* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LINGUIST List logo Eastern Michigan University Wayne State University *
* People & Organizations * Jobs * Calls & Conferences * Publications * Language Resources * Text & Computer Tools * Teaching & Learning * Mailing Lists * Search *
* *

LINGUIST List 25.1010

Fri Feb 28 2014

Review: Language Documentation: Gassmann & Behr (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 31-Oct-2013
From: David Stifter <david.stifternuim.ie>
Subject: Antikchinesisch
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2197.html

EDITOR: Robert H. Gassmann
EDITOR: Wolfgang Behr
TITLE: "Antikchinesisch - Ein Lehrbuch in zwei Teilen" und Begleitband "Grammatik des Antikchinesischen"
SUBTITLE: Teil 1: Eine propädeutische Einführung in fünf Element(ar)gängen. Teil 2: Chrestomathie mit Glossaren und Grammatiknotizen. Begleitband: Grammatik des Antikchinesischen
SERIES TITLE: Schweizer Asiatische Studien / Etudes asiatique suisses - Volume 21
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: David Stifter,

This publication is the third, revised edition of a previously published set
of books. The present version consists of three volumes of quite diverse
character that can be used more or less independently of each other, but that
still are sewn together by their overall purpose and orientation. Volumes 1
and 2 [= Schweizer Asiatische Studien Studienhefte 19/1 and 19/2] and volume 3
[= Studienheft 20] are also available separately, with different ISBNs. A
further booklet of 25 pages in pdf format (Gassmann & Behr 2008), which
contains the proposed translations of the chrestomathy (vol. 2), can be
obtained by email from the authors. Thus, the complete work consists of four
volumes and almost 1300 pages. The authors held resp. hold the chair of
Chinese Studies at the University of Zurich, and it is there that the work was
developed and tested in the classroom. Since the authors envisage it as
“propädeutisch”, i.e. introductory for beginners in the discipline, the
didactic aspect will be in the foreground here. The authors define the subject
of their work, “Antikchinesisch” (Ancient Chinese = AC), as the period from
800 BC -- 200 AD (III: 15). This is the period when a great number of classics
were written that have exerted intellectual influence over the ensuing
millennia. However, the present work is not meant as an introduction to the
language of those following centuries. Classical Chinese is structurally a
different kind of language, as becomes clear from perusing this work.

Book 1: The first volume (242 pages) offers, by way of five ‘elements’, i.e.
chapters, a first concise exposure to the grammar which in the case of AC
first and foremost means syntax. The chapters progress from small phrases to
complex textual units: Der Nominalsatz (‘the nominal clause’) -- Die
Nominalphrase (‘the nominal phrase’) -- Der Verbalsatz (‘the verbal clause’)
-- Nebensätze (‘dependent clauses’) -- Texte (‘texts’). Interspersed are 33
exercises in which the learners are asked to form AC sentences themselves. The
explicit didactic strategy is not one of passive reception of the ancient
language, but rather active engagement with the language as a system.
Therefore the vocabulary is limited to a mere 150 items in the first volume.
Instead of having to learn an unceasing stream of words and characters, the
emphasis is on practicing the fundamental structures and syntactic patterns of
the language. The lexical material is drawn from the “terminologisch
geschlossenes [...] Korrespondenzsystem” (I: 7), a closed set of words for
items of the natural world that form part of a cross-referential ideology of
‘elements’. This provides also a first acquaintance with an unfamiliar view of
the world. Volume 1 concludes with a systematic glossary containing the entire
vocabulary of volumes 1 and 2 (I: 103-207), a key to selected exercises (I:
209-224), and a brief guide to writing the Chinese characters that occur in
volume 1 (227-237).

Book 2: The learner of AC is also perfectly served by the authors in the
second volume (505 pages). It consists of thirty excerpts of diverse length
from authentic AC texts. Each text is first printed in Chinese characters. No
punctuation is used, but each text is split into small, numbered units which
correspond to self-contained sentences. Each text is immediately followed by a
comprehensive glossary of all vocabulary occurring in the text, in order of
appearance. For each word, its Middle Chinese and AC reconstructions are
provided, the word class and, in the case of verbs, the valency is indicated,
and for each character its affiliation to a radical letter is given. Although
it may seem like a waste of space at first that even basic lexical items are
repeated in every single chapter, this soon proves to greatly facilitate the
reading experience, by saving the students a lot of time which in a larger
comprehensive glossary they would have to spend on flicking through pages in
search of words. Furthermore, since the semantic breadth of AC words typically
entails a large and not infrequently bewildering number of correspondences in
Western languages, and since AC lexical items may belong and/or correspond to
diverse word-classes, depending on the context, these tailor-made glossaries
restrict the meanings and word-classes to what is actually required by the
particular passage. For the beginner, it saves a lot of headaches not to have
to determine oneself what the exact nuance of a word in a text is, and again
this enhances the feeling of accomplishment.

