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Review of  A Synchronic and Diachronic Study of the Grammar of the Chinese Xiang Dialects

Reviewer: Jianhua Hu
Book Title: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study of the Grammar of the Chinese Xiang Dialects
Book Author: Yunji Wu
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Xiang
Issue Number: 17.107

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Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 00:43:47 -0800 (PST)
From: Jianhua HU
Subject: A synchronic and diachronic study of the grammar of the
Xiang dialects

AUTHOR: Wu, Yunji
TITLE: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study of the Grammar of the
Chinese Xiang Dialects
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 162
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Jianhua Hu, Department of Linguistics, Hunan University, P. R. China


This book is a study of the Chinese Xiang dialects spoken in Hunan,
from both a synchronic and diachronic perspective. Following Bao and
Li (1985), it classifies the dialects spoken in Hunan into dialects
distributed over five broad areas:
(1) the Xiang dialects spoken in the center of Hunan;
(2) southwestern Mandarin dialects spoken in the west and south;
(3) the Gan and Hakka dialects spoken in the east;
(4) the Waxiang dialect spoken in the west of Hunan;
(5) some unnamed dialects spoken in the south of Hunan.
The book also follows Yuan Jiahua (1983) in dividing the Xiang
dialects group into New Xiang and Old Xiang, with Old Xiang
maintaining the Middle Chinese voiced initials that New Xiang has lost.
The book consists of ten chapters, in addition to Introduction, Final
Remarks, and a substantial Appendix. This book will be of interest to
scholars and students working on grammar, dialectology, historical
linguistics, comparative linguistics, typological linguistics, and

Introduction. The introductory chapter, besides introducing the
linguistic approach and data of the book, gives an overview of Xiang
grammar. It claims that the methods and theories of comparative and
typological linguistics will be used in its synchronic study of
contemporary Xiang grammar, and the methods and theories of
historical linguistics and grammaticalization will be adopted in its
diachronic study of the evolution of the syntactical systems of the
Xiang dialects. Data used in this book include recorded narratives and
existing publications in the study of Xiang dialects, in addition to the
author's own data collection and fieldwork. The overview of Xiang
grammar, which serves as background for the chapters to follow,
covers topics such as word structure, syntactic categories, and word

Chapter 1 The Spoken Language of the Xiang Dialects. This chapter
introduces the main phonological features of the Xiang dialects and
the evolution of the phonological system of the Changsha (the capital
city of Hunan) dialect over 50 years. The most significant phonological
feature of the Xiang dialects is the retention of the contrast between
Middle Chinese voiced and voiceless consonants, which has been lost
in most other Chinese dialects. This chapter also discusses how
conflicting speech codes have caused sound change and semantic
variation in the Changsha community. The general tendency in
Changsha has been a shift from 21 tone to 45 tone. According to the
author, the shift towards a higher tone results from the influence of
Putonghua (PTH), ie., the standard Chinese.

Chapter 2 Written Language of the Xiang Dialects. This chapter
discusses the techniques for representing Xiang dialects in Chinese
characters. There are two types of written materials in which Xiang
dialects are represented in characters: those mainly written in dialects
and those written in a combination of Mandarin and dialects. Based on
the discussion of the difficulties and techniques used in recording
dialects in three types of examples (A Dictionary of the Changsha
Dialect, two published editions of a novel, and the tape and libretto of
two local operas), the author points out that there are three
techniques that the book will use in representing Xiang dialects. They
are: (1) the use of corresponding characters; (2) the use of a
homophonous character; (3) the use of a hollow rectangle.

Chapter 3 Morphology and Its Evolution in the Xiang Dialects. This
chapter discusses the lexical systems of the Xiang dialects. It shows
that, although a Xiang dialect may share up to 85% of its morphemes
with Mandarin, a Xiang dialect may have a small proportion of
monosyllabic morphemes, mainly verbs describing bodily movement,
that are absent from Mandarin. For instance, in Changsha and Loudi
dialects, there are 42 verbs describing bodily movements (verbs
describing movements related to five senses and movements of head,
hands, feet or the whole body, etc.) that have no corresponding forms
in Mandarin. It also shows how words are formed in Xiang dialects.
According to the author, affixation has the most distinguishing features
in Xiang dialects.

Chapter 4 Pronouns and Their Evolution in the Xiang Dialects. This
chapter introduces the pronominal systems and their features in the
Xiang dialects, using pronouns of the Changsha dialect as major
examples. The research, which is based on the author's own
fieldwork, shows that, although both suffixation and tonal variation are
used to mark the difference between singular and plural forms of
personal pronouns in the Xiang dialects, a shift has occurred from
tonal variation to suffixation, due to the influence of northern Chinese.
Besides showing that there exists a three-way instead of two-way
distinction in demonstrative pronouns in some localities, it further
demonstrates that there is a close relationship between personal and
demonstrative pronouns in phonology, due to the etymological
relationship or analogy. Another interesting point about demonstrative
pronouns from the syntactic perspective is that in some localities, for
instance, the Xinhua dialect, demonstrative pronouns like 'this'
and 'that' cannot occupy argument positions.

