Perry Link, "An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics" (Harvard UP, 2013)


Rhythm, metaphor, politics: these three features of language simultaneously enable us to communicate with each other and go largely unnoticed in the course of that communication. In An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (Harvard University Press, 2013), Perry Link mobilizes more than three decades of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the service of a profoundly transdisciplinary exploration of the particular anatomy of the Chinese language within the larger species of human language more generally. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that never strays far beyond the specific archive of carefully chosen examples, cases, and utterances from the history of and in Chinese speech and writing. Link integrates a wide range of sophisticated methodological instruments from cognitive science, philosophy of mind, prosody, music theory, politics, linguistics, and other fields into a narrative argument that avoids getting mired in the professional jargon that often plagues attempts at synthetic and highly original theoretical work. He is notably careful to avoid creating a generalizing and essential "Chinese language" in these pages, emphasizing the importance of a perspective that recognizes the historical and contemporary existence of different registers of language use, from different forms and idiolects of informal Chinese to political language game-playing: sometimes by very different users, and sometimes by the same individual in the course of performing the different roles demanded by daily life. It is clear, it is imaginative, it is at turns funny and inspiring (often at the same time), and it made me read, speak, and hear Chinese in a new way. It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Perry about it, and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

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