Professor of Chinese Receives Fulbright Scholarship for Research and Teaching

Zheng-sheng Zhang

Fulfilling a 30-year dream for Zheng-sheng Zhang, professor in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages, this fall the Fulbright takes him to the International University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan where he will research the language of the Dungan Muslims who left China 150 years ago to settle in Central Asia. 

“Professor Zhang will be engaging in fascinating research on a variety of Chinese spoken by Dungan Muslims that integrates various sub-fields of linguistics such as sociolinguistics and historical linguistics,” said, Betty Samraj, chair and professor of linguistics in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages.

Dungan language is primarily spoken in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Chinese characters in writing are no longer used, instead the Dungans have used Arabic, Latin, and the Cyrillic scripts at various times, while retaining many old customs and words. 

Zhang said, “Unfortunately, being a minority language spoken by a diaspora group, the Dungan language is being used less and less. I hope to find out more about various linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of this unique test case of a Chinese dialect not using Chinese characters. This research has implications for a better understanding of the relationship between the Chinese language and its script, script reform, and language preservation.  

“This rich study will have much to contribute to our knowledge of writing systems, language contact and change in varieties of Chinese,” Samraj said. “In addition, it will also add to our understanding of attitudes towards a minority dialect and its use and preservation by a diaspora. We are very proud of Professor Zhang's Fulbright award that makes this important work possible!”

In doing this research in Kyrgyzstan, Zhang said, “I am most looking forward to being there in person. The added bonus is that it will be close to the place I grew up in Xinjiang in Northwest China and I can again hear the familiar sounds of the Northwest Mandarin from childhood.”  

Another benefit is that he can use the Russian language that he has “been doggedly studying!”