The past and future of Chinese historical phonology: philology, reconstruction, and network theory

Speaker: Dr Nathan Hill, SOAS

The Chinese enjoy an independent tradition of historical linguistics, which only in the 20th century began to cross-pollinate with Western scholarship. As a result many features of Chinese historical linguistics remain opaque to non-Sinologists.

This presentation introduces the primarily sources of the Chinese philological tradition and the methods employed in the reconstruction of Old Chinese. The complex details of particular reconstructed systems of Old Chinese are touched on only by way of illustration. The crux of the paper is a critical assessment of traditional methodologies and an effort to more abstractly conceptualize the current methodologies with a goal to taking into account a broader suite of available primarily sources that the tradition tends to put in focus, and how to take advantage of recent computational techniques, especially from network theory. 

Dr Nathan W. Hill is Reader in Tibetan and Historical Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His books include The Historical Phonology of Tibetan, Burmese, and Chinese (2019), A Lexicon of Tibetan Verb Stems as Reported by the Grammatical Tradition (2010) and Old Tibetan Inscriptions (2009), co-authored with Kazushi Iwao.