After the glossary, the extensive “Grammatiknotizen” (grammatical notes)
follow. The thoroughness with which the authors have gone about their task
here is exemplary. Every single sentence is first repeated in Chinese
characters. Underneath these follows a pīnyīn transcription with modern
punctuation. It is most useful that the authors spell out in square brackets
in the transcription all those underlying elements which have been deleted in
the surface representation of the sentence and which, for the correct
understanding of the sentence, need to be supplied by the reader from the
context. Since AC is a language that is notable for a particular fondness for
brevity and lack of explicitness, the omitted constituents of the sentence can
occasionally outnumber those expressed, like in the following example (II: 83;
from Lǐ Jì 1A):

[rén shēng] qī=shí [nián], [zé rén] yuē: ‘lǎo’.
‘[When a person’s life] (lasts) seventy [years], [then the person] is called:
‘old one’.’

This transcription is then followed by a phonological reconstruction of the
sentence, as it may have sounded in the AC period. For example, for the
sentence just cited, the reconstruction (only of the surface form) is:

*s-hnit=gip, wat: ‘(Cǝ-)rru-q’. [NB: the authors use q to represent the
glottal stop ˀ.]

Finally, in the commentary every sentence is meticulously broken up into its
syntactic components. Starting with the valency of the main clause verb, each
of its arguments is identified and its syntactic role discussed. Those
constituents that, in the authors’ analysis, have to be supplied by the reader
receive ample justification. Again, this means that the authors lend the
beginner a helpful hand in the interpretation, and a feeling for constituent
deletion in AC can develop gradually in this way. Where appropriate, the
authors discuss the etymology of crucial lexemes, that is, they point out the
relationships with other Chinese lexemes within the sphere of AC derivational
morphology. These grammatical comments are remarkably explicit and leave no
question that a beginner may ask unanswered. In the commentary to almost each
and every single sentence the authors start from scratch. Only in the rarest
instance, when a text contains a sequence of syntactically parallel
utterances, do the authors allow themselves to abbreviate the discussion by
referring the student to the structural analysis of the preceding sentences.
This procedure naturally leads to a lot of repetition; but, like in the case
of the glossaries for each of the texts, in this way each text stands as a
lesson on its own and can be used, for private study and for classroom
teaching, without reference to any other section.

Book 3: The final volume (523 pages) is concerned with a systematic
description of the basic syntactic structures of AC. Although not adhering
strictly to one grammatical theory, the authors view their own approach as
structuralist and use an early generative method of describing and analysing
phrases and sentences. In the absence of any overt morphology of AC (see below
on covert morphology), the grammar is fundamentally a description of the
syntax of various levels of constituents, ranging from phrases to clauses and
to sentences. Only chapter 10 (III: 399–464) deviates from this pattern. It
contains a concise introduction to such diverse matters as “Genealogie,
Phonologie und Morphologie des Antikchinesischen” (''Genealogy, phonology and
morphology of Ancient Chinese''): in it, the authors discuss critically
various proposals about the genetic affiliation of Chinese; they explain in a
nutshell the principles of reconstructing the phonology of AC, a notoriously
difficult task for a language with a logographic literary tradition; and, most
innovatively for a handbook of AC, they lay out the principles of the
derivational morphology that is reconstructible for the language. The
bibliography takes up pages 507-522.

Although the three volumes in their present configuration are outwardly
different in character, they are still closely connected by their didactic
intent. This work is explicitly meant to be a resource for the classroom
teaching and learning, with a teacher guiding students. The authors have
included detailed instructions for using the books (I: 8-9, II: 7-11). As
such, it is an excellent resource for beginning AC. The novice learner is
absolutely in the focus of the authors’ attention, especially in the first two
volumes. The work stands out pleasantly from other introductions by not
assuming previous knowledge of the phonology and phonetics of Modern Chinese,
but by providing pronunciation rules, albeit not in vol. 1 where the beginner
might expect them but in vol. 3 (III: 434).

