Workshop “Tracing Language Evolution in Ancient Chinese Texts”

Oxford, UK
8–10th Jul 2019

Oxford University China Centre, Merton College and The Queen’s College are accepting applications for the Ancient Chinese Workshop with Professor George Starostin “Tracing Language Evolution in Ancient Chinese Texts”, which will be held on 8–10 July 2019.

It is generally recognized that “Old Chinese” is essentially a blanket term, covering a large variety of closely related but non-identical idioms that were spoken and written in various regions of Ancient China for at least a thousand years. However, despite extensive scientific literature on the subject, clear and precise methodology that would help the general reader of Old Chinese texts differentiate between its numerous dialects and chronological states is still lacking. This is due to many factors that obscure our understanding — from the logographic nature of Chinese characters to general scarceness of data on individual idioms, not to mention the issue of later interpolations into earlier texts and elements of linguistic and stylistic contamination.

The workshop will be guided by Dr. George Starostin, Professor at the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and an expert on the history of the Chinese language.

The participants of the workshop will explore aspects of linguistic evolution of the written (and, presumably, spoken) forms of Old Chinese throughout the centuries, through comparative analysis of texts surviving in alternate versions that may reflect dialectal and chronological differences. On the first day, they will focus on excerpts from the Shījīng that differ across several schools of transmission and palaeographic records. They will then investigate the differences between pre-Qín and post-Qín Chinese by studying the specific changes between passages in the Zuǒzhuàn and their modified versions in the Shǐjì. The main emphasis in both cases will be on the lexical layer, although issues of diachronic grammar and phonology will be addressed as well.

The workshop will run for 3 days, with morning and afternoon sessions of 5 hours overall every day. Of these three days, one will be given over to the Shījīng, with the following two fully dedicated to the Zuǒzhuàn.

The workshop is predominantly targeted at current graduate students within and outside the UK. The organisers encourage those who are currently not enrolled in graduate programmes to submit their applications, but it should be acknowledged that priority will be given to students. Unfortunately, due to limited funding, the organisers will not be able to provide support towards travel and accommodation expenses in Oxford.

Applicants should submit a CV and a brief (up to 500 words) statement explaining their interest in the workshop. Applications should be sent 30 April to . Successful applicants will be notified no later than by 10 May.

Recommended literature and primary sources:

Bernhard Karlgren. 1926. On the authenticity and nature of the Tso Chuan. Göteborgs Högskolas arsskrift 32.
Bernhard Karlgren. 1964. Glosses on the Book of Odes. Stockholm: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities.
Martin Kern. 2005. The Odes In Excavated Manuscripts. In: M. Kern (ed.). Text and Ritual in Early China. University of Washington Press: 149–193.