語言組計劃簡介

The Formation and Development of Languages in China

中國各民族語言的形成與發展

The identify of a people depends on three evolutionary systems. These are: [1] demic -- their physical appearance, [2] cultural – their beliefs and behaviors, and [3] linguistic - the languages they speak. These three systems are traditionally studied by [1] geneticists and physical anthropologists, [2] ethnologists and cultural anthropologists, and [3] linguists, respectively. These three systems do not always go together. Often, there is hybridization between peoples in all three systems.

Manchus, to take a well-known example, originate demically as an Altaic people, judging by the language of the Qing dynasty rulers. But they retain some residual aspects of Manchu culture, linguistically, they have virtually completely adopted the language of the Hans. Such examples can be easily multiplied. To understand the formation of the Chinese people, therefore, requires the coordinated effort of at least the disciplines mentioned in the above paragraph.

The essence of the mother project, therefore, of which this linguistic project is a daughter project, is interdisciplinary. Furthermore, we need to go beyond the present political boundaries of China in order to arrive at the true picture, since peoples have been criss-crossing these boundaries for countless millennia. Understanding the origins of the peoples of China and their process of formation is critical for understanding human origins.

The genetic daughter project discusses the current controversy between the Out-of-Africa hypothesis and the Multiregional Continuity hypothesis, and the importance of the Chinese case toward the resolution of this controversy in questions of human evolution. Similarly, China holds the key to the distribution of many major language groups in the world. Of particular relevance are two recent linguistic hypotheses. The Dene-Caucasian hypothesis [advocated by S. Starostin of Moscow] posits a western origin of the Sino- Tibetan language, of which the Chinese language is a member. The Austric hypothesis [advocated by R. Blust of Hawaii] posits a homeland in southwestern China for many groups of languages, including the Austronesian languages which now circle the world.

The linguistic daughter project is closely tied in with the mother project in that the linguistic is one of the three evolutionary systems mentioned above. Although the research fellow proposed in the linguistic project will spend the bulk of his time in linguistic research, he will preface this research with adequate exposure and training in genetics and cultural anthropology. Awareness of the interdisciplinary approach is a vital aspect of the project.

The Principal Investigator of the linguistics daughter project has worked within an interdisciplinary framework on problems of language evolution for several decades. An example of this work is a theoretical paper he co-authored with an authority in population genetics:

Cavalli-Sforza,L.L. and W.S-Y.Wang. 1986. Spatial distance and lexical replacement. Language 62.38-55.

His interest in the Chinese language was shown in an article published in the Scientific American in February 1973. More recently, he has edited two monographs on the subject, and published a long book chapter on the subject with a specifically interdisciplinary orientation:

Wang, William S-Y., ed. 1991. Languages and Dialects of China. Journal of Chinese Linguistics Monograph #3.

Wang, William S-Y., ed. 1995. The Ancestry of the Chinese Language. Journal of Chinese Linguistics Monograph #8.

Wang, W.S-Y. 1998. Three windows on the past. In The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia. V. H. Mair, ed. Pp. 508-536. Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum Publications.

The achievements of the linguistics daughter project will be of two sorts. On the one hand, we will be building up data and theories which bear on the origins and formation of the Chinese peoples from the viewpoint of linguistics. We will be in a much better position to evaluate the Dene-Caucasian hypothesis and the Austric hypothesis mentioned earlier, as well as hypotheses concerning the southward expansion of the Hans over the past three millennia. On the other hand, we will have participated in training a young scholar for meaningful research within an interdisciplinary and Pan-Asian perspective. Only by training such young scholars can we hope to eventually come to solid answers to these fundamental questions in human evolution in general and the evolution of the Chinese peoples in particular.