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Old 07-16-2009, 11:37 AM   #61
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As to the second part. You might be able to learn a few simple characters, the numbers 1 to 10, for example. But if you know nothing about the language, the sentence structure, how could you go deeper? It wouldn't have to be Mandarin, every Chinese dialect (Cantanese, Hakka, Taiwanese, etc) uses Hanzi as its written form. Without sounds, how would you remember anything?
... doubtless I'm about to make my inquiry dumber still:

Couldn't I just read 人 as "man", "雇工" as employment, "雇员" as employee (or even as 雇 "employed" and 员 "member")?

Would the phonetic aspects of Hanzi render such an approach untenable beyond the simplest elements?

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Old 07-16-2009, 11:44 AM   #62
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A very interesting article on the difficulty of Chinese... or, rather, Chinese characters for the most part:

Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard

Some of it is insightful, some of it is... well, to me less than brilliant. But all of it is a very interesting read. And while I do not agree with all the interpretation, I've no doubt that the facts tendered by the writer are accurate.

- Ahi
I think the whole essay is an attempt at presenting the matter in a humorous way. He is correct about classical Chinese, though. I downloaded a copy of the 8th century 紅樓夢 to my Sony reader for my wife (who once taught Chinese history and Chinese linguistics) and even for her it is a very difficult excercise. I recognize every character but still rarely have any idea what the author is talking about, hehehe. Then again my favorite German book is from the 17th century and every German needs a dictionary to read it, too.

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Old 07-16-2009, 11:46 AM   #63
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Having partly grown-up under a communist government that gently and not so gently persecuted Christians, I do not share your concern over bible stories being told to children in school or outside thereof. And creationism I perceive to be an American export that has little merit, but ultimately is also of little consequence over the long term.

As for critical thinking, I think people who laud it have a tendency to overestimate its place in and significance to human thought-processes... which I believe to be far more rooted in habits--even for the best, brightest, and most critically thinking among us--than in highly-conscious and deliberate weighing and evaluation. With the caveat though, of course, that a right-thinking man can do his best to break himself of harmful habits and to establish for himself helpful and beneficial ones.

Upon rereading, the above may sound a bit argumentative, but is not intended to be so. Just sharing my own views, being well aware that you and I disagree, and are unlikely to convince one another.

Basically, I view human consciousness as a little man sleeping (possibly drugged?) inside a sensory deprivation tank well over 90% of the time, only occasionally when we are passingly shaken from established routine/habit finding the tank's doors opened with a computer terminal descending in front of him with a query: "What's the best way to proceed in this situation?" And, of course, once he types in the answer and presses enter, the terminal quickly ascends and back in the tank he goes to slumber until next time he is needed.

- Ahi
No, I understand. You and I probably disagree on most things. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate your opinion, just that I don't share it.

I do have a huge problem with teaching Christianity, or any other religious belief, in a publicly supported school. About the only exception would be if they taught a balanced course on Comparative Religion. However, in this very right-wing part of the US, that is highly unlikely to happen.

Personally, I don't see myself as fitting in well with your idea of the conscious/unconscious brain model. I find myself analyzing everything and everyone I see. I am constantly in search of more information to answer questions, some of which just seem to pop into my mind for no particular reason.

For example, two nights ago I found myself wondering "Why Athena Parthenos?" Was it because she was born leaping from her father's head fully armored (no mother, thus a virgin birth of sorts)? Or was she a virginal goddess? I don't recall reading any mythology about any romantic life.

That goes on in my brain at least 16 hours a day, every damn day, while I'm working, or walking the dogs, or painting the walls. All my life, I have needed to know "why" down to the minutest details .... drove the adults in my life freaking mad, and still makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But there you have it .... that's the way my brain works.

Which reminds me .... I need to do a little research on that parthenos thing before I forget.
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Old 07-16-2009, 11:57 AM   #64
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No, I understand. You and I probably disagree on most things. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate your opinion, just that I don't share it.

I do have a huge problem with teaching Christianity, or any other religious belief, in a publicly supported school. About the only exception would be if they taught a balanced course on Comparative Religion. However, in this very right-wing part of the US, that is highly unlikely to happen.
I think we might agree on more things than you'd expect.

I think a balanced (assuming balanced doesn't mean all religions are equally disparaged) course covering all major religions would be wonderful. But yes, I agree with you, from what I read about many parts of the US, that sounds unlikely. (Though Canadian Catholic secondary schools offer World Religion courses... so perhaps attitudes south of the border will mellow in another ten years too.)

Regarding my simplistic and caricatured model of brain/mind-functioning vs. your own experiences, I suspect we consider consciousness in different terms. My crazy consciousness drugged in a sensory deprivation tank idea can ultimately be traced back to my reading of Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it. Whether or not you'll agree, you will probably find it an interesting theory carried to surprising lengths.

- Ahi
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Old 07-16-2009, 11:57 AM   #65
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... doubtless I'm about to make my inquiry dumber still:

Couldn't I just read 人 as "man", "雇工" as employment, "雇员" as employee (or even as 雇 "employed" and 员 "member")?

