Chances are, since you’re reading this quirky, Chinesey, languagey blog, that you’ve heard of Yuen Ren Chao’s monumental A Grammar of Spoken Chinese. It is often the first reference book to check for folks who are obsessed with Sinitic languages, especially modern, spoken varieties.
Still, odds are low that you’ve actually read it. First, it’s out of print, as far as I can tell, and used copies are really expensive. Second, its use of the elegant but hard-to-learn romanization system, Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR), which Chao (赵元任 Zhào Yuánrèn) was instrumental in helping create, makes it one step further removed from accessibility. Finally, as with any grammar that is approaching fifty years old, invariably it is getting figuratively dog-eared on certain points of phonology and usage.
But these are minor shortcomings. It’s a marvelous book. I haven’t read my copy cover-to-cover, but every time I open it I discover something I hadn’t thought of or realize that some “discovery” I thought I’d made was long ago elaborated and discussed by Chao.
How to get at the book, then? Continue…