Why does it seem that Mandarin Chinese grammar isn’t well-researched?

Grammar is useful for Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and other highly structured languages, but isn’t really that necessary for Chinese. There are no verb conjugations. A noun is just as happy to be a verb. There are no tenses. What do you need a rigorous study of grammar for? or rather, Who do you need it for?

When I was in college (臺師大國文, NTNU, Chinese Lit), the authorities decided that since Latin and Greek have grammar, Chinese must have grammar too. To our dismay, they set up a grammar class as a requirement (junior year, I recall). It was dreadful. The only useful thing I learned from the class was that there are different ways to say subject, object, phrase, but aside from 主詞、受詞、片語, I have forgotten the others. I could look them up if I needed them.

I have noticed that some Western people studying grammar spend a lot of time naming various parts of speech. I think it slows down their progress, and takes the fun out of learning Mandarin.

Do you know how to swim? How did you learn? When I was a boy, my big brother pushed me into a pool and used a stick to keep me from coming out. Within a very short time, I could swim, and I have loved swimming ever since. Imagine if a teacher had sat me down in a classroom, stayed on dry land, and introduced the muscles in the arms and legs used in swimming, how they function, and the physical properties of water, with diagrams of a swimming pool. Do you think that would help me learn how to swim? A coach may need some of that knowledge to coach Olympic swimmers, but for anyone else, it would take all the fun out of swimming.

Conclusion: I teach Classical Chinese at university level in Taiwan, and never inflict grammar on my students: 己所不欲勿施于人:the Golden Rule, you know.

Leave a Comment