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Grammatical Innovation and Linguistic Register: Historical Writing from Late Archaic to Early Medieval Chinese

Barbara Meisterernst

Pages 163 - 190


In this paper the distinction of stylistic registers in Chinese historical writing from the Late Archaic to the Early Medieval periods is at issue on the basis of a statistical analysis of function words in four representative Late Archaic and Early Middle Chinese texts. Besides a statistical analysis of function words, the employment of poetic speech as a means of stylistic distinction is included in the discussion. The purpose of the paper is to establish a system of linguistic categories which can be employed to test the stylistic register of Chinese historical writing. Although all texts belong to the category of written texts, clear stylistic registers, different degrees of vernacularism, conversationalism etc. can be perceived on the basis of the employed statistical analysis. The statistical distribution of function words also reveals differences in the degrees of obligatoriness of function words in Late Archaic and in Middle Chinese; more mandatory function words, such as evidently the class of aspecto-temporal adverbs are less useful in the distinction of registers than, for instance, more discourse oriented temporal adverbials.

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