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    One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    web /google search for a history of china

    1. china was the “”” sick man of asia /century of shame. china has been going on decline for 300 years.

    china has contributed nothing to the world for last 500 years. now.

    china in 1980 has an annual income $200. Two dollars. is this nation that any can be proud.

    2. china did NOT have scientific revolution .industrial revoluton. china only to industrialize in the 1980s. this is after NO progress for 500 years.

    $200: TWO HUNDRED ANNUAL INCOME IN 1980. After 200 years of history, china has annual income of $200 dollars. or less than $20 dollars a month.

    3. Intel corporation ceo Craig Barrett went to china and said “”””80 % are Dumb Peasants””””” china is an pre-industrial . pre-science. pre-industrial nation till the take-off in 1980.

    china had NO change for 500 years till 1980.
    f
    4. Feudal emperor rule till 1911. The last emperor was Puyi in 1911 ( 3-year baby in 1911) and red -emperor /blue ants in 1949.

    5. SICK MAN OF EUROPE = TURKEY SICK MAN OF ASIA = CHINA.

    china needs to follow example of “”” republic of turkey”

    a. abolish all ugly hanzi , primative, barbaric ugly. no civilized nations uses such ugly, primative characters.

    b. free vote for National congress. Turkey has “grand national assembly. china a two -house National Assembly where all work of government can be monitored by the National congress.

    c. US has 1% of worker in farming. one percent farming /10% in factory. Hence, 90% do NOT work in either farming or manufacturing.

    All advanced nations move from Farming (1%) to Factory (80%) to Service / Information processing./cloud.

    90% of people farming to 1% farming. Farming (1 %) to to 80% service /information cloud computing.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Why were dark age europians not advanced with alphabets.
    Why, after renaissnace, did industrial revolution happen?
    Why was Japan be able to industrilize it’s nation after the western influence?
    It is self-evident that without chinise letters, Japan could not traslate western books in Meiji era.
    In Asia including Japan, Korea, China, without chinise character, 3 nations could not translate western books.
    Kanji in Jananese and Korean alphabet are only used fuctional words such as preposition in English or very easy words.
    Most abstract words can be expressed only in Chinese character or the way it is pronounced in korean and japanese alphabet.
    It is like, in Eglish most abstract and conceptualized words are borrowed from Latin, Greek.

    So, whethere it is alphabet or chinese is not important. The important thing is what contains in languages.
    Among great civilazations, only ancient greek made a giant scientific leap.
    Only those who were influenced by ancient greek culture did industrilize.

    Alphabet is not a cause of industrialization, it is just one of the attributes of Greek culture.

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  • @smile
    Hieroglyphic system is very different from alphabetic system.
    In hieroglyphic script, a character is usually means a phrase just like ancient chinese. To cut done the uncertain of chinese characters, it has change the one character to two characters as a words. “否”, in pinyin is "fou" means no or negative in english has changed to "不是"/“不” which in pinyin are "bushi" and "bu". The pronunciation has already changed without changing in the meaning and increase the efficiency of understanding.
    It is very hard to learn at first but after you learn plenty of characters, it is much easier than alphabetic system. Because it do not have as much grammar as alphabetic system. For example, when a action took place , the "take" need to change to "took" to shows that it is in the past time. But it is very simple in chinese. It just need to add a time without changing anything, etc. Hence, it is easier to combinate a sentence. Usually chinese students need 4000-5000 are enough to read almost all the chinese books(except the ancient chinese which the characters have different meanings). But students in alphabetic system need at least 8000 words for sure(but basic english just need 26 character LOL).
    I can't say chinese is more efficiency than english not just in mechanic side but when you search some translations between chinese and english you will find the chinese article usually shorter than english one.
    And also I found that many chinese philosophical thinking just under the chinese characters which is amazing. It is easy to find this in the common conversation.

    I agree that the chinese writing may be a reason to its industrialisation but in fact it because the philosophical thinking under the writing. For example to be filial is very important in chinese culture. This may cause children do not do what their parents not like to especally a sentence I remember: Children do not travel far away when parents are alive. Because they have the responsibility to take care of their parents. Is that might explain why ancient chinese not travel the whole world in ancient when they already have the great seamanship during Song dynasty(960-1279A.D) and also Ming Dynasty(1368-1644A.D). The size of Zhenhe's ship in 1405 A.D is about 130 meter long and 50 meter wide. The fleet have over 200 ship 27,000 staff and with over 1,000 tonnes of displacement. Sadly, after Zhenhe no one traveled again hence many of technology used to build these great wooden ship had lost.

    Most Chinese words are not made of one character but 2 or more. So if you know those 4000/5000 characters you can “read” all words but you don’t knowing the mean of all words nor can you pronounce all words. Also the fact that you claim that Chinese grammar is easier is not due to using characters but is something that is innate to the Chinese spoken languages .

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  • @georgesdelatour
    I think you're on to something.

    I was listening to an iTunes University series by the philosopher John Searle, who's been lecturing in China. Just as an aside, he said (approximately) … "Will Mandarin become the world's first language of international communication? They'll need to get an alphabet first."

    Hieroglyphic system is very different from alphabetic system.
    In hieroglyphic script, a character is usually means a phrase just like ancient chinese. To cut done the uncertain of chinese characters, it has change the one character to two characters as a words. “否”, in pinyin is “fou” means no or negative in english has changed to “不是”/“不” which in pinyin are “bushi” and “bu”. The pronunciation has already changed without changing in the meaning and increase the efficiency of understanding.
    It is very hard to learn at first but after you learn plenty of characters, it is much easier than alphabetic system. Because it do not have as much grammar as alphabetic system. For example, when a action took place , the “take” need to change to “took” to shows that it is in the past time. But it is very simple in chinese. It just need to add a time without changing anything, etc. Hence, it is easier to combinate a sentence. Usually chinese students need 4000-5000 are enough to read almost all the chinese books(except the ancient chinese which the characters have different meanings). But students in alphabetic system need at least 8000 words for sure(but basic english just need 26 character LOL).
    I can’t say chinese is more efficiency than english not just in mechanic side but when you search some translations between chinese and english you will find the chinese article usually shorter than english one.
    And also I found that many chinese philosophical thinking just under the chinese characters which is amazing. It is easy to find this in the common conversation.

    I agree that the chinese writing may be a reason to its industrialisation but in fact it because the philosophical thinking under the writing. For example to be filial is very important in chinese culture. This may cause children do not do what their parents not like to especally a sentence I remember: Children do not travel far away when parents are alive. Because they have the responsibility to take care of their parents. Is that might explain why ancient chinese not travel the whole world in ancient when they already have the great seamanship during Song dynasty(960-1279A.D) and also Ming Dynasty(1368-1644A.D). The size of Zhenhe’s ship in 1405 A.D is about 130 meter long and 50 meter wide. The fleet have over 200 ship 27,000 staff and with over 1,000 tonnes of displacement. Sadly, after Zhenhe no one traveled again hence many of technology used to build these great wooden ship had lost.

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    • Replies: @charly
    Most Chinese words are not made of one character but 2 or more. So if you know those 4000/5000 characters you can "read" all words but you don't knowing the mean of all words nor can you pronounce all words. Also the fact that you claim that Chinese grammar is easier is not due to using characters but is something that is innate to the Chinese spoken languages .
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Seeing as I'm known as a "Sino-triumphalist" anyway why not go the full nine yards and learn the language? That is what I'm doing (c. 300-500 汉字 to date) and here are my thoughts so far. 1. Tones. In stark contrast to every major European language, Chinese pronunciation is based on tones. Four of them:...
  • Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Don’t forget to pick up either the Kangxi or Xinhua radical lists. That makes characters much easier; instead of reading them as whole characters or lists of strokes, you have standard decompositions and both radical lists provide enough coverage that you can cover 99% of characters, especially with simplified, with them and then just use stroke annotations.

    Also, if you’re serious about the characters, please don’t forget that reading and writing memory systems are separate things and you MUST practice the art of writing, but if you’ve picked up Skritter you must know that.

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  • @Zoroaster
    "Hieroglyphs"? I don't think that word means what you think it does.

    In Russian, Chinese characters are referred to as Hieroglyphs rather than ideographs, semiographs, or sinographs.

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  • One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • Anon • Disclaimer says:

    You’re absolutely correct with regards to the deficits forced by the Chinese script. Comparing Japan and China in the 1800s, Japan had a literacy level superior to that of many European states, and all it requires is learning / memorizing 100 or so characters. This is not for strict literacy; it doesnli’t mean that the Japanese can actually read their Kanji, but it means that they can communicate and write using their Kana systems with Furigana attached to Kanji as necessary. China, on the other hand, kept to around 10% or less of the population being literate, and this was with the traditional script, which is myriads more complicated than the simplified version promulgated by the Communists.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, there’s also Sapir-Whorf effects enforced by a character-based system; the time required to write full Chinese words (Hou 後 takes 11 strokes to write, and requires the activation of a drawing system, as opposed to a more simple writing system for “back” or “rear”, the former requiring 7 strikes and the latter requiring 5) impacts linguistic evolution and forces terseness in communication.

    ===

    By the way, the Chinese already had mass production / industrialization in the Qin dynasty, sort of how like the Romans also had a workshop system. The Qin state produced weapons in government-controlled workshops, complete with quality control inspectors, punishable by death for Q&A failures. And Chinese lacquerware was produced in stages and in batches, whereas the Japanese switched off to a simpler techinque (and innovated in their own way) because they didn’t understand how to do mass production.

    Chinese porcelain is also the result of workshop systems, not individual craftsmen producing each piece piece by piece; these things would be painted and fired in batches, not on a piece by piece basis.

    ” Expectations of output ranged from 100 per day for a man throwing small bowls and saucers to 10 per day for a man making large vessels.11 Clearly, porcelain was mass-produced by a specialized workforce engaged in a highly organized process. While not a matter of individual inspiration, porcelain production provides an impressive precedent for large-scale manufacturing.”

    http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/Exhibit/Archive/porcelainstories/process/process.htm

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  • K says:

    Looking at it from another angle, it is not that China stagnate, it is that Europe suddenly took off with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England. Traditionally China has technologies but not basic science. By basic science, I mean Newtonian mechanics, Maxwell equations…etc. Gun power, magnetic compass, paper making…etc. are technologies, they are not basic science. Without basic science, you cannot go very far and industrial revolution cannot happen.

    So the question is why the Europeans discovered basic science and not the Chinese? I think any civilization with a high enough cognitive abilities will eventually discover basic science. It might very well be a historical coincidence that it happened in Europe first.

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  • So today I finished my intensive Chinese class, which I celebrated by drinking lots of 啤酒 (and silently toasting the heroic oppositionistas struggling against UK bourgeois state tyranny). Here is my third set of observations. 1. Most other languages now look really easy, especially Spanish which I've long planned to learn but never really found...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    internet search: english, spanish, latin, vietnamese, malaysia, russia, hebrew. The whole world is using an Alphabet-based sytem of writing..

    ABC in Canada/USA/Mexico. Europe. Vietnam, Malaysia.. Worldwide…ABC is Now the default system for writing all the world languages.

    Internet Search: China was the “Sick Man of Asia” with a “Century of Humiliation/shame…

    NO civilized nation uses such old, ancient, archais sytem of writing..

    ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ..

    0123456789

    +-+-+-+-+-

    10100101

    xoxoxoxooxoxo

    All you need is basic ABC/123/1010101010

    Digital Age is based on the Number two, all you need is two: 1010101010101010

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  • One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • @bee_movie
    Alphabet advantages ?
    Neighbouring India has alphabet for Hindi, plus Indian English as their second language. Nonetheless it remains in "deep" tradition and looks like to remain there forever, due to their caste system and other "traditions".
    China, with hieroglyphics, make a fastest seen progress in modernization of its economy and society.

    Corruption is a major problem in India, more so perhaps than “traditions”. For anyone from India visiting here, there is a website I Paid A Bribe which was set up by a former public servant specifically to address government corruption in India. Website address is http://www.ipaidabribe.com.

    Interesting that in recent historical times the people of southern India, in particular Tamil speakers and people in Karnataka (where the space industry and the IT industry were originally based), have been far more progressive and scientific than people in northern India yet they have some of the country’s most ancient literatures and traditions.

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  • Alphabet advantages ?
    Neighbouring India has alphabet for Hindi, plus Indian English as their second language. Nonetheless it remains in “deep” tradition and looks like to remain there forever, due to their caste system and other “traditions”.
    China, with hieroglyphics, make a fastest seen progress in modernization of its economy and society.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Jennifer
    Corruption is a major problem in India, more so perhaps than "traditions". For anyone from India visiting here, there is a website I Paid A Bribe which was set up by a former public servant specifically to address government corruption in India. Website address is www.ipaidabribe.com.

    Interesting that in recent historical times the people of southern India, in particular Tamil speakers and people in Karnataka (where the space industry and the IT industry were originally based), have been far more progressive and scientific than people in northern India yet they have some of the country's most ancient literatures and traditions.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Jennifer
    Fascinating reading here. May I add something which I think has been overlooked? What about the nature of communications in a vast empire where since the 1200s at least, the capital has been located in the northern part of the country but the bulk of China's population lives far south in mountainous areas subject to frequent earthquakes? A country also where rivers tend to run west to east rather than on a north-south axis which makes riverine-based transport (and thus communication and the ideas that go with it) difficult for north-south trade? China did build canals linking the Huang He and Jiangzi rivers hundreds of years ago but the rivers were often subject to flooding.

    The areas in China where Mandarin is the dominant language tend to be in northern, north-central and southwestern parts (Sichuan). In the southeast you have Wu (Shanghai and surrounds), Fujianese, the Yueh dialects (Cantonese and related dialects), Hakka and others. Then there are tribal languages related to Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and some others. The existence of several languages in one fairly compact area suggests this phenomenon: difficult communications in a mountainous region, enabling the survival of communities possibly hostile to or at least indifferent to Beijing. A similar phenomenon can be observed in the Caucasus Mountain region. Is it possible that difficult communications enable the survival of communities with attitudes that have the indirect result of inhibiting the easy spread of ideas such as mass education and literacy, and so preventing China from making the leap to an Industrial Revolution?

    Today the wealthiest parts of China tend to be areas close to the sea and along the major rivers but it's surprising that apparently you don't have to go very far inland to find some very poor areas, usually in very mountainous provinces. Coastal provinces like Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang have high regional per capita GDPs but go to neighbouring Anhui and Jiangxi provinces and these areas have some of the lowest regional per capital GDPs (I'm looking at a map of China's regional GDP per capita for 2004 that I ripped out of New Scientist magazine years ago). Guangxi province is one of China's poorest and least developed yet it's right next door to Guangdong province.

    Consider also how separate elites were from the common people and whether either group cared much for the spiritual and intellectual welfare for the other. Traditional Confucianist, Buddhist and Daoist teachings may have some influence here in that they encouraged people to look out for their families and clans, and maybe for members of their social class, but not for people unrelated to them. With such attitudes prevailing in traditional Chinese society, how would concern for mass education and literacy take root? The uproar that took place when recently the little girl was run over by two cars and left for dead in Foshan tells you something about traditional Chinese attitudes towards social co-operation: you look out for your relatives and others you know but strangers take care of themselves.

    If you look at what constitutes "traditional" European cultures, you find nearly all of them emphasise peasant or "common" traditions and customs. If you look at Korean and Japanese "traditional" cultures, there is also some emphasis on the customs and traditions of farmers and artisans. Japanese traditional culture in particular is famous for having a bourgeois culture that developed durng the Tokugawa period (1603 - 1867): think of kabuki theatre, bunraku puppetry, woodblock printing and literature and art that catered for middle classes and lower classes (with a huge emphasis on pornography - a tutor on ancient Greek culture once told me ancient Greece and Tokugawa-era Japan are the only cultures outside 19th and 20th century Western cultures to have considerable pornographic literature).

    Look at what passes for "traditional" Chinese culture though and nearly all of it is the culture of the elite. This doesn't say much positive for inter-social actions within Chinese society before the 20th century. Also consider that from 1644 to 1912, China was ruled by a foreign elite. The Manchus in 1644 were originally a group related to Mongols and some Siberian groups around the Amur river. The Manchus did have their own alphabet based on the Mongolian alphabet that ultimately derives from a Semitic alphabet (I think it was Aramaic or Syriac). There's the possibility that the Chinese elites spurned the use of alphabets because people they considered inferior to them used alphabets!

    I find it funny that past linguistics experts considered Chinese ia "primitive" language because of its analytical grammar. So-called "primitive" peoples, ie those peoples following a hunter-gatherer lifestyle with simple technologies often speak languages with fiendishly complex grammars. Over time as societies acquire technology and culture from outside and develop their own, their languages tend to drop excessive grammatical baggage due to borrowing and interactions with other languages that create "interference", particularly if the other languages are related to the host society language. This is how English developed over time.

    Chinese saying about that: “The mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away.” But I don’t think it played a huge role. The reality is that China was for all that far more inter-connected (canals, roads, etc) than Europe until the 19th century.

    I have to say that since writing that post I have majorly changed my mind on the causes of Chinese historical backwardness.

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  • Fascinating reading here. May I add something which I think has been overlooked? What about the nature of communications in a vast empire where since the 1200s at least, the capital has been located in the northern part of the country but the bulk of China’s population lives far south in mountainous areas subject to frequent earthquakes? A country also where rivers tend to run west to east rather than on a north-south axis which makes riverine-based transport (and thus communication and the ideas that go with it) difficult for north-south trade? China did build canals linking the Huang He and Jiangzi rivers hundreds of years ago but the rivers were often subject to flooding.

    The areas in China where Mandarin is the dominant language tend to be in northern, north-central and southwestern parts (Sichuan). In the southeast you have Wu (Shanghai and surrounds), Fujianese, the Yueh dialects (Cantonese and related dialects), Hakka and others. Then there are tribal languages related to Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and some others. The existence of several languages in one fairly compact area suggests this phenomenon: difficult communications in a mountainous region, enabling the survival of communities possibly hostile to or at least indifferent to Beijing. A similar phenomenon can be observed in the Caucasus Mountain region. Is it possible that difficult communications enable the survival of communities with attitudes that have the indirect result of inhibiting the easy spread of ideas such as mass education and literacy, and so preventing China from making the leap to an Industrial Revolution?

    Today the wealthiest parts of China tend to be areas close to the sea and along the major rivers but it’s surprising that apparently you don’t have to go very far inland to find some very poor areas, usually in very mountainous provinces. Coastal provinces like Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang have high regional per capita GDPs but go to neighbouring Anhui and Jiangxi provinces and these areas have some of the lowest regional per capital GDPs (I’m looking at a map of China’s regional GDP per capita for 2004 that I ripped out of New Scientist magazine years ago). Guangxi province is one of China’s poorest and least developed yet it’s right next door to Guangdong province.

    Consider also how separate elites were from the common people and whether either group cared much for the spiritual and intellectual welfare for the other. Traditional Confucianist, Buddhist and Daoist teachings may have some influence here in that they encouraged people to look out for their families and clans, and maybe for members of their social class, but not for people unrelated to them. With such attitudes prevailing in traditional Chinese society, how would concern for mass education and literacy take root? The uproar that took place when recently the little girl was run over by two cars and left for dead in Foshan tells you something about traditional Chinese attitudes towards social co-operation: you look out for your relatives and others you know but strangers take care of themselves.

    If you look at what constitutes “traditional” European cultures, you find nearly all of them emphasise peasant or “common” traditions and customs. If you look at Korean and Japanese “traditional” cultures, there is also some emphasis on the customs and traditions of farmers and artisans. Japanese traditional culture in particular is famous for having a bourgeois culture that developed durng the Tokugawa period (1603 – 1867): think of kabuki theatre, bunraku puppetry, woodblock printing and literature and art that catered for middle classes and lower classes (with a huge emphasis on pornography – a tutor on ancient Greek culture once told me ancient Greece and Tokugawa-era Japan are the only cultures outside 19th and 20th century Western cultures to have considerable pornographic literature).

    Look at what passes for “traditional” Chinese culture though and nearly all of it is the culture of the elite. This doesn’t say much positive for inter-social actions within Chinese society before the 20th century. Also consider that from 1644 to 1912, China was ruled by a foreign elite. The Manchus in 1644 were originally a group related to Mongols and some Siberian groups around the Amur river. The Manchus did have their own alphabet based on the Mongolian alphabet that ultimately derives from a Semitic alphabet (I think it was Aramaic or Syriac). There’s the possibility that the Chinese elites spurned the use of alphabets because people they considered inferior to them used alphabets!

    I find it funny that past linguistics experts considered Chinese ia “primitive” language because of its analytical grammar. So-called “primitive” peoples, ie those peoples following a hunter-gatherer lifestyle with simple technologies often speak languages with fiendishly complex grammars. Over time as societies acquire technology and culture from outside and develop their own, their languages tend to drop excessive grammatical baggage due to borrowing and interactions with other languages that create “interference”, particularly if the other languages are related to the host society language. This is how English developed over time.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Chinese saying about that: "The mountains are high, and the Emperor is far away." But I don't think it played a huge role. The reality is that China was for all that far more inter-connected (canals, roads, etc) than Europe until the 19th century.

