刘月华讲座 刘月华 lecture. 刘月华 speaks!

For those of you who don't know the infamous 刘月华, if you are a serious student of mandarin you should go out and buy her not-so-new, but always used, (and not so up-to-date) "实用现代汉语语法". Even if you can't make it through the explanations, you can probably make it through the examples, and any of the words you have to look up to make it through the explanations are invaluable when discussing grammar. That being said, her book isn't particularly good, and I don't recommend because it is good, I recommend it because there are so very few options. Furthermore, the other major contenders for grammar books to own (you should own all of them because there are only like 4 serious ones), are often not to be found in the mainland.


Anyway, in the spirit of bookworm 'literary festival week/month/extravaganza/whatever', I decided to partake in the 'listening to 'experts' talk' activity. I wanted to go to some of the bookworm events, but 1, I kind of hate bookworm, 2, bookworm is Sanlitun central, and I certainly hate me some Sanlitun, 3, tickets are obviously sold out because bookworm is the size of my thumb, 4, I'd probably just end up going to the events and feeling that the speakers were dumb, misinformed, etc, and or starting fights with the few who were somewhat informed, which I suppose is not what the literary festival was all about, 5, tons of the events are for kids or non-china things, (?), and 6, HSK week is upon us. So, I took the next best route, which was listening to 刘月华 give a lecture/presentation at a place I wasn't really supposed to be at. You know you aren't supposed to be in a place when the speaker's every other word is 'foreigners this' or 'americans that' or 'english this' with many of those comments said while if not looking directly at me, at least look in the very general direction of me while I wonder if she can really see that far (she doesn't wear glasses). And yes, she probably can because it really isn't that far, and I am the only person there who is not some 20-something female chinese teacher in the room of 50 plus. Ok, there were two guys in suits in the front row, but they don't count, they are the management.

Ok, so rather than start a vigorous fight with her about her prejudices, misconceptions, misstatements, or even a congenial discussion of some grammar points she may find useful or interesting, I simply listened, wrote down some notes of what I thought was really silly and left quietly, with perhaps nothing more than a few grimaces during the lecture to register my disapproval (I sat in the corner, and it was a big room.)

刘月华 in some sense is unable to see the comedy of her own speech. Make no mistake, I do appreciate her work putting out this book, and her years teaching, in addition to the articles and other work she has done, but sometimes the higher you get up the 'respect and achievement ladder' the more ridiculous and silly the things you say seem. For example, if some 煎饼 salesman and me struck up a conversation about chinese grammar and writing (I swear I've never talked about this with him, yet) and he said something like: "Oh, foreigners hate to learn grammar, so the less you teach the better." And then five minutes later said, "You know what I've noticed, a lot of people can't really write chinese at the advanced level very well. I think they just need to read more, we can't really teach that." You might think, hmm, I think this man, despite being of great age and full of experience (just pretend for a moment!), is kind of missing the inner logic of what he is saying. But, when 刘月华 says things like that, it really makes me wonder. There is no doubt that she spent a great deal of her career dealing with this beginners, and nearly all chinese language education in china and abroad is geared for mastering the teaching and explanation of 'basic to intermediate' mostly 'oral chinese.' Now, that was fine when that was all people were learning (probably because it was all you were teaching), but it's a pretty irresponsible and silly way to look at the field in 2009. At some point I'd like to write about a set of goals and an outline for a serious program for chinese instruction at a four-year university, or a 2-years masters degree, along with comments about the the podcasting services and what they bring to the field, but that might have to wait for a while (maybe a few years if I ever get serious about that.)

Anyway, 刘月华 wasn't a letdown, but only because I was used to being disappointed by chinese academics who said really dumb or silly things. I'll probably write about her, and grammar books, another time, since I have quite a bit to say about this, but for now I'll put up a few things I wrote about from the lecture.

1. Dismissal of the need to discuss 着 past it's two primary uses.
Rebuttal: Hold this for me. A sentence that couldn't be more elementary in chinese or english and is rarely ever taught (I've seen it discussed in the far east series), has at least one common translation 给我拿着.

