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Li Fang-Kuei

Li Fang-Kuei
Born 20 August 1902
Guangzhou, Qing Empire
Died 21 August 1987(1987-08-21) (aged 85)
San Mateo County, CA, United States
Residence China
United States
Nationality Republic of China
United States
Fields Linguistics
Institutions Yale University
Academia Sinica
University of Washington
University of Hawaii
Alma mater Tsinghua University
University of Michigan
University of Chicago
Notable students W. South Coblin
David R. Knechtges
Chinese name
Chinese 李方桂

Li Fang-Kuei (20 August 1902 – 21 August 1987) was a Chinese linguist, sinologist, and professor of Chinese at the University of Washington. Li was known for his reconstructions of Middle Chinese, Old Chinese and Proto-Tai and his work on the classification of the varieties of Chinese.


  • Biography 1
  • Selected works 2
  • See also 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5


Li Fang-Kuei was born on 20 August 1902 in Guangzhou during the final years of the Qing dynasty to a minor scholarly family from Xiyang, a small town in Shanxi Province roughly 50 kilometers (31 mi) south of Yangquan. Li's father Li Guangyu (Chinese: 李光宇) received his jinshi degree in 1880 and served in minor official posts in the late 19th to early 20th century.

Li was one of the first Chinese people to study linguistics outside China. Originally a student of medicine, he switched to linguistics when he went to the United States in 1924. He gained a BA in linguistics at the University of Michigan in 1926 after only two years of study. He then did graduate study under Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield at the University of Chicago. Li conducted field studies of American Indian languages. His first exposure to fieldwork was his study of the Mattole language of northern California. He received an MA in 1927 and a PhD in 1928, and his dissertation Mattole: An Athabaskan Language was published in 1930.

In 1929 he returned to China and, along with Y.R. Chao and Luo Changpei, became a researcher at the Institute of Historical Linguistics (Chinese: 歷史語言研究所; pinyin: Lìshǐ yǔyán yánjiūsuǒ) of the Academia Sinica (then located at Beijing). From this point on, he performed field studies of several Tai languages (including the Zhuang people's Longzhou and Wuming dialects), while at the same time conducting deep investigations into Old Chinese and Tibetan. Li's revisions of Bernhard Karlgren's reconstructions of Middle Chinese and Old Chinese were widely used by students of ancient Chinese from their publication in the 1970s until the late 1990s.

Li briefly taught Chinese language and linguistics at Yale University in 1938-39, and after World War II was professor of Chinese at the University of Washington from 1949 to 1969, and then at the University of Hawaii until his retirement. In 1977 he published a comparison of Tai languages, the result of more than forty years of research. He also worked at Academia Sinica, now in Taiwan, in 1973.

Li died in San Mateo County, California, survived by his wife Xu Ying (Chinese: 徐櫻) and their daughter Lindy Li Mark, a professor of anthropology who taught at California State University, Hayward and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Tsinghua University, his alma mater, began to publish his complete works in 2005.

Selected works

  • Li Fang-Kuei (1933). "Certain Phonetic Influences of the Tibetan Prefixes upon the Root Initials". Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 6.2: 135–157.
  • --------- (1956a). "The Inscriptions of the Sino-Tibetan Treaty of 821-822". T'oung p'ao 44: 1–99.
  • --------- (1971), 《上古音研究》 The Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies IX(1,2): 1–61, translated by Gilbert L. Mattos (1974–75) as "Studies on Archaic Chinese", Monumenta Serica 31: 219–287.
  • --------- (1972), "Language and Dialects in China". Free China Review XXII, No. 5.
  • .
  • --------- (1979) "The Chinese Transcription of Tibetan Consonant Clusters". Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology Academia Sinica 50: 231–240.
  • --------- and W. South Coblin (1987). A study of the old Tibetan inscriptions. (Special publications 91.) Taipei: Academia Sinica.
  • --------- (1988). Linguistics East and West: American Indian, Sino-Tibetan, and Thai. With an Introduction by George Taylor. Interviews conducted by Ning-Ping Chan and Randy LaPolla. Berkeley: The Regents of the University of California.

See also

Further reading

  • (Chinese) Mah Feng-hua 馬逢華 (1988), "Daonian Li Fanggui xiansheng" 悼念李方桂先生 ("Remembering Mr. Li Fang-kuei"), in Zhuanji wenxue 25.2: 110-114.
  • (Chinese) Xu Ying 徐櫻 (1994). Fanggui yu wo wushiwu nian 方桂與我五十五年 (Fang-kuei's Fifty-five Years with Me) (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan).

External links

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