Would the phonetic aspects of Hanzi render such an approach untenable beyond the simplest elements?

- Ahi
Sure you could, but you never would get past words to whole sentences. The languages are too different. Let us take a whole sentence "Ma, ni hao"
"媽, 你好" Three simple words. Mother, you, and good. In this order it means "Mother, hello". Next up, "Ni ma hao""你媽好" Now it means, "Your mother is good" (better style would be "你的媽很好", before someone corrects me!, but still it makes perfect sense like this, too). And there is "你好,媽?" "Are you ok, mother?". Again, before any rebuttal comes, "你還好,媽?" or "你好不好,媽?", would be better.
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:03 PM   #66
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I think te whole essay is an attempt at presenting the matter in a humorous way. He is true about classical Chinese, though. I downloaded a copy of the 8th century 紅樓夢 to my Sony reader for my wife (who once taught Chinese history and Chinese linguistics) and even for her it is a very difficult excercise. I recognize every character but still rarely have any idea what the author is talking about, hehehe. Then again my favorite German book is from the 17th century and every German needs a dictionary to read it, too.
Ah! I have you bested, Good Sir!

Hungarian books from as long ago as 1549 (like this one) are basically readable to the layman, despite using a different alphabet with occasionally unorthodox spelling, and other archaisms.

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Sure you could, but you never would get past words to whole sentences. The languages are too different. Let us take a whole sentence "Ma, ni hao"
"媽, 你好" Three simple words. Mother, you, and good. In this order it means "Mother, hello". Next up, "Ni ma hao""你媽好" Now it means, "Your mother is good" (better style would be "你的媽很好", before someone corrects me!, but still it makes perfect sense like this, too). And there is "你好,媽?" "Are you ok, mother?". Again, before any rebuttal comes, "你還好,媽?" or "你好不好,媽?", would be better.
Ok... I see what you are saying. Are there any books that you would recommend *about* Hanzi (not necessarily teaching it)?

- Ahi

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Old 07-16-2009, 12:04 PM   #67
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Ah! I have you bested, Good Sir!

Hungarian books from as long ago as 1549 (like this one) are basically readable to the layman, despite using a different alphabet with occasionally unorthodox spelling, and other archaisms.

- Ahi
So is Shakespeare!
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:10 PM   #68
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So is Shakespeare!
...

Forgot about that one...

To reach for a small and petty victory, let me point out though that he was baptized in 1564... so he has no writing dated quite as early as 1549.

But yes, point taken.

- Ahi
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:25 PM   #69
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To reach for a small and petty victory, let me point out though that he was baptized in 1564... so he has no writing dated quite as early as 1549.
This (Spanish) was written around 1475, and it's quite understandable today.

This (Italian) around 1320, and I could say the same.
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:36 PM   #70
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Well actually, numerous people have learned to read Chinese to high capacity and never actually learned to speak the language in any real form. In fact, this was common in the early 20th Century. Many of the more famous translators of Chinese literature and poetry into English, for example, could not speak Chinese worth a damn.

As far as grammar is concerned, many features are present in "proper" Mandarin, but are casually ignored. A good example of this is the difference between the present perfect and present perfect progressive tenses, which many foreigners incorrectly believe don't exist in Chinese, and most Chinese subsequently fail to notice as well.

And for Hanyu Pinyin's usability as a language replacement...there were some publications done entirely in pinyin with some degree of effectiveness, but solidarity is limited. Your example of Xi'an ignores the use of apostrophes that are conventionally used to distinguish the characters. Tones can also be represented over the dominant final, though I am too lazy to work them up.

In fact, I can write pretty decently in about 4 different methods of Chinese pinyin. Taipei's haphazard switch to Hanyu Pinyin for street names and such in recent years was the source of some mild controversy, and in no small way underscores the lack of support for replacement of characters.

Some of the established Sinologists I've spent time with openly admitted that in many ways the ever-present problem of Chinese identity depends largely on the state of its writing system, for better or for worse.

Personally I see characters and phonetic systems as tradeoffs of one another in the Chinese system. Phonetics are flawed due to the number of homophones, and characters are flawed for cognitive reasons. Neither is a great solution, though the written form is far more universal than spoken Mandarin. I've gotten by in locales with no Mandarin ability just by having a pen and a notepad...though admittedly I've also helped Chinese workers here in Taipei who could speak fine Putonghua but couldn't read much more than their name.

Nothing really amazing about the language, nor anything horrific. It's just a language with bumps and warts, simple and complex elements, just like any other.

Last edited by LDBoblo; 07-16-2009 at 12:41 PM. Reason: woops, messed up my tenses :D
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:39 PM   #71
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This (Spanish) was written around 1475, and it's quite understandable today.

This (Italian) around 1320, and I could say the same.
Right. I shall then happily pity the Germans with my English, Spanish, and Italian brothers!
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Old 07-16-2009, 12:45 PM   #72
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Well actually, numerous people have learned to read Chinese to high capacity and never actually learned to speak the language in any real form. In fact, this was common in the early 20th Century. Many of the more famous translators of Chinese literature and poetry into English, for example, could not speak Chinese worth a damn.