While the limited vocabulary in volume 1 may perhaps border on the tedious at
times, the authors succeed in not overburdening the student with learning
vocabulary and the corresponding Chinese characters at this initial stage. The
amount of guidance offered, especially in the commentary sections of volume 2,
is exemplary. If I could make one wish: more explanations about the literary
and historical contexts of the selected texts and the individual sentences
would be desirable in the commentaries, in addition to their astonishing
grammatical comprehensiveness.

Students who choose to engage with a language like AC that -- at least on
first impression -- is so ostensibly exotic and difficult to access, are
almost by implication highly motivated. Such students should be regarded as
mature enough to use auxiliary material in a responsible way for checking and
verifying their own translation attempts, not just for copying solutions.
Therefore, I think, for practical purposes the authors should consider adding
the solutions for volume 2 as a separate booklet to the set, or attach them at
the back of the book or make them freely downloadable, instead of requiring
interested persons to obtain them privately as a pdf from the authors. When
the work is used for self-teaching, considerable linguistic knowledge is a
prerequisite, especially to tackle volume 3. I suspect this volume will not be
easily accessible to undergraduate students who are not trained in
linguistics, with some of the discussions too complex and too theoretical. On
the other hand, this makes it valuable for specialists.

The work is written in German. This may undeservedly reduce its
competitiveness on a book market which has seen the appearance of several
English introductions to the older stages of Chinese in the past years (Fuller
2004, Barnes 2007 and others). The elaborate German acdaemic syntax which the
authors use when they explain the grammar, especially the syntax of AC, will
render the work even less accessible to users with other mothertongues. One
would wish that this work be also translated into English for a wider

This work is particularly notable in that the authors constantly and
systematically refer the reader to the state-of-the-art in regard to the
historical phonology and morphology of AC. In several respects, the use of AC
phonological and morphological reconstructions has a tremendous impact on the
objective characteristics of the language and its subjective perception.
First, the dazzling number of homophones that is the result of reading the
characters according to the Modern Chinese standard gives way to a
considerably richer variation in sound and form. Second, the poetic structure
of ancient texts becomes apparent when the original rhymes and assonances are
restored (e.g., II: 119). And third, looking at the language in this form
leads to a very different impression of AC, not as a perfectly isolating
language, but as a language with morphology, perhaps even with -- optional --
case marking. What is meant by morphology in AC is, at first sight, covert,
concealed by the “allzu bezaubernder Schleier der Schriftzeichen” (‘the all
too charming veil of the written characters’; II: 10). On the level of the
Modern Chinese phonology, which is traditionally used in the pronunciation of
AC texts, the manifold derivational connections between the lexical items
cannot be recognised. Obliterated by the sound changes that Chinese underwent
from the ancient to the modern period, many of the lexical items that
originally belonged together have developed in phonetically diverse
directions. For example, when one confronts the conjunction suì ‘thereupon’,
the adverb yù ‘thereupon’, the verb shù ‘to follow’ and the verb shuài ‘to
lead; be led’, which are all written with different, unrelated characters
(only suì and shù use the same radical character, chuò ‘to walk’), it would
not be immediately obvious that they are all related. It is only in their
respective AC reconstructions *s-m-lut-s, *(Cǝ-)lut, *m-lut and *sr-(m-)lut
that their common root *lut ‘to follow’ emerges, amplified by various pre- and
suffixes (II: 398). Only rarely does a mere change in the tone indicate the
former presence of derivation.

It is also derivational, i.e. genuine morphological processes, which are at
play when AC lexemes are transferred form one word class to another. According
to the authors, this is not just conversion, i.e. the mere transference of a
noun to the class of verbs by zero derivation, as in English ‘to e-mail’. A
famous line from Kǒng Zǐ’s (Confucius’) Analects (Lùn Yǔ 12.11) illustrates

jūn jūn, chén chén, fù fù, zǐ zì
‘The ruler acts ruler-like, the minister acts minister-like, the father acts
father-like, the son acts son-like’ (or: ‘let the ruler act like a ruler
should’, etc.)

In Chinese script, the passage is written by expressing each of the four
parallel utterances by using the same character twice. In each utterance, the
first occurrence of the word expresses the subject, the second the verb, which
describes the act of behaving like the prototypical representative of the
corresponding substantive. Superficially, this could be analysed as involving
conversion, like it is indeed done by Peyraube (2004: 1000; without indicating
the tones), Pulleyblank (sine anno: 26; reading zǐ zǐ) and Fuller (2004:
41–42; reading zǐ zǐ implied). However, the present authors base their reading
zǐ zì < *tsǝ-q tsǝ-s ‘the son acts son-like’ with morphologically marked
verbal derivation on Middle Chinese sources where a difference in tone is
indicated (II: 21–22). In the case of the other words, the derivational
suffixes that can be assumed for AC have become obliterated beyond recognition
in the course of transmission, but zǐ zì preserves a valuable trace of the
original situation.