2. 老师我的作业在你那儿吗? Do you have my homework? Is the sentence she would like to hear instead of the evil 'english' use of 有 in 老师你有我的作业吗?

My contention is that her 'sample' sentence is not palatable to a large portion of the mandarin speaking world. (And the incorrect sentence would hardly register a problem, though being grammatically improper and perhaps not said by many.) A replacement that didn't require the use of 那儿 as referring pretty much solely to 'on the person' seems to be required here to avoid sounding very Beijing, or old Beijing. I don't take severe issue with the use of 那儿 (only heavy issue), but rather with the use of 那儿 without referring to a place directly, other than 'on the person.' It rings true for me only as rather orthodox (and maybe old) Beijing/North China speech. How about, did you get my homework? Did you receive me homework?

In response to a question about what reference books one should have, she managed to recommend I believe 3 books (or maybe only 2): her book, 八百词, and a third which I didn't hear (or she didn't say.) You should check out 八百词 it is interesting, but I'm still not sold as to whether it is really worth buying.

Finally, I will add my own grammatical idea. A brand of the 语气 了. The 'mood' or 'tone' 了, or 了3, (that is subscript 3), also know as ‘the other 了’. Many discussion of 了, particularly the 了3 get treated like this, 'oh, that's just 语气了' or ‘固定搭配’

Here I will try to illuminate somewhat past the infinite and infinitely useless discussion of 'simply 语气了'

I call this 语气了的一种: 极端了。

都。。。了 都十二点了。
(形)(宾)了 热死了
怎么。。。了 怎么回事了,怎么(那么)晚了
太。。。了 太好了
最。。。了 最舒服的情况了
再。。。了 再舒服不过了。
可。。。了 可大了

Describing this use of 了 as fixed use or simply 语气 is useless. This is a type of the use of 了 when describing situations that are being accentuated or somehow go to the extreme. There are many other uses of the 语气了 so it is best getting them straight.

Finally, one last point on grammar. I'm a fervent advocate of grammar instruction, especially in a language that treats almost every aspect of language use (from the idea of word formation, word class, collocation, what constitutes a sentence, to the diglossia between written and oral use) in a way markedly different from western languages (including english). I understand that a lot of people don't like grammar, or don't want to learn it, etc, etc, but what is relevant is not merely whether a student is having a good time, or even learning, but rather whether you are providing what needs to be known to be an effective user and understander of the language. As I'll say in the future hopefully, learners have to be split up almost from day 0 based on goals and purposes for study. Teaching needs to utilize authentic use from a variety of registers and sources and it needs to be skills-based, with those skills being the skills being desired (or determined to be required to achieve certain skills desired) by the type of language learners.

Also, grammar instruction provides a place-holder, a class, a type, by which things can be hung upon. If you don't know the word for 'verb' you are always calling them 'those words that do that'. If you don't know what a transitive verb is, or a 心理动词 or modal verb, you are always stuck relying on 语感 which is good, but is not everything, especially not for foreign learners. If you are given a name, a title, a class, you can hang all the words you think fit into that class on that hook, you can read how others do so, you can discuss examples and exceptions, how the rule and classifier doesn't properly fit, etc, etc. But if you don't know that word, you are forever lost, grasping at straws and making up your own twins language. Furthermore, you have no real ability to discuss language at a high level with adults or read current articles discussing language usage. That's enough about grammar for now. For some nagging reason I still think Middlebury is somehow to blame for all this. Berlitz isn't the ideal, and Berlitz (and Pimsleuer and others) do one thing in a vast field of options for language instruction. With the abandonment of grammar teaching in schools (not to mention latin), for the perceived reason that: teaching grammar doesn't lead to better speakers, spellers, writers, etc, that still doesn't lead to the obvious conclusion that it shouldn't be taught. Grammar has other uses and meanings as well other than as a tool to be utilized for the immediate improvement of x language skill. Sometimes you have to give things a name, a proper name, for it to be treated right and thought about. This used to be a huge field of philosophy in ancient times from 正名 (the rectification of all names) to Cratylus and the ancient greek discussions of lingustics and etymology.



And for no good reason,


yknow, for kids.