Chapter 5 Adverbs and Their Evolution in the Xiang Dialects. This
chapter describes the adverbial system in the Changsha dialect,
showing that most adverbs in the Changsha dialect are not related to
those in Mandarin in etymology. Negative adverbs in the Xiang
dialects are the focus of discussion in this chapter. It is claimed that in
the Xiang dialects the negative adverb derived from a verb with a
bilabial nasal consonant, and there used to be no distinction between
a negative verb and a negative adverb, as is the case with the
Longhui and Xiangxiang dialects which still keep traces of the earlier
stage in this aspect.

Chapter 6 The Evolution of Passive and Disposal Constructions in the
Xiang Dialects. While briefly describing the prepositional markers, this
chapter focuses on the discussion of the historical development of the
passive and disposal constructions in the Xiang dialects. Based on her
investigation of the oral data from one hundred localities, the author
shows that twenty forms can be used as disposal markers and thirty-
three as passive markers. An interesting point to note is that the Xiang
dialects differ from Mandarin in that the disposal and passive markers
in some localities are often derived from the same verb. The disposal
markers mainly came from the verb with the meaning 'to give' or 'to
take'. The passive markers, besides deriving from the above two
meanings, can also come from verbs meaning 'to suffer', 'to receive',
or 'to request', etc. Another difference between Mandarin and the
Xiang dialects is that both disposal and passive markers in the Xiang
dialects derived from active verbs.

Chapter 7 Aspectual Markers and Their Evolution in the Xiang
Dialects. This chapter consists of three parts. Part one discusses the
aspect markers in the Changsha and Xiangxiang dialects. These
aspect markers mainly fall into three categories: perfective, anterior,
and continuative. Part two examines how aspect markers evolved from
locative markers. Part three studies the grammaticalization path of the
aspect markers in the Xiang dialects. It is claimed that all the aspect
markers in the Xiang dialects came from verbs indicating direction.
While some aspect markers may indicate the same directional
meaning, they may also be used to express the same aspect meaning.
In the Xiang dialects, not all aspect markers have finished their
process of grammaticalization. Although some aspect markers in
Xiang have become pure aspect markers, there are still some aspect
markers that bear the same phonetic forms as their original verbs and
can thus be used as free verbs.

Chapter 8 The Evolution of Structural Particles in the Xiang Dialects.
This chapter describes the forms that are used to express the
subordinating relation between a modifier and a modified head. In
Mandarin, a structural particle (SP) with the same phonetic form, ie.,
DE, may be used to indicate the modifying relation between an
attributive and a head, or between an adverbial and a head, or
between a verbal complement and a head that precedes the relevant
particle. It is shown in this chapter that the situation of the SP with the
above grammatical functions in the Xiang dialects is more complex
than that in Mandarin. For instance, the SP DE occurring before a
nominal head in Mandarin can be represented by three different forms
in the Xinhua and Lianyuan dialects: a plural suffix, a classifier or a
structural particle. What is interesting with these two dialects is that, if
the nominal head refers to people, the plural suffix must be used,
whether the modifier has plural reference or not. The author proposes
that there are at least four layers of attributive particles in the Xiang
dialects, and in layer one, there was a distinction between the
attributive SP and the nominalizer. It is claimed that this distinction can
still be found in some parts of Qiyang and Xinhua.

Chapter 9 The Modal Particles in the Xiang Dialects and Their
Evolution. The first part of this chapter describes the modal particles in
the Changsha dialect, which can be classified into phrase particles
and sentence particles according to the author. It is pointed out that
the Xiang dialects differ from Mandarin in that, whereas Mandarin
uses intonation or adverbs to indicate the speaker's intention and
willingness, the Xiang dialects often use modal particles instead in
natural utterances, and that modal particles usually have a stressed or
prolonged tone in the Xiang dialects. The second part of this chapter
discusses the evolution of modal particles of interrogative sentences
in the Xiang dialects. It claims that the basic structure of the Yes/No
questions in the Xiang dialects is in the form of [V + Neg + (MOD)],
which is a construction that can be traced back to Archaic Chinese,
and now, this structure has begin to shift to [V + FF(fusion form)].

Chapter 10 The Evolution of Double-Object and De Constructions in
the Xiang Dialects. The first part of this chapter describes the double-
object construction. It shows that the double-object construction takes
the form of [V + DO + IO] in Xiang, as opposed to the form of [V + IO +
DO] in Mandarin. As regards the above form in Xiang, a dative marker
is not required in some dialects, but compulsory in others. It is
proposed that the difference between Mandarin and the Xiang
dialects with respect to the double-object construction may be related
to the fact that the double-object construction in Mandarin evolved
from the form [V + Dative M + IO + DO], whereas that in the Xiang
dialects evolved from the form [V + DO + Dative M + IO] and [V1 + DO
+ V1 + IO]. The second part of this chapter discusses the evolution of
[DE + V] and [V + DE] constructions in the Xiang dialects. It suggests
that DE in these two structures evolved from the same lexical source,
though they did not undergo the same path of development. In the first
structure, it developed from the active meaning of 'to obtain', while in
the second structure, it developed from the passive meaning of 'to be
obtained' and can still be used as a verb indicating the completion of
an action.

