Chinese syllable after excluding initial consonant and tone) from the same source is worthy of in-depth study, said Chen Qianrui, a professor from the School of Liberal Arts at Renmin University of China.

Regarding the huge difference in the number of two types of extreme tones in modern Chinese dialects, traditional linguistics gives an explanation based on the evolution of the four Chinese tones from the Sui Dynasty (581–618) to the Song Dynasty (960–1127), Shengmu (the initial consonant of a Chinese syllable), and conditions of Yunshe (a type of rhyme in Chinese). Dialects with fewer tones are the result of continuous merging, while dialects with more tones are the result of further differentiation.

According to recent research findings in molecular biology, Li Lan, a research fellow from the Institute of Linguistics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, proposed a new explanation: That the evolution pattern for the two variations in tonal extremes might have a common biological reason. The continuous merging or the continuous differentiation of tones is related to the language background of these dialects. Historically, populations of Chinese dialects with continuous tone merging, interacted and integrated with non-tonal populations. This led to less tonal sensitivity and tone merging. In contrast, other populations who spoke Chinese dialects with continuous tonal differentiation, interacted and merged with populations of higher tonal sensitivity, further strengthening their sensitivity to tones and leading to continuous tone differentiation.

Language is first of all a carrier of thoughts, and then a communication tool, said Yang Yiming, dean of the School of Linguistic Science and Arts at Jiangsu Normal University. As the Belt and Road initiative and the concept of a community of shared future for mankind have attracted worldwide attention, the importance of language communication, as the most basic task, has been further highlighted. Enhancing language competence is crucial for China to progress from a major language country to a language power. To expand linguistic research, breakthroughs should be made through cross-over studies, returning to linguistics’ original position— the intersection of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Given that linguistics is a practical discipline between social sciences and natural sciences, we should not only pay attention to revealing linguistic facts, but also summarize and innovate with linguistic research methods, said Wang Qilong, vice president of Xi’an International Studies University. For a long time, the “problem awareness” of the domestic linguistic community mainly focused on disciplinary issues and international linguistic research, relatively ignoring socio-linguistic real-life applications. This to a certain extent caused disconnection between academic research and social reality. In recent years, this situation has improved as the construction of language competence, poverty alleviation through language learning, language resource protection, language security, and other topics have become part of the Chinese linguistics research field.

We need to dismantle the barriers of linguistics in a narrow sense, broaden research horizons, promote cross-over studies, strengthen cross-cultural communication skills, and spread the richness of our culture and core socialist values in a lively manner. In this way, we can tell China stories well and make Chinese voice heard, thus continuously improving the international discourse power of Chinese linguistics, and the international influence and competitiveness of the Chinese language and culture, Wang concluded.

Editor: Yu Hui

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