    I have to say that since writing that post I have majorly changed my mind on the causes of Chinese historical backwardness.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Chinese have Western civilization to help them out greatly ). It’s God’s Providence.
    Chinese characters, as any symbols, stimulate intuition…

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  • So today I finished my intensive Chinese class, which I celebrated by drinking lots of 啤酒 (and silently toasting the heroic oppositionistas struggling against UK bourgeois state tyranny). Here is my third set of observations. 1. Most other languages now look really easy, especially Spanish which I've long planned to learn but never really found...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Anonymous
    @Gloosy Yes,“傲慢” means "arrogance" as a compound.I don't understand why use “慢”("slow")here,either. I check it here http://baike.baidu.com/view/398158.htm,it says, “慢” here is not what we often see as "slow",it's a word from Buddhism( probably a transcription when Buddhism was spread to China),which means "haughty". In modern Chinese,a word is usually in two-character form.( a 成语 usually has four characters,'cause a 成语 is usually a phrase or even a short sentence.),the two characters often share the same or similar meaning (in order to make it more flowing in speech and more emphatic in meaning.) In many circumtances,maybe you don't know one character of the two,but don't worry ,you will mostly understand it immediately according to the one you know.In classic Chinese (which has been the official written language in China for thounds of years before it was replaced by modern Chinese [it's an oral-oriented language before] in the new cultural movement in the 1919.),most words are just one-character,it's very very concise,if a 100-page novel written in classic Chinese is translated into English,1000 pages or even more will be taken to load.Claasic Chinese is very difficult but also very flexible, if you can master it well (nobody can master it 100%),then you have nearly mastered the spirit of the Chinese language,and modern Chinese (actually any language on earth) will become so pale in front of you .

    The 慢 in 傲慢 should really be 嫚. In older texts 慢 had the secondary meaning “to slight, to be insolent,” a result of semantic drift from the original meaning “slow” (“slow” -> “indulgent” -> “to slight, to be insolent”); one can find numerous examples of this in the Classic of Rites, along with the Buddhist texts cited in the Baike article. The word eventually split into the two characters 慢 (“slow”) and 嫚 (“to slight, to be insolent”), but the 慢 in 傲慢 didn’t change accordingly and thus reflects an otherwise obsolete meaning of the character. If you pretend the 慢 in 傲慢 is actually 嫚, then it suddenly makes perfect sense (“proud” + “insolent” = “arrogant”).

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  • One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • @Doug M.
    One, you're right -- the kanji are representative, not syllabic.

    Two, yeah, I misspoke. I got "hanji" from writing too fast and crosswiring with _hanzi_, which is the Japanese word for Chinese characters.

    And three, no -- most common Japanese nouns are represented by kanji. You simply cannot read Japanese without them.


    Doug M.

    I’m glad Glossy corrected you…I was going to but shied away because of my ineptness to get in any kind of a tête-à-tête with you. After reading (with much interest) the overall subject matter leaves me in the amateur section of the peanut gallery so I’ll be content with just reading for the meanwhile.
    Yes, kanji is correct…I never heard of hanji while living in Okinawa.
    Not that it matters here, but I learned to write my name using hiragana and katakana among other short phrases. My personal opinion about learning Japanese is that it is very easy to pick up the spoken word while the writtten word is a whole new ball game. The basic sounds of ah, ka, sa, na, and a few others are mastered quite easily compared to the sing-song utterences of Chinese (Taiwan) which I gave up on. German was also difficult for me but that’s another story.

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  • I believe that the Chinese writing system is more of a handicap than a core source of China’s failure to keep up with Western expansionism. More time spent in school mastering the writing system leaves less time for learning and thinking and communicating about the academic subjects that a writing system is supposed to facilitate.

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  • However, Chinese has one major advantage in the Information Age, which is what really matters in the here and now: information density per character. I can express the same thought with 4 characters, that I knew in elementary school, that would require a paragraph in English.

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  • So today I finished my intensive Chinese class, which I celebrated by drinking lots of 啤酒 (and silently toasting the heroic oppositionistas struggling against UK bourgeois state tyranny). Here is my third set of observations. 1. Most other languages now look really easy, especially Spanish which I've long planned to learn but never really found...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    @Gloosy Yes,“傲慢” means “arrogance” as a compound.I don’t understand why use “慢”(“slow”)here,either. I check it here http://baike.baidu.com/view/398158.htm,it says, “慢” here is not what we often see as “slow”,it’s a word from Buddhism( probably a transcription when Buddhism was spread to China),which means “haughty”. In modern Chinese,a word is usually in two-character form.( a 成语 usually has four characters,’cause a 成语 is usually a phrase or even a short sentence.),the two characters often share the same or similar meaning (in order to make it more flowing in speech and more emphatic in meaning.) In many circumtances,maybe you don’t know one character of the two,but don’t worry ,you will mostly understand it immediately according to the one you know.In classic Chinese (which has been the official written language in China for thounds of years before it was replaced by modern Chinese [it's an oral-oriented language before] in the new cultural movement in the 1919.),most words are just one-character,it’s very very concise,if a 100-page novel written in classic Chinese is translated into English,1000 pages or even more will be taken to load.Claasic Chinese is very difficult but also very flexible, if you can master it well (nobody can master it 100%),then you have nearly mastered the spirit of the Chinese language,and modern Chinese (actually any language on earth) will become so pale in front of you .

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    The 慢 in 傲慢 should really be 嫚. In older texts 慢 had the secondary meaning "to slight, to be insolent," a result of semantic drift from the original meaning "slow" ("slow" -> "indulgent" -> "to slight, to be insolent"); one can find numerous examples of this in the Classic of Rites, along with the Buddhist texts cited in the Baike article. The word eventually split into the two characters 慢 ("slow") and 嫚 ("to slight, to be insolent"), but the 慢 in 傲慢 didn't change accordingly and thus reflects an otherwise obsolete meaning of the character. If you pretend the 慢 in 傲慢 is actually 嫚, then it suddenly makes perfect sense ("proud" + "insolent" = "arrogant").
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Seeing as I'm known as a "Sino-triumphalist" anyway why not go the full nine yards and learn the language? That is what I'm doing (c. 300-500 汉字 to date) and here are my thoughts so far. 1. Tones. In stark contrast to every major European language, Chinese pronunciation is based on tones. Four of them:...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Hey,I am a Chinese person,I know English quite well and trying to study Japanese now.From my personal experience from contacting with these three languages,I can tell that Japanese is the hardest. Many people say Chinese is hard,but I don’t think so,maybe it is a little difficult to deal with the tones for people whose native language don’t have this feature.But once you get used to how it works,learning Chinese is really a piece of cake.Since Chinese is so grammatically simple,as long as you know the Chinese words and connect them in Subject–verb–object order,it will make sense,and you won’t be troubled by complicated change in verb form,because none of them is present in Chinese, add “了or 过,“ in the end of the sentence to tell the past tense or judge by the words of time.In addition,Chinese is also very logical,for example,电话 electric talker =telephone ,手机 hand machine=cellphone,电脑 electric brain=computer,牛肉 cow meet=beef ,猪肉 pig meat=pork,鸡 is chicken so 公鸡 male chicken=cock,母鸡 female chicken is hen,etc. So in many cases,all you need is to memorize the basic words,and all the others can be understood even you don’t learn them ’cause they are almost all composed by these basics and can be simply understandable by first sight.
    English is much difficult,’cause the limitless vocabulary (Chinese words are mostly composed by some basic words,and when a new concept appears,the basics can be put together to describe it,but in English,mostly a new word which has no connection with the already known words has to be create,thus the vocabulary of English is growing like limitless. And the complicated verb change is also a headache.
    Japanese is actually the most difficult of the three.Although Japanese borrowed many Chinese words,but it is a Subject-objective-verb language,you will always not know what happened untill the last word of a sentence has been said.Since Chinese words are not designed for Japanese,so when they adopt Chinese characters,they will tend to keep the meaning the same as in Chinese but give a Japanese sound,this causes that the same Chinese character in different Japanese words will pronounce differently,’cause they have already had their own sounds for different objects,but they are connected in meanings so when write in Chinese,these connections will be expressed.(just like 牛 is cow, but in 牛肉, beef is pronounced).Further more,Japanese has the verb forms changed in different tenses.So for a westerners, Japanese is both difficult to write and hard to handle the complicated grammar.

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  • One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • I already thought that language was the culprit (or well, one of the culprits – the world is much too complex to have singular causes) for China’s relatively late industrialization.

    As a child, my family spoke Cantonese at home. In addition, I took classes in Chinese. Nevertheless, I still cannot read or write in Chinese. It’s just too hard of a language.

    Your comment about moveable type is really amusing. It is baffling how China invented something that is completely useless in the context of the Chinese language, but would revolutionize the world in terms of printing and literacy in Europe centuries later.

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  • So today I finished my intensive Chinese class, which I celebrated by drinking lots of 啤酒 (and silently toasting the heroic oppositionistas struggling against UK bourgeois state tyranny). Here is my third set of observations. 1. Most other languages now look really easy, especially Spanish which I've long planned to learn but never really found...
  • @Brian Barker
    Thanks for your kind reply :)

    BTW China Television now also broadcasts in Esperanto see here www.youtube.com/watch?v=87YdQb7_OYk

    Hope the link works !

    @brian: Yes, the link works, thank you for that! Is interesting to hear people actually speaking Esperanto fluently. To my ear it sounds a lot like Spanish, and I even recognized several words, based on knowing a little Spanish. Some people may consider it unfair to create a universal language based on an Indo-European, specifically Latin, model, but, hey, you have to start with what you know. Also, the creators of Esperanto were motivated not by linguistic imperialism, but by a desire to benefit the human race. Hence, they took the time to make up a lingua that could be a second language for everyone in the world. Besides, people (even adults) are capable of learning a foreign language with a completely different structure, especially if the grammar is completely regular, as is the case in Esperanto. No unpleasant phonological surprises, like you have to learn to pronounce three clicks and five tones while rolling your tongue against your glottis; and no unpleasant morphological surprises like some weird suffix that is only used when speaking about one’s mother-in-law’s purported actions in the distant past…

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  • @yalensis
    @brian. I agree! I was wondering when someone would bring up Esperanto. I don't know more than a couple of words in Esperanto, but I promise to sit down and learn it if everybody else in the world does. Then we can all speak to each other in Esperanto. It is the only fair and practical solution to the "Babel" problem. My understanding is that Esperanto was specifically designed to be simple (as simple to learn as a pidgin while being an actual fully-functional language), logical, and, most importantly, have a PHONEMIC ALPHABET that can be learned in under an hour, even for people whose native language is not written in Latin letters!

    Thanks for your kind reply :)

    BTW China Television now also broadcasts in Esperanto see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87YdQb7_OYk

    Hope the link works !

