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汉语书面用语初编: Expressions of Written Chinese


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I was walking around the bookstore today when I happened upon a great book: “汉语书面用语初编: Expressions of Written Chinese”, 北京语言大学出版社. I was truly, geekily excited to find this book, because I am really planning to work on my academic and formal Chinese comprehension in the next few months.

The book purpose is to allow you to get better at written Chinese, what the author, 冯胜利, terms, “汉语书面的正式语体”. This is the Chinese that is formal, with lots of classical Chinese, commonly used in governmental settings, newspapers and other publications, academic fields, artistic essays, business fields, TV news, radio news, speeches…etc. In other words, you can find this style of writing and speech in many settings, which makes it important. This type of Chinese is also notoriously difficult for foreigners to understand and get good at.

The book consists of three parts (although it also has a pretty long, interesting introduction in which the author explains the nature of formal/written Chinese and breaks down a modern text into its 文言文 and its 白话 components).. The first section is about “monosyllabic words used in a disyllabic template”. In other words, if you have a character that can probably stand alone, probably from classical Chinese, say, 奔 (ben1). It can be formed to make 奔往(rush to),奔向(march towards),直奔 (directly run to). After each word presented, there are three example sentences.

The second section is “disyllabic words combined with another disyllabic word”. In plain English, most words in Chinese are made up of two syllables, ie 购买. In classical Chinese, as far as I know, a character like 购 could stand by itself. But in modern Chinese it is put together with another character. Then that two character word is put together with other two character words to create commonly used phrases, like 购买本书,购买住房,购买汽车,购买枪支,购买药品。 Or, take 盲目(adv. Blindly, uncritically) for example:  盲目崇拜,盲目追求,盲目行动,盲目相信,盲目学习。

Thirdly, the last section takes some of the most common grammatical patterns that are derived from classical Chinese, and then it compares it to the 白话 grammatical pattern, each with three example sentences, including an English translation with the first one. An example: the 文言文 version (A 取信于 B) English: (A makes B believe) 白话:(A让 B 相信). Example sentences: 文言文: 为取信于读者,他罗列大量事实。English: In order to make the reader believe, he listed a great deal of facts. 白话:为了让读者相信,他排列了大量的事实。.  

In my view, the first section is fairly good. A lot of those words are deceiving because you might think that you know it because you recognize both characters, but often the semi-classical aspect throws you off, and you may only understand the gist of the word, not its precise meaning. The second part is useful because knowing common combinations/collocations is extremely useful. The last part is also really useful, especially since the author choose the most common classical grammatical patterns that appear in modern Chinese (as opposed to just listing a bunch of random classical Chinese for the sake of listing classical Chinese). Lastly, I am a huge fan of providing plenty of example sentences, which this has. The book also has pretty good graphic design. All in all, a recommendable book.

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Thanks, 50角.

The book is available on joyo.com







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  • 2 years later...

As a small side note, 冯胜利 is the current head of the East Asian languages department at Harvard. He has also co-authored a pretty good series of textbooks called "汉语综合教程" published under 高等教育出版社. (Those are the ones used in the Chinese program at Harvard.)

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  • 3 months later...
Had a flick through this in the BLCU bookshop today - does look very useful. I almost bought it, but it would just end up gathering dust

I flick through my copy every now and again. You're right that this might just sit there collecting dust.

But, even if you only go through it now and again (especially the common classical structures part), I think it still helps sharpen one's understanding of texts that are reaching for higher registers.

Still, I think this book and "A Learners' Handbook of Modern Chinese Written Expressions 現代漢語書面語學習手冊" by Yu Feng, (which was recommended to me by gato), are probably the two best books for learning how to understand written Chinese. Those books are especially good for people like me, who, at one point, had a decent amount of experience and exposure to spoken Chinese (ie. by chatting to taxi drivers, buying fruit, ordering meals at restaurants...etc), but found newspapers to be pretty hard to understand.

