Janet Chen - Assistant Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University
Dr. Chen’s talk draws on research from a new book titled The Sounds of Mandarin: The Making of a National Language in China and Taiwan, 1913-1965. The project takes speech as the starting point for investigation, asking how ordinary people learned the “national language” at its various stages of historical formation. Her premise is that rendered as “Mandarin,” the generic English term obscures significant variations and political conflicts that were critical to the making and unmaking of the “national language” throughout the twentieth century. The goal is to disaggregate “Mandarin” into historically specific moments of linguistic experimentation—as 官話 (official language), 國語 (national language), 普通話 (common language), and 漢語 (the language of the Han people)—and to rethink how the idea and the multiple realities of the “national language” intersected with the lives of ordinary people.
Janet Chen received her B.A. from Williams College and her Ph.D. in History from Yale University. She is the author of Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953 (Princeton University Press, 2012). She teaches in the History and East Asian Studies departments at Princeton University.