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    @brian: Yes, the link works, thank you for that! Is interesting to hear people actually speaking Esperanto fluently. To my ear it sounds a lot like Spanish, and I even recognized several words, based on knowing a little Spanish. Some people may consider it unfair to create a universal language based on an Indo-European, specifically Latin, model, but, hey, you have to start with what you know. Also, the creators of Esperanto were motivated not by linguistic imperialism, but by a desire to benefit the human race. Hence, they took the time to make up a lingua that could be a second language for everyone in the world. Besides, people (even adults) are capable of learning a foreign language with a completely different structure, especially if the grammar is completely regular, as is the case in Esperanto. No unpleasant phonological surprises, like you have to learn to pronounce three clicks and five tones while rolling your tongue against your glottis; and no unpleasant morphological surprises like some weird suffix that is only used when speaking about one’s mother-in-law’s purported actions in the distant past…
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Brian Barker
    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

    Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    @brian. I agree! I was wondering when someone would bring up Esperanto. I don’t know more than a couple of words in Esperanto, but I promise to sit down and learn it if everybody else in the world does. Then we can all speak to each other in Esperanto. It is the only fair and practical solution to the “Babel” problem. My understanding is that Esperanto was specifically designed to be simple (as simple to learn as a pidgin while being an actual fully-functional language), logical, and, most importantly, have a PHONEMIC ALPHABET that can be learned in under an hour, even for people whose native language is not written in Latin letters!

    Read More
    • Replies: @Brian Barker
    Thanks for your kind reply :)

    BTW China Television now also broadcasts in Esperanto see here www.youtube.com/watch?v=87YdQb7_OYk

    Hope the link works !

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Glossy
    It just occurred to me that "arrogant slow and slanted view" underestimates how different Chinese is from inflectional languages. "Arrogance slow and slant see" is a little closer to what a foreign learner first sees. Then he starts thinking "oh, but isn't 傲慢 a compound? Then there's no "slow" here, it's just "arrogance". And "slant see", could that be meant figuratively, as in a distorted view, a distorted, biased opinion?

    The one-sentence executive summary on the Chinese writing system is "It's just as complicated as it looks".

    Wow, thanks, @glossy, this is fascinating. Hopefully the Chinese readers “get” the fact that Mr. Darcy is the person with the “slow arrogance” and that Elizabeth Bennet is the one who has the “slanted view”.

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  • I love anything related to language learning, so I really enjoyed reading this post. I didn’t realize you took a Chinese class. Either you must not have said, or I missed that somehow. :)

    I can definitely relate to the first point you made. Back before I started Russian, I used to think French was hard and I even agonized over Spanish sometimes. Now I think that all Romance languages are quite easy.

    : I definitely agree with you about Anki. I use it for my various languages and it’s amazing. Sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll download decks for random languages I’ve been meaning to learn and start going through them. Yep, I’m such a language geek…

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  • @Glossy
    Well, it's only about 4,100 characters. Plus about 1,850 of the kind of multi-character words whose meanings aren't guessable from the characters in them. Plus some unguessable simplifications.

    I’m impressed that you have a grasp of 4,100 characters without being able to speak the language. You must have much more of a photographic memory than I do. When I started to study Chinese I was going to learn the 800 most commonly used characters before I began to learn to speak (I wanted to be able to write anything I could speak). However, I hit a wall at about 300 characters — it seemed I was forgetting characters as fast as I was learning new ones. Then I learned about Anki, and the need to incorporate new characters into simple sentences that I can say to myself in real life (when not studying). That blew me past my limited memorization abilities and I’m now at 800 characters memorized and I’m learning 2 to 3 new characters a day with ease (and forgetting only 6-7% of ones I’ve already learned, and I’m able to quickly re-learn them). I am totally addicted to Anki — it’s way more fun than video games for me.

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  • @Glossy
    Darcy is 達西 (da-xi, with the x pronounced as sh). The first character means "reach, attain", the second one means "west".

    Pride and Prejudice is 傲慢與偏見. Really, really literally I'm reading that as "arrogant slow and slanted view", with the amusing little detail that the character for "slow" is composed of two elements that mean "stretch" and "heart". Whenever I see that character, I'm picturing the hours passing by so slowly that an observer's figurative heart (his spirit or soul or whatever) appears to him to be distorted, stretched. And the character for "slanted, tilted" is composed of two elements that mean "tablet" and "man". So of course when I see it I always picture a man who's as thin as a thin wooden tablet, leaning against a wall. I should say that 傲慢 means "arrogant" as a compound. 慢 only means "slow" when it's by itself. But figuring out if a character is stand-alone or a part of a compound word is sometimes difficult, since there are no spaces between words.

    It just occurred to me that “arrogant slow and slanted view” underestimates how different Chinese is from inflectional languages. “Arrogance slow and slant see” is a little closer to what a foreign learner first sees. Then he starts thinking “oh, but isn’t 傲慢 a compound? Then there’s no “slow” here, it’s just “arrogance”. And “slant see”, could that be meant figuratively, as in a distorted view, a distorted, biased opinion?

    The one-sentence executive summary on the Chinese writing system is “It’s just as complicated as it looks”.

    Read More
    • Replies: @yalensis
    Wow, thanks, @glossy, this is fascinating. Hopefully the Chinese readers "get" the fact that Mr. Darcy is the person with the "slow arrogance" and that Elizabeth Bennet is the one who has the "slanted view".
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @yalensis
    @glossy: You should be commended for your studiousness! Re. Jane Austen's novel in Chinese, just out of curiosity, how is Mr. Darcy's name written in Chinese characters? Also, the main concepts of "Pride" and "Prejudice", I imagine they translate directly to Chinese words, since they are such universal concepts?

    Darcy is 達西 (da-xi, with the x pronounced as sh). The first character means “reach, attain”, the second one means “west”.

    Pride and Prejudice is 傲慢與偏見. Really, really literally I’m reading that as “arrogant slow and slanted view”, with the amusing little detail that the character for “slow” is composed of two elements that mean “stretch” and “heart”. Whenever I see that character, I’m picturing the hours passing by so slowly that an observer’s figurative heart (his spirit or soul or whatever) appears to him to be distorted, stretched. And the character for “slanted, tilted” is composed of two elements that mean “tablet” and “man”. So of course when I see it I always picture a man who’s as thin as a thin wooden tablet, leaning against a wall. I should say that 傲慢 means “arrogant” as a compound. 慢 only means “slow” when it’s by itself. But figuring out if a character is stand-alone or a part of a compound word is sometimes difficult, since there are no spaces between words.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Glossy
    It just occurred to me that "arrogant slow and slanted view" underestimates how different Chinese is from inflectional languages. "Arrogance slow and slant see" is a little closer to what a foreign learner first sees. Then he starts thinking "oh, but isn't 傲慢 a compound? Then there's no "slow" here, it's just "arrogance". And "slant see", could that be meant figuratively, as in a distorted view, a distorted, biased opinion?

    The one-sentence executive summary on the Chinese writing system is "It's just as complicated as it looks".

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    6,200 Hanzi is an amazing accomplishment, Glossy. The standard for literacy is 2,000 characters for urban Chinese. Your number is approaching "intelligentsia" levels!

    If you take a few months of classes (mostly for the grammar) and find someone to practice speaking with, you'll be fluent in no time as you've already done all the hard work.

    I've been thinking about doing something similar, reading a Chinese translation of the Wheel of Time fantasy series in my case which I also found on the Internet (thank God they don't care about copyrights LOL!). But I think at least at my current stage doing this would be a highly inefficient form of learning.

    Well, it’s only about 4,100 characters. Plus about 1,850 of the kind of multi-character words whose meanings aren’t guessable from the characters in them. Plus some unguessable simplifications.

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    • Replies: @Loren Bergeson
    I'm impressed that you have a grasp of 4,100 characters without being able to speak the language. You must have much more of a photographic memory than I do. When I started to study Chinese I was going to learn the 800 most commonly used characters before I began to learn to speak (I wanted to be able to write anything I could speak). However, I hit a wall at about 300 characters -- it seemed I was forgetting characters as fast as I was learning new ones. Then I learned about Anki, and the need to incorporate new characters into simple sentences that I can say to myself in real life (when not studying). That blew me past my limited memorization abilities and I'm now at 800 characters memorized and I'm learning 2 to 3 new characters a day with ease (and forgetting only 6-7% of ones I've already learned, and I'm able to quickly re-learn them). I am totally addicted to Anki -- it's way more fun than video games for me.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    6,200 Hanzi is an amazing accomplishment, Glossy. The standard for literacy is 2,000 characters for urban Chinese. Your number is approaching "intelligentsia" levels!

    If you take a few months of classes (mostly for the grammar) and find someone to practice speaking with, you'll be fluent in no time as you've already done all the hard work.

    I've been thinking about doing something similar, reading a Chinese translation of the Wheel of Time fantasy series in my case which I also found on the Internet (thank God they don't care about copyrights LOL!). But I think at least at my current stage doing this would be a highly inefficient form of learning.

    @AK: Instead of sci-fi, maybe you should emulate @glossy and do a literary classic as an exercise. Maybe Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”? Actually, the idea of “crazy-wife-living-in-attic” is such a universal concept, maybe there is a separate Chinese character just for that one phrase!

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  • @Glossy
    I haven't been studying Chinese recently, but Anki is helping me remember all the characters and words which I learned in the past. It prevents one from slipping back even when one isn't studying anything new. It's not for everyone though. The average person would probably find flipping through a large number of Anki cards every day very boring. I don't.

    I have about 6,200 Chinese cards in my deck. About 4,100 of them are traditional characters, most of which I got from Rick Harbaugh's book of character etymologies. I HAVE paid for the book, by the way. About 240 cards are the simplified characters whose connections with their traditional counterparts I would have never guessed on my own. There are more such unguessable simplifications than that of course - 240 is simply the number that I've identified so far. The rest (roughly 1850 cards) are multi-character words whose meaning I would have never guessed from simply looking at their components. I think I've seen Harbaugh's book as a publicly-available Anki deck, though I entered them into mine one by one a few years ago.

    I love Anki, by the way. Compared to most addictions out there, this one is pretty harmless. I've got lots of words from European languages in there, lots of terms of all sorts that at one time or another I thought it would be cool to know. I'm nearing the 15,000 card mark overall.

    I haven't studied spoken Chinese at all yet. Maybe some day. Some time ago I found the Chinese translation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice online. For a while I would try to read a paragraph in Chinese, type up what I thought it meant in English, then compare that to the original. I got through a few dozen pages like that. I'd say that I got the meaning of about half the sentences right. It always took a long time to figure anything out correctly though. I'd go through a paragraph again and again and again, think through different possibilities. It's like figuring out a riddle almost every time. One can recognize every character in a sentence, and still be utterly clueless about its overall meaning. I don't know how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours of this I'd have to do in order to increase my reading speed to, let's say, 20% of the average person's reading speed in his native language. But it can be fun in a nerdy way, and I may well go back to that at some point in the future.

