Wang Li (linguist)
10 August 1900|
Bobai, Guangxi, China
|Died||3 May 1986
Of Hakka ancestry from Tingzhou, Longyan, Fujian, Wang was born into a poor but educated family in Bobai County, Guangxi Province. He was largely self-taught before entering the Tsinghua University in 1927. There he was taught by Yuen Ren Chao and Liang Qichao, among others. Encouraged by Chao, he went to Paris to study linguistics in 1927. There he devoted himself to the study of phonology, and attended the class in theoretical linguistics given by Joseph Vendryes. He earned his PhD from the University of Paris with experiments on the tones of the Bobai dialect, following the line of Liu Bannong.
To eke out a living, he translated works of French literature into Chinese during his stint in Paris. He would translate more after his return to China, including the plays of Molière, and a version of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal in classical Chinese verse.
He returned to China in 1932, and began his academic career. Before the Second Sino-Japanese War, he taught in the Tsinghua University. From 1939 to 1940, he studied in the École française d'Extrême-Orient in Vietnam, learning the Vietnamese language, which aided his study of historical Chinese phonology. In 1946, he began to teach in the Zhongshan University. One of his students there was Michael Halliday. In 1948, he switched to the Lingnan University. He taught in the Peking University from 1954 until his death in 1986.
Humorously rephrasing the name of a famous classical treatise (The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons), he called his study "Study where both dragons and worms are carved" (龍蟲並雕齋), which indicates the fact that he, as a prolific writer, produced highly technical theses as well as popular textbooks and essays. His important works include:
- Hanyu Shilüxue 漢語詩律學 [The study of the metrical rules of Chinese poetry] (1958)
- Gudai Hanyu 古代漢語 [Ancient Chinese] (1962, chief editor)
- Hanyu Shigao 漢語史稿 [A sketch of the history of the Chinese language] (1980)
- Tongyuan Zidian 同源字典 [A dictionary of word families] (1997)
- Wang Li Guhanyu Zidian 王力古漢語字典 [Wang Li's character dictionary of ancient Chinese] (2000, completed posthumously by colleagues)
- LaPolla, R.J. (2006). Brown, Keith, ed. Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (2 ed.). Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 514–515. doi:10.1016/B0-08-044854-2/02973-4. ISBN 9780080442990. OCLC 4934174723.