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October 31, 2002
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Chinese culture. Calligraphy, and Chinese rural architecture.
posted by hama7 (13 comments total)

 
I am not sure how this related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but I love it anyway, for which, many thanks.
posted by Postroad at 6:43 AM on October 31, 2002


I almost passed up the first link because it sounded so vague; fortunately it turned out to be mislabled (should be Chinese Language), and I explored the links therein with pleasure. Anyone interested in Chinese should read The Chinese Language: Myths and Facts, which dispels several of the common mistaken notions (that the Chinese writing system is pictorial, that Chinese words are monosyllabic, etc.). However, the author repeats another myth, that "China's literacy rate has risen from between twenty and thirty percent to between eighty and ninety percent, a remarkable achievement for the nation with one of the most difficult writing systems to learn." By "literacy" here is meant "ability to read enough common characters to make out the meaning of simple notices, signs, etc."; by that standard, I was more or less "literate" when I lived in Taiwan, and I can assure you I was quite unable to read Chinese. True literacy will come only when the country switches to a transliteration system (presumably pinyin) and people can read and write after a short time learning the letters rather than after years of concentrated study available only to the elite.
posted by languagehat at 8:07 AM on October 31, 2002


Great stuff, hama7. I specially liked the rural architecture - this house looks inviting and vaguely Venetian. Now all that's needed is some of that delicious food...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:14 AM on October 31, 2002


I/P? Hama7 is a man of style and taste.
:)
posted by plep at 9:12 AM on October 31, 2002


When I was in Beijing couple of years back, I was amazed by the number of foreigners speaking fluent Chinese, which of course is truly remarkable. For an English-speaking person, the difficulty in learning Chinese is that the spoken & written forms are not in concord in the way an alphabet and a word is. The various basic strokes that make up a Chinese character have no bearing on its pronounciation. You literally need to learn to recognize the Chinese character and memorize its sound. That's what it takes to use Microsoft Word in Chinese. I guess as China opens up more of its economy, there will be more interests in learning the Chinese language in simplified form (as opposed to the traditional form). The language also presents challenges for both Chinese internet providers & users.
posted by taratan at 9:45 AM on October 31, 2002


taratan: You don't need to know a single character to "speak fluent Chinese"; undoubtedly most of those who spoke it really well also read it fairly well, but the two don't necessarily go together. (Bear in mind that every Chinese who ever lived spoke fluent Chinese, and most of them couldn't read worth a lick.) The real difficulty in learning (spoken) Chinese, once you get past the tones, is the remarkable wealth of allusions to be mastered.

Also, it's not true that the strokes of the characters have "no bearing" on their pronunciation; the relation isn't close enough to be very helpful, but half of many characters is what's called a "phonetic" and at least provides a reminder of the sound if you already know it.
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM on October 31, 2002


there's also chinese propaganda posters :D for a more contemporary look, the FT is running a series on china's future!
posted by kliuless at 12:56 PM on October 31, 2002


Heh. Oddly, I find that I read Chinese much better than I speak it.

My Chinese language professor (from Taiwan) believed that the traditional character set in Chinese took so long for Chinese children to learn that it ultimately held them back. He felt that it should be replaced with some sort of alphabet. While this might be educationally useful, it would be disastrous to calligraphy, as the second link demonstrates. Nice links!
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:30 PM on October 31, 2002


You don't need to know a single character to "speak fluent Chinese" (emphasis is mine)

languagehat : First, I'll like to say I enjoy reading your blog on languages. I used to read William Safire for amusement, but I don't admire the man much (that's another story). I think most native Chinese speakers who speak the language fluently before acquiring the reading abilities are only able to do so because of the influence of dialects which are spoken from birth. I think the associations between spoken dialects (at least the major ones like Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien which are the birth languages of many Chinese) and spoken Mandarin are quite significant in tracing the oral abilities of these group of speakers.

The real difficulty in learning (spoken) Chinese, once you get past the tones, is the remarkable wealth of allusions to be mastered.

That's the real struggle.
posted by taratan at 8:14 PM on October 31, 2002


Glad you liked them!

I am an unashamed sinophile, and I really enjoyed the architecture link. I think I first saw it at consumptive.org, or possibly spitting image; an offshoot.

I didn't know what to call that first link, so, I just lifted the name from the URL.
posted by hama7 at 1:25 AM on November 1, 2002


taratan: First, thanks!

I think most native Chinese speakers who speak the language fluently before acquiring the reading abilities are only able to do so because of the influence of dialects which are spoken from birth.

I confess I don't understand this; native speakers of Chinese, as of any language, learn the language (or dialect—the name is immaterial) from parents, playmates, etc., and eventually (if they're lucky) learn to read and write it. But the spoken language/dialect is primary, and writing is an outgrowth of it. The Chinese in particular tend to think of writing as primary because of its long history and cross-"dialect" use (the so-called "dialects" of Chinese are actually separate languages), and if you bring up romanization claim that it would make the language impossible to read because you wouldn't be able to tell the different "ma" words (for example) apart. But of course you would, by context, just as you tell homonyms apart in English; furthermore (an obvious point that tends to get missed) if you understand what somebody says (with no characters to help out), you can understand it if it's written down just as the speaker said it!
posted by languagehat at 9:17 AM on November 1, 2002


native speakers of Chinese, as of any language, learn the language (or dialect—the name is immaterial) from parents, playmates, etc.,

languagehat : I don't disagree with that at all. My above response was to your statements that "You don't need to know a single character to "speak fluent Chinese"(emphasis mine)" and ".. every Chinese who ever lived spoke fluent Chinese". The point I was trying to make is this: A plausible reason Chinese living in predominantly dialect-speaking areas (like HongKong people who speak Cantonese 24/7/365 , Hainanese people (from Hainan), to name a few) are able to speakfluent Mandarin(or Chinese) without learning or being taught the words and language structure is their use of dialects which in essence have common roots with Mandarin. But for a non-Chinese to reach fluency in spoken Mandarin without learning or being taught the words and language structure, while not impossible, will require alot more immersion in Mandarin than a solely dialect-speaking Chinese.

I have gone on the basis that Chinese people are differentiated by their distinctive dialect groups (e.g. Cantonese people, Teochew people, Hainanese people etc.) and not all Chinese people start off with speaking Mandarin. This is mostly true of Chinese in Hong Kong, some parts of South East Asia & Hainan Island, just to name a few. But certainly these days most Chinese parents will put their kids in Mandarin class as soon as they can talk.
posted by taratan at 2:42 PM on November 1, 2002


Ah, now I understand! Thanks for the clarification.
posted by languagehat at 3:44 PM on November 1, 2002


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