    @glossy: You should be commended for your studiousness! Re. Jane Austen’s novel in Chinese, just out of curiosity, how is Mr. Darcy’s name written in Chinese characters? Also, the main concepts of “Pride” and “Prejudice”, I imagine they translate directly to Chinese words, since they are such universal concepts?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Glossy
    Darcy is 達西 (da-xi, with the x pronounced as sh). The first character means "reach, attain", the second one means "west".

    Pride and Prejudice is 傲慢與偏見. Really, really literally I'm reading that as "arrogant slow and slanted view", with the amusing little detail that the character for "slow" is composed of two elements that mean "stretch" and "heart". Whenever I see that character, I'm picturing the hours passing by so slowly that an observer's figurative heart (his spirit or soul or whatever) appears to him to be distorted, stretched. And the character for "slanted, tilted" is composed of two elements that mean "tablet" and "man". So of course when I see it I always picture a man who's as thin as a thin wooden tablet, leaning against a wall. I should say that 傲慢 means "arrogant" as a compound. 慢 only means "slow" when it's by itself. But figuring out if a character is stand-alone or a part of a compound word is sometimes difficult, since there are no spaces between words.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Glossy
    I haven't been studying Chinese recently, but Anki is helping me remember all the characters and words which I learned in the past. It prevents one from slipping back even when one isn't studying anything new. It's not for everyone though. The average person would probably find flipping through a large number of Anki cards every day very boring. I don't.

    I have about 6,200 Chinese cards in my deck. About 4,100 of them are traditional characters, most of which I got from Rick Harbaugh's book of character etymologies. I HAVE paid for the book, by the way. About 240 cards are the simplified characters whose connections with their traditional counterparts I would have never guessed on my own. There are more such unguessable simplifications than that of course - 240 is simply the number that I've identified so far. The rest (roughly 1850 cards) are multi-character words whose meaning I would have never guessed from simply looking at their components. I think I've seen Harbaugh's book as a publicly-available Anki deck, though I entered them into mine one by one a few years ago.

    I love Anki, by the way. Compared to most addictions out there, this one is pretty harmless. I've got lots of words from European languages in there, lots of terms of all sorts that at one time or another I thought it would be cool to know. I'm nearing the 15,000 card mark overall.

    I haven't studied spoken Chinese at all yet. Maybe some day. Some time ago I found the Chinese translation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice online. For a while I would try to read a paragraph in Chinese, type up what I thought it meant in English, then compare that to the original. I got through a few dozen pages like that. I'd say that I got the meaning of about half the sentences right. It always took a long time to figure anything out correctly though. I'd go through a paragraph again and again and again, think through different possibilities. It's like figuring out a riddle almost every time. One can recognize every character in a sentence, and still be utterly clueless about its overall meaning. I don't know how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours of this I'd have to do in order to increase my reading speed to, let's say, 20% of the average person's reading speed in his native language. But it can be fun in a nerdy way, and I may well go back to that at some point in the future.

    6,200 Hanzi is an amazing accomplishment, Glossy. The standard for literacy is 2,000 characters for urban Chinese. Your number is approaching “intelligentsia” levels!

    If you take a few months of classes (mostly for the grammar) and find someone to practice speaking with, you’ll be fluent in no time as you’ve already done all the hard work.

    I’ve been thinking about doing something similar, reading a Chinese translation of the Wheel of Time fantasy series in my case which I also found on the Internet (thank God they don’t care about copyrights LOL!). But I think at least at my current stage doing this would be a highly inefficient form of learning.

    Read More
    • Replies: @yalensis
    @AK: Instead of sci-fi, maybe you should emulate @glossy and do a literary classic as an exercise. Maybe Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"? Actually, the idea of "crazy-wife-living-in-attic" is such a universal concept, maybe there is a separate Chinese character just for that one phrase!
    , @Glossy
    Well, it's only about 4,100 characters. Plus about 1,850 of the kind of multi-character words whose meanings aren't guessable from the characters in them. Plus some unguessable simplifications.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Craig Willy
    Good post. Re: English hegemony: I think it is here to stay for the foreseeable future even if China were to have a larger economy than the United States. There's something of a snowball effect where, for example, in Asia English is simply the default international language (I think of ASEAN or Japanese websites) even when no component nation speaks English.

    Beyond that, the demographic-economic-political "base" of English remains massive, even if the US declines relatively you will still have Europe (English to undoubtedly remain the lingua franca), most of Africa (notably Nigeria and India) and all of South Asia (including emerging India). This "base" will collectively be markedly greater than China. Of course one can't exclude the collapse of the North American and Indian Republics, in which case all bets are off...

    In East Asia the national languages with the exception of North Korean are all partly written in Hanzi so reading Chinese isn’t hard and many words are of Chinese origin.
    In South East Asia the economy is owned by local Chinese and the languages contain many Chinese loanwords. I think only a fool would believe that those countries would communicate with each other in English in 50 years. And in the EU English is not the most spoken language (it is number 3) or the biggest economic area (also third). Its only advantage is closeness the the US but if that relation goes bad than it would loose much of its influence.

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  • I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

    Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    @brian. I agree! I was wondering when someone would bring up Esperanto. I don't know more than a couple of words in Esperanto, but I promise to sit down and learn it if everybody else in the world does. Then we can all speak to each other in Esperanto. It is the only fair and practical solution to the "Babel" problem. My understanding is that Esperanto was specifically designed to be simple (as simple to learn as a pidgin while being an actual fully-functional language), logical, and, most importantly, have a PHONEMIC ALPHABET that can be learned in under an hour, even for people whose native language is not written in Latin letters!
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • I haven’t been studying Chinese recently, but Anki is helping me remember all the characters and words which I learned in the past. It prevents one from slipping back even when one isn’t studying anything new. It’s not for everyone though. The average person would probably find flipping through a large number of Anki cards every day very boring. I don’t.

    I have about 6,200 Chinese cards in my deck. About 4,100 of them are traditional characters, most of which I got from Rick Harbaugh’s book of character etymologies. I HAVE paid for the book, by the way. About 240 cards are the simplified characters whose connections with their traditional counterparts I would have never guessed on my own. There are more such unguessable simplifications than that of course – 240 is simply the number that I’ve identified so far. The rest (roughly 1850 cards) are multi-character words whose meaning I would have never guessed from simply looking at their components. I think I’ve seen Harbaugh’s book as a publicly-available Anki deck, though I entered them into mine one by one a few years ago.

    I love Anki, by the way. Compared to most addictions out there, this one is pretty harmless. I’ve got lots of words from European languages in there, lots of terms of all sorts that at one time or another I thought it would be cool to know. I’m nearing the 15,000 card mark overall.

    I haven’t studied spoken Chinese at all yet. Maybe some day. Some time ago I found the Chinese translation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice online. For a while I would try to read a paragraph in Chinese, type up what I thought it meant in English, then compare that to the original. I got through a few dozen pages like that. I’d say that I got the meaning of about half the sentences right. It always took a long time to figure anything out correctly though. I’d go through a paragraph again and again and again, think through different possibilities. It’s like figuring out a riddle almost every time. One can recognize every character in a sentence, and still be utterly clueless about its overall meaning. I don’t know how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours of this I’d have to do in order to increase my reading speed to, let’s say, 20% of the average person’s reading speed in his native language. But it can be fun in a nerdy way, and I may well go back to that at some point in the future.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    6,200 Hanzi is an amazing accomplishment, Glossy. The standard for literacy is 2,000 characters for urban Chinese. Your number is approaching "intelligentsia" levels!

    If you take a few months of classes (mostly for the grammar) and find someone to practice speaking with, you'll be fluent in no time as you've already done all the hard work.

    I've been thinking about doing something similar, reading a Chinese translation of the Wheel of Time fantasy series in my case which I also found on the Internet (thank God they don't care about copyrights LOL!). But I think at least at my current stage doing this would be a highly inefficient form of learning.

    , @yalensis
    @glossy: You should be commended for your studiousness! Re. Jane Austen's novel in Chinese, just out of curiosity, how is Mr. Darcy's name written in Chinese characters? Also, the main concepts of "Pride" and "Prejudice", I imagine they translate directly to Chinese words, since they are such universal concepts?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Interesting post. I’m also at 800 Hanzi characters, and averaging about 2.5 new characters per day — a rate I’ve been able to sustain for 60 days now, so I hope I can sustain it indefinitely. What really helps is to learn a phrase or short sentence that uses a newly learned character.

    I only get to study 1 hour per day (2 hours on a good day), which means it will be years until I’m fluent, but I can wait.

    Instead of Remembering the Hanzi, I’m using a similar approach by Matthews: http://www.amazon.com/Tuttle-Learning-Chinese-Characters-Vol/dp/080483816X
    Some people that have reviewed both seem to think that Matthews approach is slightly better than Heisig’s.

    I have 800 characters in my Anki spaced repetition software deck, in case anyone is interested. The stories from Matthews’ book are also in the deck. You can find the software here: http://ankisrs.net/. Contact me to get the deck. Due to copyright restrictions, I can only give you the deck if you can offer evidence that you own the book.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Good post. Re: English hegemony: I think it is here to stay for the foreseeable future even if China were to have a larger economy than the United States. There’s something of a snowball effect where, for example, in Asia English is simply the default international language (I think of ASEAN or Japanese websites) even when no component nation speaks English.

    Beyond that, the demographic-economic-political “base” of English remains massive, even if the US declines relatively you will still have Europe (English to undoubtedly remain the lingua franca), most of Africa (notably Nigeria and India) and all of South Asia (including emerging India). This “base” will collectively be markedly greater than China. Of course one can’t exclude the collapse of the North American and Indian Republics, in which case all bets are off…

    Read More
    • Replies: @charly
    In East Asia the national languages with the exception of North Korean are all partly written in Hanzi so reading Chinese isn't hard and many words are of Chinese origin.
    In South East Asia the economy is owned by local Chinese and the languages contain many Chinese loanwords. I think only a fool would believe that those countries would communicate with each other in English in 50 years. And in the EU English is not the most spoken language (it is number 3) or the biggest economic area (also third). Its only advantage is closeness the the US but if that relation goes bad than it would loose much of its influence.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @anatoly:
    Congratulations on completing your Chinese course!
    On Putin: I do think it is pretty cool that he discovered Atlantis, but I don’t think you’re supposed to just grab the amphorae with your hands and rip them out of the mud. Aren’t archeologists supposed take a lot of photos first, to document the site and what is in each layer?

