[lit-ideas] Re: Chinese -- ??

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2007 18:12:31 +0900

Hi, Julie,

I learned both kinds of Chinese before Japanese. Before then I had
studied Latin, German and French, but none had stuck very well because
I treated the classes like classes, cramming for tests instead of the
practice, practice, practice serious language learning requires.

Chinese helped me learn to read Japanese but not to speak it. Japanese
is written in a combination of three scripts, two syllabaries and,
yes, Chinese characters, Chinese having been the first written
language that Japanese were exposed to. A lot of vocabulary coined
during the 19th and 20th centuries uses the same characters: for
example, Chinese "zhengzhi" and Japanese "seiji" are both written with
the same characters and both mean "government." Ditto for Chinese
"jingji" and Japanese "keizai" both of which mean "economics," so
people who can read Chinese may be able to puzzle out what Japanese
newspaper headlines say.

Chinese and Japanese are, however, radically spoken languages. Chinese
is, tones apart, a lot like English. The basic sentence pattern is
Subject-Verb-Object (SOV) and words are uninflected. In Japanese the
basic sentence pattern is Subject-Object-Verb (SVO) and verbs are
highly inflected with different forms depending on tense and register.
Another thing that takes getting used to when an English-speaker
studies Japanese is that relative clauses are left instead of
right-branching. So, for example, instead of "The cat who chased the
rat who ate the cheese," we'd say, in effect, "The cheese <object
marker> ate rat <object marker>chased cat."

In terms of phonology, Chinese has tones, Japanese doesn't. What
Japanese has  waiting for the unwary English speaker is phonemic vowel
and consonant doubling. So that, for instance, "biru" means "building"
and "biiru" means "beer." "Komon" means "advisor" and "koomon" means

Hope this helps.


On 6/27/07, Julie Krueger <juliereneb@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Okay, so Mensa would be Kindergarten to you.  And I retarded.

This list blows me away daily.

Re. how different is different -- I think it's more a matter of kind of
difference rather than degree --

 I am fluent in Spanish and French.  I can understand Italian very well --
it's like a sub-dialect to me -- something akin to a New Yorker hearing
someone from Alabama and understanding most of it.  Most Spanish-speaking
people I know (those whose native language is Spanish, i.e.), understand
Portuguese with ease.  I have a very difficult time understanding more than
a syllable or two out of a Portuguese sentence.  I have yet to figure this
one out...

My interest is now piqued re. Japanese and Chinese -- I know the alphabetics
are very different; that symbols represent words, not letters, not
phonetics. (Did you learn Japanese or Chinese first?  Did knowledge of one
make the learning of the other easier? It absolutely must have...)   I know
that in the Chinese dialects the tonality is crucial.  Not sure where Korean
fits in linguistically -- I had a friend in College who was from Korea and
spoke only halting English -- I attempted to learn the language from her,
but she moved to NY too soon -- my recollection is that the Korean script
was more similar to the Chinese than the Japanese.  The difference between
the written and the aural language is not to be minimized, however, in my
POV.  I can read Portuguese more easily than understand it spoken, e.g.

And then, for several reasons, it has become something of interest to me to
compare the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures.  So similar to
Westerners, I suppose, and as far apart as any European countries could get.

Brimming with questions, not sure where to start, but with one pragmatic
application for all of this ...

Julie Krueger

On 6/27/07, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Julie,
> I read Chinese and speak (though not as well as I once could) two
> Chinese languages, Mandarin and Amoy Hokkien (the native language of
> most Taiwanese). In Shanghai the local language is a member of the Wu
> cluster of dialects. How different is different?
> Suppose I want to say "How are you?"
> Mandarin: Ni hao ma?
> Hokkien: Li ho bo?
> Shanghainese: Nong ho va?
> There are also the tones to worry about. Mandarin has four, Hokkien 7
> (5 for open syllables, two for closed syllables), and Shanghainese, I
> don't know.
> Cheers,
> John
> On 6/27/07, Julie Krueger <juliereneb@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> > Does anyone "here" read Chinese?  I realize there are fairly substantial
> > differences among dialects -- Mandarin, Cantonese, etc. -- the missives
> > receiving are from Shanghai .... I have no grasp of what the linguistic
> > situation is there ....
> >
> > Julie Krueger
> >
> --
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
> http://www.wordworks.jp/
> To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
> digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: