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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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1 Introduction

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1

Introduction

This book offers the reader an introduction to the Chinese language that covers a wide range of topics explained simply in a relatively concise form. In addition to addressing the usual areas of general interest in Chinese such as the history of the language, the Chinese ‘dialects’, Chinese characters and the basics of Chinese grammar, the book also offers a scientific view of Chinese from the perspective of human behavior and society. We will examine how different social groups in China use the language differently, how Chinese children and U.S. college students learn Chinese, and how the Chinese language is processed in the brain. We also look into the origins of Chinese language as revealed by the genealogical evidence, learn how language loss is manifested in Chinese and consider some psychological features of Chinese speech perception and production.

The basic sounds and grammar of Mandarin Chinese will be covered to be sure, but we will also consider whether speaking Chinese influences the way a Chinese speaker thinks and whether speaking Chinese affects how quickly children learn to count (hint: it does!). We will cover some basic facts about Chinese reading—such as how character complexity affects reading speed—and we will find out what problems occur in the speech of Chinese stroke patients. We will survey the properties of Chinese language ‘tones’ and find out where they came from. The speech characteristics of different social groups in China will also be described...

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