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • It's been a few weeks since my last post on learning Chinese, so here is new info for anyone interested. 1. In case you missed a late update to the original post: "Because of the simplicity of the grammar, Chinese often feels like slang to speakers used to more formalized languages; i.e. slang such as...
  • @sinotibetan
    Charly,

    To be a top ranking 'civil servant' in ancient China was to pass the very difficult Imperial Exams. I was just trying to explain that perhaps our history explained why we value academic achievements today. I do not think that such Exams existed in the history of most other peoples though I stand corrected. Of course, in the history of European nations, many brilliant people did become civil servants and 'rulers' but there were no 'institution' like the 'Imperial Exams' to 'select' these people out for those positions.

    " Farmers officially second, but in reality last."
    Indeed. But the founding Emperors of Shu Han and Ming were peasants/farmers.

    sinotibetan

    Most areas in Europe were ruled by not particulary large states and you don’t have to use exames if you already know the persons well. But institutions that were to big for that did have exams. See for example the church and the gilds.

    ps. Europe was much more self-organised than China

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @sinotibetan
    Charly,

    Thanks for the sarcasm.
    "This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius."
    Since civilizations and generations 'wax and wane', 'rise and fall' in cycles and civilizations and peoples started from crude, primitive beginnings, that inference is invalid.
    ;)

    sinotibetan

    True, but old people complaining about the scholastic achievements of the youth is of all ages

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @charly
    Aristotle already complained that students of his day weren't as studious, smart and disciplined as the previous generation. This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius.

    Charly,

    Thanks for the sarcasm.
    “This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius.”
    Since civilizations and generations ‘wax and wane’, ‘rise and fall’ in cycles and civilizations and peoples started from crude, primitive beginnings, that inference is invalid. ;)

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    • Replies: @charly
    True, but old people complaining about the scholastic achievements of the youth is of all ages
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @charly
    “The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchant"

    What is the difference between this almost any other people in history?
    Rulers/Civil Servants/Priests/Knights first. Farmers officially second, but in reality last.
    Than artisan and way last merchants, but they equalise it with money.

    Charly,

    To be a top ranking ‘civil servant’ in ancient China was to pass the very difficult Imperial Exams. I was just trying to explain that perhaps our history explained why we value academic achievements today. I do not think that such Exams existed in the history of most other peoples though I stand corrected. Of course, in the history of European nations, many brilliant people did become civil servants and ‘rulers’ but there were no ‘institution’ like the ‘Imperial Exams’ to ‘select’ these people out for those positions.

    ” Farmers officially second, but in reality last.”
    Indeed. But the founding Emperors of Shu Han and Ming were peasants/farmers.

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    • Replies: @charly
    Most areas in Europe were ruled by not particulary large states and you don't have to use exames if you already know the persons well. But institutions that were to big for that did have exams. See for example the church and the gilds.

    ps. Europe was much more self-organised than China

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @sinotibetan
    Dear Anatoly,
    "My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels."
    You are right about this. I was(am still, perhaps?)not good in 'social skills' and that could possibly be due to my childhood mostly studying in seclusion. I think in my country, that's changing a lot. In terms of studiousness, I think the younger generation in my country certainly lacked the rigour, discipline and stamina like that of my generation and those before me. The older generation of intellectuals in my country have almost photographic memory, my generation has already declined and the subsequent ones, 'they are too spoiled'! I think for the majority of Asians migrating to the West , within the next 2 generations, they will lose this 'studiousness' and become like the majority.
    I think the right path is a path of moderation. Studiousness must continue to be encouraged; including rote memory. But NOT to the extreme of the Asian 'Tiger Mom'. The Western concept of individuality, creativity and innovation is good as well. Studiousness without individuality - innovation and new ideas will be lacking. Individuality without knowledge - ideas cannot be changed to reality.
    Being 'English educated' allowed me to be open to Western thinking - especially with regards to science and maths. I found that studiousness helped me to retain knowledge and that really helped me in the 'ideas and innovation' part. I hope that we in Asia will be able to balance study and 'socializing' - and I think I'm more optimistic for us Asians who remain in Asia than those who migrate and live in the West because we receive an 'attenuated Western influence'.

    sinotibetan

    Aristotle already complained that students of his day weren’t as studious, smart and disciplined as the previous generation. This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius.

    Read More
    • Replies: @sinotibetan
    Charly,

    Thanks for the sarcasm.
    "This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius."
    Since civilizations and generations 'wax and wane', 'rise and fall' in cycles and civilizations and peoples started from crude, primitive beginnings, that inference is invalid.
    ;)

    sinotibetan

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @sinotibetan
    Dear yalensis,

    Am up late studying and read your comments. Wow, we do have many things in common!
    "but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence"
    "I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius"
    "What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me!"
    These things you said about yourself is true also for me!!

    "then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!"
    Never too late to learn a musical instrument although I agree it's harder when one gets 'older'. I can play the pianoforte - but started very young, age 5 years old. Still play the piano - I actually love doing so as a hobby - mostly Western classical music(the easier ones - my favourite composer is [unfortunately not Russian but German] J.S. Bach); and pop. Good for relaxation. Unfortunately, I am bad at Jazz and my regret is never learning the strings - acoustic guitar and the violin.

    Just some stuff about Chinese admiration for academic excellence:-
    "The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchants......The farmers, the artisans and the merchants, being all part of the sap of the earth, are humble, quiet, self-respecting citizens. The farmers are placed, by Confucian theory, at the head of these three classes, ....They, together with the merchants and artisans, all look up to scholars as a class entitled to privilege and extra courtesy, and with the difficulty of acquiring a knowledge of the Chinese written characters, this respect comes from the bottom of their hearts."
    From: My Country and My People - by Lin Yu Tang
    Lin Yu Tang was talking about Chinese society during the last days of Manchu dynasty and the 'democratic' period and the above had been the case as early as the Warring States period of the Zhou , moulded into Chinese psyche perhaps during Han, Tang and Song and went on till then. We Chinese , still do think, that the smart and brilliant should be respected and better still be rulers. A nation is too important and complex to be ruled by fools. If an autocrat is smart(and 'benevolent') but democracy lead us to be ruled by a fool, we would rather accept autocracy, That's the Chinese 'pragmatic' mode of thinking - in general, that is. We are less enthused by 'idealism' which I think is a very Western trait. That is , of course, changing. The younger generation is very much influenced by Western ideals - that started after the downfall of Qing, got squashed for a while by Mao and now ever since Deng opened China up, the younger generation-at least the richer ones in the coastal provinces, admires 'all things Western' and they absorb these ideals in a massive way. Nowadays, I think the merchant class(ie businessman) is ABOVE scholar in capitalistic China. In true Chinese pragmatism, people want to be scholars with the hope of becoming rich. I think some are realizing that being a scholar or even a genius does not guarantee material wealth. So. values are changing fast in China and whole of East Asia. "Money rules and money can 'buy' respect!" - that's the values that capitalism 'teaches' Asians nowadays.

    sinotibetan

    “The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchant”

    What is the difference between this almost any other people in history?
    Rulers/Civil Servants/Priests/Knights first. Farmers officially second, but in reality last.
    Than artisan and way last merchants, but they equalise it with money.

    Read More
    • Replies: @sinotibetan
    Charly,

    To be a top ranking 'civil servant' in ancient China was to pass the very difficult Imperial Exams. I was just trying to explain that perhaps our history explained why we value academic achievements today. I do not think that such Exams existed in the history of most other peoples though I stand corrected. Of course, in the history of European nations, many brilliant people did become civil servants and 'rulers' but there were no 'institution' like the 'Imperial Exams' to 'select' these people out for those positions.

    " Farmers officially second, but in reality last."
    Indeed. But the founding Emperors of Shu Han and Ming were peasants/farmers.

    sinotibetan

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Dear Anatoly,
    “My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels.”
    You are right about this. I was(am still, perhaps?)not good in ‘social skills’ and that could possibly be due to my childhood mostly studying in seclusion. I think in my country, that’s changing a lot. In terms of studiousness, I think the younger generation in my country certainly lacked the rigour, discipline and stamina like that of my generation and those before me. The older generation of intellectuals in my country have almost photographic memory, my generation has already declined and the subsequent ones, ‘they are too spoiled’! I think for the majority of Asians migrating to the West , within the next 2 generations, they will lose this ‘studiousness’ and become like the majority.
    I think the right path is a path of moderation. Studiousness must continue to be encouraged; including rote memory. But NOT to the extreme of the Asian ‘Tiger Mom’. The Western concept of individuality, creativity and innovation is good as well. Studiousness without individuality – innovation and new ideas will be lacking. Individuality without knowledge – ideas cannot be changed to reality.
    Being ‘English educated’ allowed me to be open to Western thinking – especially with regards to science and maths. I found that studiousness helped me to retain knowledge and that really helped me in the ‘ideas and innovation’ part. I hope that we in Asia will be able to balance study and ‘socializing’ – and I think I’m more optimistic for us Asians who remain in Asia than those who migrate and live in the West because we receive an ‘attenuated Western influence’.

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    • Replies: @charly
    Aristotle already complained that students of his day weren't as studious, smart and disciplined as the previous generation. This let me to the conclusion that every neanderthaler was a genius.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @yalensis
    @sinotibetan: Wow, it is amazing that you learned so many dialects growing up. Thanks for discussion on Chinese dialects, like most westerners I am not very familiar with that part of the world and did not even know there were that many dialects!
    Thanks also for your kind words. Now, I cannot speak for Anatoly, who I do believe is quite brilliant, but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence. But as child I got reputation for being very smart, and to an extent I believed my own hype. Like you, I had parent pushing me to study all the time; in my case it was not a “Tiger Mom”, but a “Tiger Dad”. I was a bookworm, loved to read, studied all the time, was always good at taking tests, did very well in school. Teachers loved me, and I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius. Then I grew up and got out into real world. What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me! Don’t worry about me, though, I was able to adjust to reality and find my niche. However, if I could go back in time and change one thing about my childhood, then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!

    Dear yalensis,

    Am up late studying and read your comments. Wow, we do have many things in common!
    “but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence”
    “I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius”
    “What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me!”
    These things you said about yourself is true also for me!!

    “then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!”
    Never too late to learn a musical instrument although I agree it’s harder when one gets ‘older’. I can play the pianoforte – but started very young, age 5 years old. Still play the piano – I actually love doing so as a hobby – mostly Western classical music(the easier ones – my favourite composer is [unfortunately not Russian but German] J.S. Bach); and pop. Good for relaxation. Unfortunately, I am bad at Jazz and my regret is never learning the strings – acoustic guitar and the violin.

