A synchronic and diachronic study of the grammar of the Chinese Xiang dialects.

A synchronic and diachronic study of the grammar of the Chinese Xiang dialects. By Yunji Wu. (Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs 162.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2005. Pp. xxii, 438. ISBN 3110183668. $127 (Hb).

Reviewed by Picus S. Ding, Macao Polytechnic Institute

Based on extensive fieldwork in Hunan and data published in China, this book is one of the outcomes of Wu’s projects on the grammar of Xiang. Spoken in the central region of China, Xiang is among the least studied Chinese languages. This is probably the first monograph on Xiang written in English.


The book consists of ten chapters, plus an introductory chapter and ‘Final remarks’, a long list of appendices, and an index. The volume starts with the ‘Introduction’, providing an orientation to the book and an overview of Xiang grammar (1–18). Ch. 1 describes notable phonological features of Xiang, making reference to two varieties (Qiyang and Shaoyang), and explains three kinds of spoken Xiang: ‘spoken’ Changsha, ‘reading’ Changsha, and ‘plastic’ Putonghua (19–44). Ch. 2 discusses how Xiang could be written in Chinese characters, citing texts from a novel and local operas (45–71). Ch. 3 examines the morphology of Xiang and morphological development in some varieties of Xiang (72–113). Chs. 4 and 5 center on pronouns (114–38) and adverbs (139–77), respectively, addressing the evolution of personal pronouns and demonstrative pronouns as well as negative adverbs (viz. negation particles). Ch. 6 focuses on the evolution of passive and ‘disposal’ constructions in Xiang (178–206). Ch. 7 deals with perfective, anterior, and continuative markers and grammaticalization of locative markers to aspectual markers in Xiang (207–65). Ch. 8 studies the evolution of the attributive and nominalized particles, adverbial particles, and complement particles (266–97). Ch. 9 revolves around modal particles and their evolution in Xiang (298–326). Ch. 10 investigates the evolution of double-object and deconstructions in Xiang (327–63). ‘Final remarks’ summarizes the distinctive grammatical features of Xiang discussed in these chapters (364–65). The lengthy appendices encompass a description of the sounds of Xiang and details on data and their sources, among other miscellaneous items (366–403).


Rich in data, this volume is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to Chinese linguistics. Its presentation and organization, however, have some shortcomings. W has overlooked that most readers will be non-Chinese with little knowledge of the linguistic tradition and practice in China. The concept of fangyan in Chinese should not have been treated as an equivalent to dialect, for example, ‘Hunan “dialects” can be classified into: Xiang “dialects”, Southwestern Mandarin “dialects”, Gan and Hakka “dialects”, Waxiang “dialect” within the Mandarin-speaking areas’ (1). All of these ‘dialects’ are members of the big Chinese family, but of different generations. Xiang, Mandarin, Gan, and Hakka are at the same level; Southwestern Mandarin is a dialect of Mandarin only, not a dialect of Xiang or Gan. Finally, instead of relegating all maps to the end of the book, it would be more convenient for the reader if they were placed near the relevant texts.