Young Scholars Symposium 2013


The goal of this Symposium hosted by the Li Fang-Kuei Society for Chinese Linguistics in celebration of the 10th anniversary of its establishment is to bring together a group of promising young scholars for discussions that will explore new horizons in the disciplines of Sino-Tibetan linguistics in general and Chinese historical-comparative linguistics in particular. In order to focus on the core group of young scholars who will form the next generation of leadership in these fields, the selected scholars all hold a Ph.D. degree and are below forty years old and the mid-career mediators are barely forty years old in 2013. Although there are a sizeable number of bright young scholars in various sub-fields of Chinese and Sino-Tibetan linguistics, there are few opportunities for them to gather and share their ideas freely, to forge a sense of common identity and to formulate a vision for the future. It is hoped that the envisaged gathering will provide a platform for these promising young scholars to argue for their own viewpoints but at the same time to engage respectfully with differences of opinion, as well as to foster a spirit of cooperation, mutual support and productive criticism.

The great scholar, Li Fang-Kuei, to whom we have dedicated our Society and whose spirit we intend to celebrate with this workshop, was not just an eminent scholar but also a true gentleman. Through this symposium we want to encourage young scholars to continue the Li Fang-Kuei tradition of dedication to excellence and integrity in scholarship.

The Li Fang-Kuei Society for Chinese Linguistics (hereafter “LFK Society”), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Washington,, was established on October 1, 2003 in memory of this great scholar, the late Professor Li Fang-Kuei. The LFK Society’s primary purpose is promoting and advancing academic and scholarly activities in Chinese historical linguistics and Sino-Tibetan comparative linguistics, including Chinese descriptive, comparative, and historical dialectology.

The nineteen promising young scholars, to be named “LFK Young Scholars”, from all over the world are gathered here to present their research results, with LFK Society Board of Directors and Board of Advisors as well as prominent mid-career scholars as mediators.

The focus of this Symposium is on discussion of issues raised by the selected young scholars. Their papers have been circulated to all participants in attendance two months ahead of the Symposium, namely by early June, 2013.

In addition, to foster a stimulating atmosphere and to break the ice of the first-time encounter among these young scholars, each of them will present a paper other than his/her own at the Symposium. In this manner, they will not only serve as each other's discussants but will also be vigorously induced to examine the work of others across research/field boundaries with a critical eye and to look for misunderstandings of their own ideas. This innovative presentation format has been tried in Europe and is reported to work astonishingly well: speakers presenting other participants’ papers are usually very careful not to misrepresent them, since they know that their own papers will be presented by someone else as well; they keep time better than the real authors; the response of the author immediately opens up a critical discussion, especially if s/he feels that something was presented with a wrong focus or emphasis; and authors sometimes criticize “themselves” much more intensely than they would criticize other people in the room. In our case, the young scholars have had more than one month's time to study someone else's paper as well as to gear up for their own defense.

Furthermore, the mediators of each session can raise a few broad methodological or epistemological questions for everyone or for groups of scholars working in related fields, such as: How realistic are reconstructions? How much Old Chinese phonology does a syntactician of pre-Qin Chinese need to know? Do we really need to expand theories beyond the comparative method? Is it more important to study endangered dialects than to refine existing models of well-studied dialects? How do we account for variation in reconstructions, typologies, geographical distributions of features? What is the relationship between evidence, sources and theories in models of Early Chinese? etc. We believe this scenario will create a livelier atmosphere for provocative discussions and a sense of community instead of falling into the rut of routine presentation followed by questions-and-answers. In addition, papers submitted by individual young scholars may be as diverse as the number they represent. While variety is desirable and is both a medium for participants to learn from new sub-disciplines and a venue to encourage interdisciplinary research, it is also fruitful to engage the young scholars in presenting their own perspectives toward more general questions.

To build a bridge across generations and to nurture the spirit of appreciation along with criticism, two distinguished mid-career speakers are invited to talk about two special topics to be followed by open discussion. They are:

         Wolfgang Behr (Paleography and Language), Min Zhang (Typology)

Innovative ideas often arise through the inspiration of great works and proven methodologies. The late Professor Li Fang-Kuei whom we emulate in this Symposium blazed new paths in whatever fields he entered: American Indian languages, Old Chinese phonology, Chinese dialectology, Tibetan studies and Comparative Tai linguistics. His methodology and achievements in such a broad range of subjects, and his attitude toward scholarship, will undoubtedly serve as an example for future generations. This Symposium hosts a special session by Ting Pang-Hsin and South Coblin, two of his most outstanding students, highlighting the methodology of academic research of the late Professor Li Fang-Kuei as well as his integrity as a scholar, and by Peter Li, son of the late Professor Li, narrating the field work adventure of his father.

The promising young scholars and mid-career mediators who are the main players in this Symposium are selected from among a pool of candidates recommended by the Board of Directors and the Board of Advisers of the LFK Society, the editors-in-chief of the Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics as well as prominent scholars in the fields of Chinese linguistics and Tibeto-Burman linguistics. The criteria of selection included:

  1. scholarly excellence as reflected in the publication record
  2. recognition in his/her field (e.g. awards, grants, and other honors)
  3. potential for development into leading scholars in their chosen fields
  4. open-mindedness and breadth

Each recommender wrote a support letter for his/her nominee(s), accompanied by current curriculum vitae including a list of publications from the candidate. Finalists were screened and chosen by a Selection Committee.

The Symposium takes place at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, where the late Professor Li Fang-Kuei spent twenty years of his scholarly life teaching from 1949-1969. It is also the birthplace of the LFK Society for Chinese Linguistics. The Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica, where the Late Professor Li held the position Researcher for Life at the Institute of History and Philology for many years, gracefully offered their support and co-sponsored this event.

Papers and comments presented at the Symposium will be published in a special volume of the Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics, the official publication of the non-profit organization, The Li Fang-Kuei Society for Chinese Linguistics.

Cover | Cover Page 2 | Foreword | Acknowledgment | Program | Photos