    Just some stuff about Chinese admiration for academic excellence:-
    “The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchants……The farmers, the artisans and the merchants, being all part of the sap of the earth, are humble, quiet, self-respecting citizens. The farmers are placed, by Confucian theory, at the head of these three classes, ….They, together with the merchants and artisans, all look up to scholars as a class entitled to privilege and extra courtesy, and with the difficulty of acquiring a knowledge of the Chinese written characters, this respect comes from the bottom of their hearts.”
    From: My Country and My People – by Lin Yu Tang
    Lin Yu Tang was talking about Chinese society during the last days of Manchu dynasty and the ‘democratic’ period and the above had been the case as early as the Warring States period of the Zhou , moulded into Chinese psyche perhaps during Han, Tang and Song and went on till then. We Chinese , still do think, that the smart and brilliant should be respected and better still be rulers. A nation is too important and complex to be ruled by fools. If an autocrat is smart(and ‘benevolent’) but democracy lead us to be ruled by a fool, we would rather accept autocracy, That’s the Chinese ‘pragmatic’ mode of thinking – in general, that is. We are less enthused by ‘idealism’ which I think is a very Western trait. That is , of course, changing. The younger generation is very much influenced by Western ideals – that started after the downfall of Qing, got squashed for a while by Mao and now ever since Deng opened China up, the younger generation-at least the richer ones in the coastal provinces, admires ‘all things Western’ and they absorb these ideals in a massive way. Nowadays, I think the merchant class(ie businessman) is ABOVE scholar in capitalistic China. In true Chinese pragmatism, people want to be scholars with the hope of becoming rich. I think some are realizing that being a scholar or even a genius does not guarantee material wealth. So. values are changing fast in China and whole of East Asia. “Money rules and money can ‘buy’ respect!” – that’s the values that capitalism ‘teaches’ Asians nowadays.

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    • Replies: @charly
    “The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchant"

    What is the difference between this almost any other people in history?
    Rulers/Civil Servants/Priests/Knights first. Farmers officially second, but in reality last.
    Than artisan and way last merchants, but they equalise it with money.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @sinotibetan
    Dear Anatoly and yalensis,
    Wow! Very interesting discussion about the language of my motherland!
    Came here , thanks to yalensis highlighting the discussion. :)
    I have great respect for both yalensis and Anatoly ... I have nothing to say but both of you are amongst the smartest people I know! The Chinese language is certainly a very difficult language to learn and Anatoly's progress is very, very impressive. Unfortunately, I am not good in written Chinese as I am not from China(I am Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and attended vernacular school where we learned English and Malay) although I speak Mandarin and a smattering of my 'mother dialect' - Kejia hua(Hakka language), Cantonese(sadly mostly 'swear words' from Hong Kong movies) and Hokkien dialect(a Minnan hua from Southern Fujian around Xiamen). I am one of that so-called 'Westernized Chinese diaspora'.

    I have much to say about intelligence, Chinese admiration for academic achievements(my parents drilled this into me from a very young age - I have to say, it worked for me as I do LOVE learning till today!) and the clash of Western and Chinese culture but that's for another day(hope I will find the time!).

    Just a few points regarding Mandarin(which I think is the 'dialect' most people consider as 'Chinese language'):-
    1. The Southern Provinces have dialects that are very different and not mutually understood by Mandarin speakers:Zhejiang, southern Jiangsu, Shanghai and parts of Anhu - Wu dialects,i Guangdong - Yue dialects, Fujian - Min dialects(eg Minnan, Minbei, Mindong), Hunan - Xiang dialects, Jiangxi - Gan dialects, Hainan Island - Qiong(a subdivision of Minnan) and Kejia hua in the mountainous areas of Guangdong and Fujian mostly. Apparently these dialects retain many characteristics of the 'Old Chinese' prior to the Manchurian invasion. Most of these dialects are also extremely tonal - if I am not mistaken some Minnan hua have 8-10 tones(cf. the 4 tones in Mandarin)! Manchurian rule led to significant changes in the spoken language of Northern China(many Turanian-Sinotibetan admixture). The Southern provinces have dialects that are in practical terms languages - perhaps somewhat analogous to French, Romanian, Spanish, Italian and Portugese with "Latin Vulgate" progenitors. I suspect the Fujianese are descendants of the 'original Chinese' with Min Yue(now extinct) and similarly Cantonese with the Tai-Kadai Yue people(now extinct) - long lost cousins of the Zhuang in Guangxi-Zhuang province of today.
    2. Most of the Chinese diaspora in the West(and South East Asia) are from the southern provinces(as noted by some commentors above) - especially from Fujian, Guangdong and Zhejiang. The 'psyche' of these people(and their predilection for business) are probably quite different from the Northerners. Some people from these provinces speak 'non-standard Mandarin' - i.e. Mandarin with a distinctive 'slang'.
    3. Surnames encountered in South east asia and migrants to the West like Tan, Chua, Chan, Lim, Chee etc. are 'dialect surnames' - not standard Mandarin surnames! Eg. Ling in Mandarin is Lim in Minnan hua; Chen in Mandarin is Tan in Minnan hua, Chan in Cantonese and Chin in Kejia hua(interestingly Tran in Vietnamese and Jin in Korean!). Paradoxically, the mainland Chinese in their quest for 'standardization' lost this 'dialect heterogeneity' - we Chinese diaspora kept our 'dialect names' but our relatives in Mainland China no longer do so - at least not in their 'official names'. Interesting, huh?

    sinotibetan

    : Wow, it is amazing that you learned so many dialects growing up. Thanks for discussion on Chinese dialects, like most westerners I am not very familiar with that part of the world and did not even know there were that many dialects!
    Thanks also for your kind words. Now, I cannot speak for Anatoly, who I do believe is quite brilliant, but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence. But as child I got reputation for being very smart, and to an extent I believed my own hype. Like you, I had parent pushing me to study all the time; in my case it was not a “Tiger Mom”, but a “Tiger Dad”. I was a bookworm, loved to read, studied all the time, was always good at taking tests, did very well in school. Teachers loved me, and I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius. Then I grew up and got out into real world. What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me! Don’t worry about me, though, I was able to adjust to reality and find my niche. However, if I could go back in time and change one thing about my childhood, then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!

    Read More
    • Replies: @sinotibetan
    Dear yalensis,

    Am up late studying and read your comments. Wow, we do have many things in common!
    "but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence"
    "I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius"
    "What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me!"
    These things you said about yourself is true also for me!!

    "then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!"
    Never too late to learn a musical instrument although I agree it's harder when one gets 'older'. I can play the pianoforte - but started very young, age 5 years old. Still play the piano - I actually love doing so as a hobby - mostly Western classical music(the easier ones - my favourite composer is [unfortunately not Russian but German] J.S. Bach); and pop. Good for relaxation. Unfortunately, I am bad at Jazz and my regret is never learning the strings - acoustic guitar and the violin.

    Just some stuff about Chinese admiration for academic excellence:-
    "The Chinese divide society into four classes, in the following order of importance: the scholars, the farmers, the artisans and the merchants......The farmers, the artisans and the merchants, being all part of the sap of the earth, are humble, quiet, self-respecting citizens. The farmers are placed, by Confucian theory, at the head of these three classes, ....They, together with the merchants and artisans, all look up to scholars as a class entitled to privilege and extra courtesy, and with the difficulty of acquiring a knowledge of the Chinese written characters, this respect comes from the bottom of their hearts."
    From: My Country and My People - by Lin Yu Tang
    Lin Yu Tang was talking about Chinese society during the last days of Manchu dynasty and the 'democratic' period and the above had been the case as early as the Warring States period of the Zhou , moulded into Chinese psyche perhaps during Han, Tang and Song and went on till then. We Chinese , still do think, that the smart and brilliant should be respected and better still be rulers. A nation is too important and complex to be ruled by fools. If an autocrat is smart(and 'benevolent') but democracy lead us to be ruled by a fool, we would rather accept autocracy, That's the Chinese 'pragmatic' mode of thinking - in general, that is. We are less enthused by 'idealism' which I think is a very Western trait. That is , of course, changing. The younger generation is very much influenced by Western ideals - that started after the downfall of Qing, got squashed for a while by Mao and now ever since Deng opened China up, the younger generation-at least the richer ones in the coastal provinces, admires 'all things Western' and they absorb these ideals in a massive way. Nowadays, I think the merchant class(ie businessman) is ABOVE scholar in capitalistic China. In true Chinese pragmatism, people want to be scholars with the hope of becoming rich. I think some are realizing that being a scholar or even a genius does not guarantee material wealth. So. values are changing fast in China and whole of East Asia. "Money rules and money can 'buy' respect!" - that's the values that capitalism 'teaches' Asians nowadays.

    sinotibetan

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Err…correct an error:-
    (I am Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and attended non-vernacular school where we learned English and Malay and no Mandarin/Chinese)

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Dear Anatoly and yalensis,
    Wow! Very interesting discussion about the language of my motherland!
    Came here , thanks to yalensis highlighting the discussion. :)
    I have great respect for both yalensis and Anatoly … I have nothing to say but both of you are amongst the smartest people I know! The Chinese language is certainly a very difficult language to learn and Anatoly’s progress is very, very impressive. Unfortunately, I am not good in written Chinese as I am not from China(I am Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and attended vernacular school where we learned English and Malay) although I speak Mandarin and a smattering of my ‘mother dialect’ – Kejia hua(Hakka language), Cantonese(sadly mostly ‘swear words’ from Hong Kong movies) and Hokkien dialect(a Minnan hua from Southern Fujian around Xiamen). I am one of that so-called ‘Westernized Chinese diaspora’.

    I have much to say about intelligence, Chinese admiration for academic achievements(my parents drilled this into me from a very young age – I have to say, it worked for me as I do LOVE learning till today!) and the clash of Western and Chinese culture but that’s for another day(hope I will find the time!).

