From Sound Spectrograph to Composite Script: Writing Sound in Modern Chinese Script Revolution

When and Where

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 1:00 am to 3:00 am
In Person, Victoria College Rm 101
Virtual via Zoom


Speaker: Yurou Zhong, Associate Professor Department of East Asia Studies, University of Toronto



For nearly half of the twentieth century, reformers aimed to eliminate the Chinese script and implement a Chinese alphabet, launching one of the biggest linguistic and grammatological experiments in human history. Upholding the principle of phonocentrism—the systematic privileging of speech over writing—modern Chinese script revolutionaries experimented with various technologies to write sound, from phonographs to the Roman-Latin alphabet, from musical notation to the sound spectrograph. This talk focuses on the work of Yuen Ren Chao—the father of modern Chinese linguistics—and Tang Lan—the father of modern Chinese paleography—to trace the origins, transmutations, and containment of phonocentrism in the remaking of Chinese writing. It begins with the dominance of phonocentrism established at the turn of the twentieth century; it ends with the global tide of decolonization, the coinage of “composite script,” and the resurgence of the “national form” around the mid-twentieth century. Taking the modern Chinese script revolution as a key event in understanding the politics of the science of writing, we ponder the enduring implications for the run-in between alphabetic and nonalphabetic writing systems and cultures.

Participants interested in receiving a digital copy of the research paper 
please contact the IHPST administrative office: