The main question of my project, tentatively titled Vulgar Experiments, is: “what happens to a purely spoken language, when it begins to be used as a vehicle for written literary expression?” Literary languages are not born ready to use, and most vernacular literary traditions were preceded for centuries with literary experiences in other languages. This project examines experimentation with the “vulgar language” as an illustration of how a purely oral language was transformed into a new medium for written literary expression.
John Phan is an assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures, at Columbia University. His research focuses on the linguistic history of Vietnam and China, as well as the development of Vietnamese vernacular literature over the early modern period. He is particularly interested in the effects of multilingualism in single societies, especially the coincidence of non-spoken literary languages alongside a variety of vernacular spoken languages with oral literary traditions. Phan’s forthcoming book, to be published by Harvard Asia Center Press, is entitled Lost Tongues of the Red River: Annamese Middle Chinese and the Origins of the Vietnamese Language. His current project focuses on the transformation of vernacular Vietnamese language, as it was adapted over the early modern period from a purely spoken medium, into a new vehicle for written literary expression.