Final Remarks. This chapter summarizes the distinctive grammatical
features of the Xiang dialects that have been revealed in this book.


This is the first book in international Chinese linguistics that describes
the grammar of the Xiang dialects spoken in Hunan. Both synchronic
and diachronic methods have been used in its description and
analysis of the Xiang data which came from not only existing
publications, but also the author's own field work. It shows
convincingly that the Xiang dialects keep different layers of specific
grammatical forms in different localities, which in fact offers an
excellent mirror to view different stages of grammaticalization of
function words in Chinese. The investigation into the Xiang dialects
from the diachronic perspective demonstrates not only the possibility
of tracing the grammaticalization path of the function words, but also
that of reconstructing earlier layers of grammar on the basis of the
modern Xiang data. The author points out that this is possible mainly
because the speed of evolution of grammatical forms varies in
different localities of Xiang. For instance, in Archaic Chinese, there
exists a contrast between attributive and nominalizer, and this contrast
can still be found in a few Xiang localities, though it has been lost in
most localities.

The synchronic study of the Xiang dialects in this book consists of not
only the analyses of the modern data of Xiang, but also the
comparative study of Xiang with Mandarin as well as other dialects
surrounding Xiang. As to its synchronic study demonstrated in this
book, I find that the author is much influenced by the research
methods adopted by the Chinese linguists in Hunan Normal University.
The typical characteristics shown by the above-mentioned linguists in
their study of the Xiang dialects are that they tend to combine the
synchronic study with the diachronic study. It is true that this method
has a lot of advantages in revealing the evolution picture of a dialect,
but its description of the synchronic data may not satisfy those
linguists who are more interested in the grammatical facts of the Xiang
dialects from the perspective of theoretical linguistics and linguistic
typology. For instance, its discussion of interrogative pronouns does
not include a description of the facts related to the indefinite use of
them. Hence, one cannot know from this book whether those
interrogative pronouns can be used as indefinite pronouns, or under
what conditions they can be used as indefinite pronouns. One also
cannot find from the discussion of passive constructions the relevant
facts concerning the retained object phenomenon in the Xiang dialects
or the syntactic difference between Xiang and Mandarin with respect
to passives. For instance, in Mandarin, the following sentence is

John bei tufei sha le fuqin
John PSV bandits kill ASP father
Lit: 'John was killed father by the bandits.'

But, according to my knowledge of the Xiang dialects, not all of them
allow the occurrence of the retained object like the one above in their
passive constructions. Another important aspect of Chinese grammar
that is not explored in its description of the Xiang dialects is the topic-
comment constructions that characterize Chinese, known as a topic-
prominent language. Although the Xiang dialects share many
similarities with the Wu dialects as both are southern dialects, they
may not have the kind of topic or sub-topic structures in the Wu
dialects as discussed in Liu (2003) and Xu and Liu (1998). If this is
true, then it will become a very interesting research issue from the
typological point of view.

As the first comprehensive study of the Xiang dialects, the book offers
an excellent survey of the Xiang grammar in different localities. It
benefits not only in its comprehensive overview, but also in its
demonstration of the grammaticalization path of function words as
exhibited in different Xiang localities. Given this, some minor
restrictions are not an issue.


Bao, Houxing and Yong Ming Li. 1985. Hunan Sheng Hanyu Hanyu
Ditu San Fu [Three Chinese Dialect Maps of Hunan Province].
Fangyan 4: 273-276.

Cui, Zhenhua. 1998. Yiyang Fangyan Yanjiu [A Study of the Yiyang
Dialect]. Changsha: Hunan Education Press.

Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva. 2002. World Lexicon of
Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Liu, Danqing. 2003. Yuxu Leixingxue yu Jieci Lilun [Word Order
Typology and the Theory of Prepositions]. Beijing: The Commercial

Luo, Xinru. 1998. Xinhua Fangyan Yanjiu [A Study of the Xinhua
Dialect]. Changsha: Hunan Education Press.

Wu, Yunji. 2001. The Development of Locative Markers in the
Changsha Xiang Dialects. In Hilary Chappell (ed.), Sinitic Grammar: A
Synchronic and Diachronic Perspective, 31-55. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Xu, Liejiong and Danqing Liu. 1998. Huati de Jiegou yu Gongneng
[The Structure and Function of Topics]. Shanghai: Shanghai
Education Press.

Yuan, Jiahua. 1983. Hanyu Fangyan Gaiyao [An Outline of Chinese
Dialects] (2nd edition). Beijing: Wenzi Gaige Chubanshe.

Jianhua Hu is Professor of Linguistics at the Department of
Linguistics, Hunan University. His research interests include syntax,
semantics, Chinese linguistics, language acquisition, and linguistic