02 July 2014

reading notes: Pelkey's Mandarin Tone in Historical Epic Quest Perspective

I'm including this in my Reading Notes series in part because it's just a fantastic piece of work, and in part because I had the great privilege of working with the author several years ago as his teaching assistant in a course on historical linguistics and as his student in a directed studies course on semiotics. Only Jamin would come up with a work like this on the historic of Mandarin tone. 

Pelkey, Jamin. (2013). Mandarin tone in historical epic quest perspective. In Jones, Trey, Slater, Keith W., Spruiell, Bill, Pulju, Tim, & Peterson, David J., The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics (p. 43). Washington: Speculative Grammarian Press. Retrieved 1 July 2014 from www.academia.edu

Pelkey's summary of the development of tone in Mandarin is told in a unique fashion, via an epic poem. The tones are characterized as knights. The development of register is signified by the addition of a lady paired with each knight. The division and rivalry between characters and deaths over time reduce the tones back to four: high-level (first tone), rising (second tone), low-contour (third tone), and falling (fourth tone).

My own study of Chinese is very limited; I took an introductory year in the language during my undergrad and was very interested but at the time unable to continue with any subsequent courses. Since then, I have read a few articles on the subject, and when I took a course on tonal analysis, I went with any optional readings on sinitic tone that the instructor offered (the instructor's specialty was African tone, so the course leaned more heavily on that side of things). While I've no real idea whether I'll ever up going to China (given my seasonal/environmental allergies I might not fare too well in most cities there long-term), I've wanted to at least visit the country for a long time, and would like to learn more of the language, both from a speaker's and a linguist's perspective.

At any rate, I know the very basics of tone in Mandarin from learning a little of the language, and I do have some education in the development and analysis of tone, though it's not exactly a specialty of mine (when I TAed for phonology courses, I ended up doing the lectures on stress, the other category of suprasegmentals). And this poem was a delightful way to learn the outline of how tone developed in modern-day Mandarin. It makes me want to learn more. Thanks, Jamin, for rekindling an old interest when I finally have time to actually pursue it!

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