Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Tradition and Innovation: Linguistic Field Research in China

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Tradition and Innovation: Linguistic Field Research in China

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)


It is universally admitted that most renowned linguists worldwide always adopted field research as a basic method in collecting linguistic data, and in surveying language use or in learning the survival state of languages. For instance, Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), Johann Christoph Adelung (1732-1806), Wilhelm Freiherr von Humboldt (1787-1835), and so on in the Western world, and Yang Xiong (53 B.C.E-18 A.D.) Xu Shen (58 A.D.-147A.D.), Liu Fu (1891-1934), Ma Xueliang (1913-1999), and so on in China are known figures in the area of linguistic field research with A Survey of Modern Wu Dialect (1928), A Report of Hu Bei Dialects Survey (1948), and A Grammar of Spoken Chinese (1965) as examples.

It is safe to say that field research is a cardinal approach to collecting linguistic data in almost every aspects. This is especially true for descriptive linguistics and sociolinguistics of the 20th century. With the development and influence of the above two subjects, field research finally becomes the primary approaches and methods of modern linguistics.

Some modern linguists define linguistic field research as follows:

Linguistic field research or fieldwork is the collection of linguistic data outside of a laboratory, library or workplace setting, and it is also the process of observing systematically the informants in the chosen survey locations and studying the linguistic data from the observation. The approaches and methods used in field research vary across disciplines with sociology, socio-psychology, anthropology, dialectology, economics, etc. for instance. Field research involves a range of well-defined, although variable, methods including informal interviews, direct observation, participation in the life of the group, collective discussions, analyzes of personal documents produced within the group, self-analysis, results from activities undertaken off- or on-line, and life-histories. Although the method generally is characterized as qualitative research, it may (and often does) include quantitative dimensions. (c.f.

However, some world linguists believe that it is a mixture of Western modern anthropology and linguistics, and it was translated into Chinese in the 1920s. Furthermore, some linguists assume falsely that field research is preserved for sociolinguistics, with no relation to other aspects of linguistic study. Actually, the fact is not as they believed. What Claire Bowern (2008) maintains can prove this argument that field research keeps close relation to all aspects of modern linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Historically, as a practical guide to all the steps in linguistic fieldwork, it is not the product of 20th linguistics, and keeps a long history in both Western and Chinese traditions.

Chinese Tradition of Linguistic Field Research

According to Jia (2012), it is as early as in the Zhou dynasty and the Qin era that linguistic field research has existed. In Da Liuxin Shu ffMBW [The Epistle to Liu Xin (around 14A.D.)], mainly a refusal to the order of his senior official Liu Xin, to end his compilation of linguistic fieldwork notes of speeches throughout the then China and in other neighboring states, and to send Liu his fieldwork book unfinished, Yang Xiong (53 B.C.E-18A.D.) states: "I was once told that linguistic fieldwork notes by Light-Carriage Messengers had been deposited in the libraries of Zhou and Qin Houses." In Fengshang TongyiXu MBM S/F [Preface to Anthology of Han Custom (around 194A.D.)] being a first travel notes in China, recording the ancient institutions, customs, and anecdotes of Han Dynasty, especially including historical notes on Mount Tai in current Shandong Province, Ying Shao (153A.D.-196A.D.) states that in the Era of Zhou and Qin, imperial emissaries were sent on chariots every August to make annual surveys of regional speeches throughout China and from neighboring states. …

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