A special type of derivation is the forming of negative referents by prefixing
bu ‘not’ (‘Suffix’ in the description of this process at III: 228 should be
better replaced by ‘Präfix’ or the more general ‘Affix’). Effectively, this
results in what in other languages would be called privative compounds.

I find particularly appealing that in this book the presentation of the
grammatical facts is frequently contrasted with structures in European
languages, especially German, thereby shedding light on typological
characteristics of Chinese. For example, the authors make interesting remarks
about the differences between AC and German language usage which may reflect
different psychological and societal attitudes (these terms are my own). These
differences are not only apparent in the obvious areas, like, for instance, in
the pronominal system which encodes status distinctions in Chinese (III: 330),
or in the notable Chinese tendency towards semantic underspecification, i.e.
the suppression of redundant information in utterances, thereby creating
statements that border on obscurity. Differences emerge also, for example, in
the reluctance of AC to use verbs metaphorically, with the consequence of
making necessary a large number of semantically very nuanced verbs (III:
47–8), or in the restrictions that pertain to what adjectives (see below on
the aptness of this term) may be subjected to comparison (III: 54-55).

I conclude with a few stray remarks. A well-known trait of Chinese is that it
fundamentally lacks a class of adjectives. Instead, ‘verbal attributes’, i.e.
qualitative or stative verbs, are used to express qualities. The structural
proof that these words are truly verbs and not something else lies in their
syntactic behaviour which in all respects resembles that of verbs expressing
actions. One of the few words for which the authors set up true adjectival
status is taì ‘big, great’ (II: 31, II: 202). The structural reason for this
extravaganza is that taì only occurs in prenominal attributive position, never
in predicative constructions. As a typological parallel, it may be worth
noting that in the Romance language the adjective meaning ‘big, great’ also
behaves differently from most other adjectives, by being placed before the
noun it qualifies, not after.

Occasionally, the syntactic rules of AC display even stronger, unexpected
typological similarities with other languages. There is a rule whereby the
negative bù and other particles, which the authors call case markers, attract
personal pronouns from regular postverbal into preverbal position (III:
336–7), e.g.:

[X] bù wǒ zhī
SUBJ NEG PRON.1sg know
‘X does not know me’

vs. the affirmative version with the normal word order SVO:

[X] zhī wǒ yǐ
SUBJ know PRON.1sg ASPectual
‘X knows me already’

An example with a case marker with adverbial force:

yǔ wǒ fá Yí
INSTR PRON.1sg attack OBJ
‘You (pl.), attack Yí together with me’

This is strikingly reminiscent of Old Irish infixed pronouns, which by a
conspiracy of several factors have also been attracted to preverbal position,

ní= m· ḟitir X
NEG= PRON.1sg= know.3sg SUBJ
‘X does not know me’


fo= m· chain loíd luin
under= PRON.1sg.= sing.3sg lay blackbird.GEN
‘a blackbird’s lay sings under me (i.e., accompanies me with singing)’

In summary, this is a great introduction to Ancient Chinese, on the one hand
lending a guiding hand to absolute beginners, and at the same time providing a
valuable resource about the grammatical properties of Ancient Chinese for

Barnes, Archie. 2007. Chinese through Poetry. An Introduction to the Language
and Imagery of Traditional Verse. London: WritersPrintShop.

Fuller, Michael A. 2004. An Introduction to Literary Chinese (Harvard East
Asian Monographs 176). Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Gassmann, Robert H. & Wolfgang Behr. 2008. Übersetzungsvorschläge. Zürich.
Available by email from Wolfgang Behr.

Peyraube, Alain. 2004. Ancient Chinese. In: Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). 2004. The
Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 988-1014.

Pulleyblank, Edwin G. sine anno. Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar.
Vancouver: UBC Press.

David Stifter, Professor of Early Irish at the National University of Ireland,
Maynooth, is author of Sengoídelc: Old Irish for Beginners. His interest in
Ancient Chinese comes from the point of view of the didactics of ancient
Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Page Updated: 28-Feb-2014

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation       About LINGUIST    |   Contact Us       ILIT Logo
While the LINGUIST List makes every effort to ensure the linguistic relevance of sites listed on its pages, it cannot vouch for their contents.