As far as grammar is concerned, many features are present in "proper" Mandarin, but are casually ignored. A good example of this is a perfect tense, which many foreigners incorrectly believe doesn't exist in Chinese, and most Chinese subsequently fail to notice it as well.
Do you mean "never learned the sounds"? Or just never learned how to properly pronounce the sounds?

Do you have any books or links you could recommend on this topic?

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Personally I see characters and phonetic systems as tradeoffs of one another in the Chinese system. Phonetics are flawed due to the number of homophones, and characters are flawed for cognitive reasons. Neither is a great solution, though the written form is far more universal than spoken Mandarin.
There is an amusing number of articles here excerpted from books, by mostly non-Chinese/non-Japanese academics, about why Hanzi/Kanji is bad/evil/unnecessary.

Do Chinese / Japanese people not find entire books written by foreigners about why the Chinese/Japanese are fools not to convert to the superior latin alphabet somewhat offensive, or at least arrogant?

- Ahi

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Old 07-16-2009, 01:13 PM   #73
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Do you mean "never learned the sounds"? Or just never learned how to properly pronounce the sounds?

Do you have any books or links you could recommend on this topic?
It would definitely take some digging. I took off my Sinology hat a few years ago.

Basically though, spoken medium was neglected entirely quite often. Since many early translators were working with classical texts, they were dealing with the predominantly monosyllabic literary Chinese. In poetry, rhyme and meter are important (though in Mandarin, many rhymes and tone patterns are lost, somewhat preserved in older varieties of Chinese and in linguistic reconstructions), so many translators learned each character, including sound in one dialect or another, but would not be able to put together a spoken sentence. These functions can be independent, and frequently were with literary translators.

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here excerpted from books, by mostly non-Chinese/non-Japanese academics, about why Hanzi/Kanji is bad/evil/unnecessary.

Do Chinese / Japanese people not find entire books written by foreigners about why the Chinese/Japanese are fools not to convert to the superior latin alphabet somewhat offensive, or at least arrogant?

- Ahi
I recall some of those authors...one of my own professors had at one time plans to write about what he called the "tyranny of kanji", though I don't know if it ever came to any sort of fruition.

Complaints about the Chinese writing system aren't uncommon domestically. The simplification of Chinese on the mainland was one compromise among the many possible that were intended to improve literacy and facilitate easier learning. Chinese characters were denounced by many intellectuals in the early 20th Century in China as an unwanted vestige of a stagnant civilization. The sentiment is easily shared by many Westerners who have had some degree of frustration in memorizing characters. I myself have been found in situations asking "how do you pronounce..." and then drawing with my finger in the air, or explaining the character in radicals when no dictionary was available.

I think some Chinese and Japanese get offended at the audacity of some foreigners declaring the shortcomings of their venerable language...but that's usually more a disagreement with arrogance or personality, not with the idea itself. The majority of Chinese people I know are of the mind that they've already learned it, so why change it? I suppose that kind of attitude rubs many Westerners the wrong way too.
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Old 07-16-2009, 01:18 PM   #74
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Complaints about the Chinese writing system aren't uncommon domestically.

...

I think some Chinese and Japanese get offended at the audacity of some foreigners declaring the shortcomings of their venerable language...but that's usually more a disagreement with arrogance or personality, not with the idea itself. The majority of Chinese people I know are of the mind that they've already learned it, so why change it? I suppose that kind of attitude rubs many Westerners the wrong way too.
Thanks for all the information! It makes sense that there would be calls for reform internally as well.

Did you find learning/figuring out tones very difficult? That's probably the main thing keeping me from trying to start learning Chinese...

- Ahi
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Old 07-16-2009, 01:52 PM   #75
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Thanks for all the information! It makes sense that there would be calls for reform internally as well.

Did you find learning/figuring out tones very difficult? That's probably the main thing keeping me from trying to start learning Chinese...

- Ahi
Tonal sandhi is a bit of a pain at first, but I overcame it by doing everything in combinations. I also had a background in singing, and pitch was quite simple.

Of course, Mandarin is pretty simple tonally. One thing I found out was that some of the most popular charts that visually describe the tones for Mandarin are incorrect in use and combinations, but technically correct in isolation.

This is what I'm referring to. The return on tone #3 rarely happens except in isolation or exaggeration, and a consecutive #1 and #4 lends the impression that the #4 starts higher.

Of course, there are relatively few foreigners here who actually speak Chinese well, and fewer still who can speak with a native-sounding accent. Expectations on foreigners tend to be very very low. You could probably get away in most places without tones whatsoever and people will still drown you in adoration and sycophancy, amazed that "your speak the Chinese are very well". On bad days, I am sometimes bitter about little things like that, but I try not to let it bug me.

But to return to the basic point...I think none of it is particularly difficult. Characters are easier to write and remember when you practice them and learn the radicals well. Tones are easier when you practice them in sequences and record yourself to circumnavigate the nasty habit of "mouth on, ears off" practice that plagues many language students. I've found that gimmicks like flash cards are ultimately pretty silly, though if it keeps a person motivated, it's fine.

Just my opinion though, so your mileage may vary.
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