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Topics in Chinese Linguistics: Introduction to Chinese. Unit 7: Varieties and Changes. Varieties and Changes. Language is not static. It is under constant change.   Language is not homogeneous, it has varieties. Variation and variants. Why does a language change?.

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Topics in Chinese Linguistics: Introduction to Chinese

Unit 7: Varieties and Changes

Varieties and Changes

  • Language is not static. It is under constant change.  

  • Language is not homogeneous, it has varieties.

  • Variation and variants

Why does a language change?

  • The language changes when the society has some changes  

  • Emergence of new concepts and disappearance of old things  

  • Language contacts: mobility

  • The internal linguistic rule

The speed of change

  • The vocabulary change is the most rapid change

  • Pronunciation and grammar change slower than vocabulary

New words emerge

  • New words emerge

  • 人造衛星,團伙,責任制,kleenex, xerox

  • New meaning is added to the old words

  • 朋友(女朋友),愛人

  • The meaning changes (shrinks)

  • 批評,反省

  • Foreign words


Social variance – Social dialects


  • age

  • sex

  • profession

  • social economical status

Sexual variation

Prof. C. C. Cheng's software can identify male from female: Female-150Hz or higher, Male - 150Hz or lower

Sexual variation: Pronunciation

The female students' pronunciation of palatal sounds

  • Syllables with palatal(s)DentalizedFrontedTotal

  • 些 (yǒu yì) xiē (some) 31 17 20

  • 急 jí (in a hurry) 14 12 26

  • 雞 jī (rooster/chicken) 10 12 22

  • 寄 jì (to send) 21 10 21

  • 幾 jǐ (several) 11 7 18

  • 細 xì (slender; fine) 9 12 21

  • 積極 jījí (active) 7 10 17

  • 焦急 jiāojí (worried) 3 13 16

  • Source: Hu, Mingyang. 1991.Feminine accent in the Beijing vernacular: a sociolinguistic investigation. JCLTA XXVI No.1

Sexual variation: Pronunciation

/w/ vs. /v/


wèi, wén, wàn wén

vèi, vén, vàn vén


xīnwén, yíwàn, wèile, wàijiāo

xīnvén, yívàn, vèile, vàijiāo

Sexual variation: vocabulary

Shen (1987) womanish accent 娘娘腔

  • Adding softner particles:呀,呢,啦,耶 ya, ne, la, ye

  • Male-我今天忙極了。Female-我今天忙死了。

    Wǒ jīntiān máng jí le. Wǒ jīntiān máng sǐ le.

    (I am extremely busy today.)(I am busy to death.)

  • Male-我 wǒ Femal-人家 rénjiā

  • In one sentence: “人家想死你了耶!”

    Rénjiā xiáng sǐ nǐ le ye!

    (I am terribly missing you!)

Sexual variation: Woman script女書-中國的一種奇特的現象

Woman Script

Shangjiangyu Village, Jiangyong County, Hunan Province


Mrs. Yang Huanyi – the last lady who is able to write woman script


Yi NianhuaTang BaojinGao Yinxian

Woman Script vs. Characters (1)

Woman Script vs. Characters (2)

Woman Script vs. Characters (3)

Characteristics of Woman Script

  • Based on Hunan dialect 以湖南方言記音

  • Syllabic 一字一音

  • Limited number of syllables 音節有限

  • Non-standardized 不規範

Woman Script and Chinese Characters

  • Strokes are simpler (maximum of 18 strokes)

  • Fewer number of woman characters (total number is fewer than 1,000. Commonly used about 400)

  • Phonetic

Uses of Woman Script

  • Religious worship 宗教祭祀

  • Chanting for entertainment 讀唱娛樂

  • Making sworn sisters 結拜姐妹

  • Correspondence 書信來往

  • Complaining and biography 訴苦寫傳

  • Event recording 記事記史

Three sister authors

Burning sheets written in woman script to mourn the dead sisters.


Young girls’ workshop to learn woman script


Campus vocabulary in Taiwan

鬥陣(一起 together)

代誌大條(事態很嚴重 serious situation)

520(我愛你 I love you)

LKK(很老氣 old looking)

Any more? The students from Taiwan may contribute.

Hong Kong Vocabulary

拿士的get the stick

坐的士take a taxi

去士多to to the store

食多士to eat a toast

Hong Kong Vocabulary

  • 巴士 ( a bus)

  • 迷你裙 (mini-skirt)

  • 可讀性 (readability)

  • 車立 (elevator)

Vocabulary used in the Mainland

  • 反右鬥爭 (the struggle against the rightists)

  • 文革 (Cultural Revolution)

  • 紅五類、黑五類 (red, black five categories)

  • 紙老虎 (paper tiger)

Vocabulary used in the Mainland

  • 先生,小姐,太太,女士=>同志=>師傅

  • 老X,小X

  • 叔叔-解放軍叔叔

  • 阿姨-保姆,幼兒園老師

  • 獨生子女

  • 愛人,老伴,孩子他爹(娘),老頭(我老頭出差了),

  • 我那一口子

Taiwan Guoyu 台灣國語

  • Phonetic difference語音差別

    No retroflex sound 台灣國語常缺少卷舌音

  • Modal particle ‘ye’ at the end of sentences


  • ‘Hǎo’ is used for ‘hěn’ 用“好”代替“很”

  • Vocabulary difference 詞彙差別

Taiwan Guoyu 台灣國語

  • 同志同性戀 (gay and lesbian)

  • 集裝箱貨櫃 (container)

  • 激光鐳射(laser)

  • 普通話國語(Mandarin)

  • 繁體字正體字 (traditional characters)

  • 出租汽車計程車 (taxi)

  • 表演作秀(to give a show)

  • 電子計算機電腦(computer)

  • 電子郵件電子郵遞 (e-mail)

Taiwan Guoyu 台灣國語

  • The words that are not used in the mainland.大陸沒有的詞:

  • 寫作診所(writing clinic)

  • 工作坊(workshop)

Taiwan Guoyu 台灣國語

  • Grammatical differences語法差別



    電子郵件,用說的嘛也通。(1999/3/4 sinanet)

Chinese beyond China 海外華語

  • 燕梳 insurance

  • 子子給 market

  • 土庫 basement

  • 柏文 apartment

  • Any more?


  • Language is not static and homogeneous

  • Variation exists in phonology, vocabulary and grammar

  • Social varieties are related to the social variables

  • Social varieties are equally good

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