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Wow, I like the sound of it and I think I may have just found my next book for personal study! I have picked up a lot of similar material in class and by reading older writings but I think I would enjoy this type of breakdown.

On a slightly related note: I can't find it on amazon.com, this one or the other one you mentioned 汉语综合教材, while I will order of amazon.cn, I know some others that may be interested and I would like to get an inside look at the book, and amazon tends to provide it. Anyone know where I can find it, or have you found it on amazon. I had no luck, but luck is not on my side today.

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Ok, sorry, correction. I did find the Expression of Written Chinese (汉语书面用语初编) on amazon, as well as the learner's handbook by Yu Feng. However I haven't been able to find the Comprehensive Chinese Course. In case any one is interested they are also available on a site called China Sprout that I have not fully gone through yet. Just found the external link.

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  • 4 months later...

Question for anyone who has this book: throughout the book, the lemmas are all marked as 甲, 乙, 丙, 超. But I haven't found any explanation so far as to what this means. Obviously this is some kind of categorisation, either according to grammatical or lexical subtype or difficulty level. Can anyone shed light on that?


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Also want to add my opinion on this book (from another thread):

Sooo, I can tell the OP, you needn't worry about the book all being in Chinese. This holds true only for the first 21 pages of explanation or so (I think they should have spent more space on explaining things, oh well)

The bulk of the book is in a dictionary format, and basically has three alphabetically ordered parts:

- 250 monosyllabics used in disyllabic patterns. Here, each word also has an English translation, but not the example sentences.

- a list of 400 disyllabic words used in "disyllabic couplets" (i.e. combined with other disyllabics). Here, only the first disyllabics has English translations, but not the combinations

- 300 classical grammatical patterns used in Modern Mandarin: Here, each pattern has an English translation, and the first example sentence.

So you could still give it a try..

Me personally, I don't like grammatical dictionaries too much, I like it more in the traditional grammar format, but sometimes this kind of thing can come in handy as a reference..

I think, in general, the book is done well, though it is really a REFERENCE rather than an INTRODUCTION. The grammatical explanations are quite interesting, even though they're just 20 pages. It even talks about chengyu for a bit, but unfortunately only for two pages. If anyone knows a good book that has more on the grammatical use of chengyu, please let me know.

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the lemmas are all marked as 甲, 乙, 丙, 超.

I saw the link back to this post and came across your comment. These characters are used for marking sequences and are called the Heavenly stems (天干)

甲 - 1

乙 - 2

丙 - 3


I'm not sure about 超 without context as I don't have this book.

And the rest:

1 甲 jiǎ

2 乙 yǐ

3 丙 bǐng

4 丁 dīng

5 戊 wù

6 己 jǐ

7 庚 gēng

8 辛 xīn

9 壬 rén

10 癸 guǐ

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yes, thank you, but I know about the Heavenly Stems and what they're usually used for. My question is more about what they signify in the context of the book.

I don't have the book with me at the moment, but I was of the impression that the 甲 ones occur most frequently, and so on.

I think, in general, the book is done well, though it is really a REFERENCE rather than an INTRODUCTION.

Just to clarify, what do you mean by "introduction" here? I'd say the book is just a guide to understanding 汉语书面用语....and it can't be seen as much more than that. (In other words, the Classical presented is just a guide to understanding important Classical constructions that are in common usage, not as understanding classical for its own sake.)

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I do have the same impression as well, wushijiao, but it would be nice if they explicitly said so. I hate it when books don't define their terms and categories (OR put up their explanation at a place where most readers will easily see it :mrgreen: )

Well, I do think using the an introduction would consist of a structured explanation of structures, grammar etc. throughout the entire book. Not just a 20-page explanation and the rest are three word lists.

That said, the book is just titled "Expressions of Written Chinese" no mention of either "dictionary" or "introduction" but I think including the word "dictionary" in the title wouldn't have hurt... But just to be clear: I like the book, I think it'll be a useful reference!

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