Chinese flip-flops for your viewing pleasure
August 14, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

From the website: Chinese doesn’t really have a single word that corresponds to 'yes'

Is this really true?
posted by Renoroc at 12:03 PM on August 14, 2011

Renoroc: Dui (对). Uh, or I mean, shide (是的).
posted by jng at 12:07 PM on August 14, 2011

Hao (好) can also mean yes.
posted by jng at 12:08 PM on August 14, 2011

I think I misread it then. I guess that means that Chinese has multiple words for "yes" instead of 'not a single word meaning "yes"'. I wondered how any language could pull that off...
posted by Renoroc at 12:12 PM on August 14, 2011

Totally fascinating and weird.

Does anyone have any idea how well and easily Chinese people who are deaf from birth are able to learn to read and write Chinese?

I've wanted to be able to read Chinese for a long time now, but there is zero probability I would ever be able to learn the sounds of any dialect.
posted by jamjam at 12:50 PM on August 14, 2011

Renoroc: I find that this happens a lot in mainstream language journalism.

Journalist: How do you say X in Y language?
Language Professional: It depends. What's your context? It could be A if you mean this, and B if you mean that... there's no word in Y language that completely covers all of the meanings that X has in English.
Journalist: Aha! There is no word for X in Y language!
posted by Jeanne at 1:56 PM on August 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

Jeanne's pretty much right. There's no single word in Mandarin that equates directly to the meaning cloud labeled "yes".

"Does anyone have any idea how well and easily Chinese people who are deaf from birth are able to learn to read and write Chinese?"

If you want to read and write, but not speak or understand from listening, there's no reason you couldn't do it. Plenty of Chinese is understandable without reference to pronunciation. Certain essays might not seem so funny, but that's a minor thing.
posted by jiawen at 2:42 PM on August 14, 2011

Does anyone have any idea how well and easily Chinese people who are deaf from birth are able to learn to read and write Chinese?

I've been using one of the Chinese vocabulary courses on for a few weeks now, without any attempt to learn the pronunciations. (They don't quiz you on the pronunciations, anyway -- it's either "type in the translation for this Chinese character" or "choose the Chinese character for this word from the following multiple choice list".) It's going fine.
If you think about it, alphabets (and syllabaries) are basically phonetic, which isn't really much of a leg up for someone who can't hear. So I wouldn't think that learning to read and write Chinese is much harder for a deaf person than a hearing person.

Also, if memory serves, Latin has no simple "yes" or "no" either. So the answer to "is the Pope Catholic?" would be some variant of "he is", or "certainly", etc. (The character they're using for "yes" on the ambigram site appears to be what I learned on as "to be", which makes sense.)
posted by uosuaq at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2011

Do people really use "ambigrams" to learn to write Chinese characters? With Japanese, this sort of learning tool was useful (for me) initially, but after 100 characters or so it becomes easy to identify the logic, and thus remember how to write characters.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:43 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I showed these to my wife. She could immediately read most of these as Japanese. She immediately saw and recognized the Hong Kong one, but she cant' read it in English at all. Just doesn't see it.
posted by BurnChao at 5:09 PM on August 14, 2011

Along with all those words for "yes" you get the very enjoyable constructions "shi bu shi", "dui bu dui", "hao bu hao"; literally "yes (good, okay, correct...) or not yes?" Like a Mandarin "n'est-ce pas?" (Although that positive-negative construction -- and anyone who actually speaks Chinese feel free to correct me -- works with any verb, you'll hear those three used all the time in spoken language).

Also David Moser is the guy who translated Godel, Escher, Bach into Chinese and makes a lot of interesting appearances in Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot as well.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:26 PM on August 14, 2011

I was expecting something like this.
posted by mike3k at 7:58 PM on August 14, 2011

I saw some of these the other day!

Likewise, there isn't a single word which means "no" in Chinese. There is "不" (bù), but it's more of a negation, or the negative form of a verb, like in villanelles at dawn's constructions where hao is good and bu hao is not good.

One of my favorite things about the language is the construction of new words. For example, "computer" in Chinese is "电脑", and each of those two characters means something. "电" is electric. "脑" is brain. So a "computer" in Chinese is literally an "electric brain". And a volcano is a "火山", or a "hot mountain". And a panda is a bear cat.

Likewise, even some of the characters look like the images they represent. "人" is people. See the body and two legs?

Each character has different components which can be broken down, and when writing these components they go in a certain stroke order. So it is actually possible to learn the basic components, and then be able to figure out what the word is based on knowing these components. Someone I met recommended Learning Chinese Characters to me recently, but I only got the smallest chance to look inside. But if you try learning, good luck because there are thousands of them, and I swear there's a saying in Chinese that goes something like "no one can ever learn all the chinese characters!!" but I could have that wrong.

Now, I've never officially studied Chinese, so consider all this as coming from more of a hand-cranked brain.
posted by wilburthefrog at 9:45 PM on August 14, 2011

villanelles at dawn: "And a volcano is a '火山, or a 'hot mountain'."

Actually, that's "fire mountain". "Hot mountain" would be 熱山 and wouldn't make much sense.
posted by jiawen at 12:05 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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