    Just a few points regarding Mandarin(which I think is the ‘dialect’ most people consider as ‘Chinese language’):-
    1. The Southern Provinces have dialects that are very different and not mutually understood by Mandarin speakers:Zhejiang, southern Jiangsu, Shanghai and parts of Anhu – Wu dialects,i Guangdong – Yue dialects, Fujian – Min dialects(eg Minnan, Minbei, Mindong), Hunan – Xiang dialects, Jiangxi – Gan dialects, Hainan Island – Qiong(a subdivision of Minnan) and Kejia hua in the mountainous areas of Guangdong and Fujian mostly. Apparently these dialects retain many characteristics of the ‘Old Chinese’ prior to the Manchurian invasion. Most of these dialects are also extremely tonal – if I am not mistaken some Minnan hua have 8-10 tones(cf. the 4 tones in Mandarin)! Manchurian rule led to significant changes in the spoken language of Northern China(many Turanian-Sinotibetan admixture). The Southern provinces have dialects that are in practical terms languages – perhaps somewhat analogous to French, Romanian, Spanish, Italian and Portugese with “Latin Vulgate” progenitors. I suspect the Fujianese are descendants of the ‘original Chinese’ with Min Yue(now extinct) and similarly Cantonese with the Tai-Kadai Yue people(now extinct) – long lost cousins of the Zhuang in Guangxi-Zhuang province of today.
    2. Most of the Chinese diaspora in the West(and South East Asia) are from the southern provinces(as noted by some commentors above) – especially from Fujian, Guangdong and Zhejiang. The ‘psyche’ of these people(and their predilection for business) are probably quite different from the Northerners. Some people from these provinces speak ‘non-standard Mandarin’ – i.e. Mandarin with a distinctive ‘slang’.
    3. Surnames encountered in South east asia and migrants to the West like Tan, Chua, Chan, Lim, Chee etc. are ‘dialect surnames’ – not standard Mandarin surnames! Eg. Ling in Mandarin is Lim in Minnan hua; Chen in Mandarin is Tan in Minnan hua, Chan in Cantonese and Chin in Kejia hua(interestingly Tran in Vietnamese and Jin in Korean!). Paradoxically, the mainland Chinese in their quest for ‘standardization’ lost this ‘dialect heterogeneity’ – we Chinese diaspora kept our ‘dialect names’ but our relatives in Mainland China no longer do so – at least not in their ‘official names’. Interesting, huh?

    sinotibetan

    Read More
    • Replies: @yalensis
    @sinotibetan: Wow, it is amazing that you learned so many dialects growing up. Thanks for discussion on Chinese dialects, like most westerners I am not very familiar with that part of the world and did not even know there were that many dialects!
    Thanks also for your kind words. Now, I cannot speak for Anatoly, who I do believe is quite brilliant, but I realistically see myself as only average intelligence. But as child I got reputation for being very smart, and to an extent I believed my own hype. Like you, I had parent pushing me to study all the time; in my case it was not a “Tiger Mom”, but a “Tiger Dad”. I was a bookworm, loved to read, studied all the time, was always good at taking tests, did very well in school. Teachers loved me, and I got all puffed up thinking I was some kind of genius. Then I grew up and got out into real world. What a disappointment to discover that I was only of average intelligence, and so many people around so much smarter than me! Don’t worry about me, though, I was able to adjust to reality and find my niche. However, if I could go back in time and change one thing about my childhood, then I would spend less time reading books, and more time learning a musical instrument!
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • On Chinese historical linguistics:
    I found this interesting link on the internet. Authors trace proto-Chinese languages back as far as 4000 BC:
    The Proto-Sino-Tibetan (PST) homeland seems to have been somewhere on the Himalayan plateau, where the great rivers of East and Southeast Asia (including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Salween, and Irrawaddy) have their source. The time of hypothetical ST unity, when the Proto-Han (= Proto-Chinese) and Proto-Tibeto-Burman (PTB) peoples formed a relatively undifferentiated linguistic community, must have been at least as remote as the Proto-Indo-European period, perhaps around 4000 B.C.
    Another interesting site correlates proposed reconstructions of proto-vocabulary.
    Specifically, the proto-Sino-Tibetan word for “water” is speculatively reconstructed thus:

    Proto-Sino-Tibetan: *χĭw(s)
    Sino-Caucasian etymology: Sino-Caucasian etymology

    Meaning: water, moisture
    Tibetan: hus moisture, humidity; khu-ba fluid, liquid.
    Kachin: khoʔ2 to spill.
    Lushai: huʔ wet.
    Kiranti: *kù

    ________________________________________
    Note that the asterisk in front of the word indicates that this is a theoretical/reconstructed word and not by any means a proved utterance.
    I am little rusty on my international phonetic alphabet, but I believe the reconstructed word *χĭw(s)
    begins with a voiceless (=without vibration of larynx) guttural fricative (like Russian X).
    Note that this would be back in the days before tones came about in Sino-Tibetan languages. Tones only became needed after syllable-final consonants fell off or merged.
    Note also that some linguists even believe that way way way way way way way way way way way way back (like 100,000 BC!) this might even be cognate with Proto-Indo-European “water” word “*hokwa”, but don’t get excited because this is EXTREMELY speculative.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence.

    Learning European languages is pretty hard for Chinese. They have to grasp two complicated things not present in Chinese: (1) lots of new sounds, and the whole concept of disregarding tones and linking across words with multiple consonants as opposed to a limited set of syllables; (2) in many cases, a much more complicated grammar.

    Well, I agree with your wider point - that language learning isn't as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences. I was just highlighting an interesting (counter-conventional wisdom) anecdote, plus it does indicate that Chinese schools - even rural schools - are on the whole doing a really good job if they can teach children to foreign language fluency (this is something that even many of the best grammar schools in the UK don't manage).

    I don’t know if that’s true.

    My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels.

    For instance, the effectiveness of study plummets after an hour or two due to declining marginal returns. But nonetheless some parents insist their children spend their lives tucked in front of books in their rooms. Not only are they getting minimal value out of about 75% of that time, but they also fail to develop social skills. This is very counter-productive, even idiotic. (This is a major reason why there are relatively few Asians in the upper echelons of business and management in the US, despite their greater academic achievements relative to whites. Many become a kind of intellectual proletariat.)

    Of course, this is bad for them; but good for the US. (If it hadn't been for this intellectual proletariat Silicon Valley wouldn't be anything like what it is today). Very bad for the US if indigenous Asians adopt mainstream US attitudes and the inflow of human capital from abroad declines (both are now happening). China itself doesn't face this danger because its mainstream culture very much prizes academic achievement and this will presumably remain the case for at least another generation.

    AK: “Well, I agree with your wider point – that language learning isn’t as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences.”

    Cannot agree with you on this. Brains of different people are organized and do work in different ways. For example, the most talented student among my uni (a top sci/tech in SU – PhyzTech) classmates was always struggling with English. Well, for majority of us it was not much important at that time. However, he was not able to master it even in perestroika in spite of the cardinal change of his attitude towards languages and spending good time in the US. It is the English which did not allow him to get a place in a western uni – the only chance to continue his fundamental research, which was everything to him. In contrast, many of those who are objectively much less math/sci gifted and minded, but more “languagable” managed to do this.

    Another example is a man who can easily memorize a hundred or two of lines of a computer code, but year-by-year struggles to remember faces of more than 6-8 students in his class in spite of teaching them whole academic year. Yet, there is a friend who still cannot write a code of more than 5 lines long, in spite of my many attempts to teach, but easily remembers a few dozens of newly met people in a couple of hours meeting.

    Who is more intelligent? I do think it is valid to compare intellects across different types of activities. Just performances within the same one. I would also recommend to read Netochka Nezvanova, if you did not yet. This Dostoevskii’s reflection on studiousness and giftedness is superb.

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  • @Glossy
    Olympic medals wouldn't bring money and fame in a poor country? I don't believe that for a second. This is a clear example of "if they could, they would."

    In sports especially, money and fame follow objectively-measured success more often than they create it. If this weren't true, Saudi Arabia would win dozens of times more Olympic medals than Kenya and Jamaica combined, South American teams wouldn't compete on equal terms with European ones for the World Cup for 80 years straight, and Kenyans wouldn't outperform the entire developed world in marathons decade after decade.

    Being number 8 in the nation Jamaican sprint championship makes you kind of famous in Jamaica. And with fame comes money.

    I don’t know if the marathon runners are famous in Kenya but they make big bucks (at least in a Kenyan context) running marathons but the money they make is peanuts from a Western perspective. Besides you don’t know if you good in the marathon until you tried it and not many people do that in the West at an age that you still can become a champion.

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  • @charly
    I doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans. But sports isn't decided by averages but the extremes. And there are also Kenyans with fast-twitching muscles but they don't develop their talent into sprint champions because in Kenya there isn't money and fame in it unlike Jamaica.

    Olympic medals wouldn’t bring money and fame in a poor country? I don’t believe that for a second. This is a clear example of “if they could, they would.”

    In sports especially, money and fame follow objectively-measured success more often than they create it. If this weren’t true, Saudi Arabia would win dozens of times more Olympic medals than Kenya and Jamaica combined, South American teams wouldn’t compete on equal terms with European ones for the World Cup for 80 years straight, and Kenyans wouldn’t outperform the entire developed world in marathons decade after decade.

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    • Replies: @charly
    Being number 8 in the nation Jamaican sprint championship makes you kind of famous in Jamaica. And with fame comes money.

    I don't know if the marathon runners are famous in Kenya but they make big bucks (at least in a Kenyan context) running marathons but the money they make is peanuts from a Western perspective. Besides you don't know if you good in the marathon until you tried it and not many people do that in the West at an age that you still can become a champion.

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  • @yalensis
    I suppose it is a matter of personal preference, but I personally hate watching dubbed movies. In Soviet period, all foreign movies were dubbed into Russian, and I think this was insult to the intelligence of audience (assuming they would not go to see movie if it wasn't in Russian, even though Russians are universally literate and able to read subtitles).
    I personally would rather see foreign film in original language with subtitles. Ditto with operas: public enjoyment of operas really shot up when theaters began to show translated super-titles at the top of the stage.

    Be happy that it is dubbed. In some markets (read US and somewhat China) they remake it and you can’t see the original at all

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  • @yalensis
    @charly: In terms of historical linguistics, does anyone know what the proto-word for "water" was (phonetically, that is, not the hieroglyph) in the proto-Chinese language? I mean, way back in the days before syllable-final consonants morphed into tones? For example, proto-IndoEuropean-Hittite had 2 "water" words, one was something like "wodar" (becoming English "water", Russian "voda"), and the other was something like "hokwa" (becoming Latin "aqua"). "Water" is such a basic-concept word that it seems to survive intact throughout the millenia in many different language families.

    The current word is “shuǐ” (水). It seems similar across Chinese / SE Asian languages being “seoi2″ in Cantonese, “swu” in Korean, and even “thủy” in Vietnamese so I’m assuming they all come from one similar common source.

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  • One of the biggest questions in global history is why it was Western Europe that industrialized first, and ended up colonizing most of the rest of the world. As late as 1450, the possibility of such an outcome would have been ridiculed. By almost any metric, China was well in the lead through the medieval...
  • @Yalensis
    Sorry, egregious typo in my previous comment: Sanskrit grammarian Panini was 4th century BC.

    Sankrit did not use syllabic script but used the the brahmi script which is abguida.A well organized system with vowels(vowels marked with diacritics)and consonants clearly divided.And panini was not asked to devise that script .Where did you get that from give some some reliable references.
    sources:brahmi script—google,wiki
    abguida:google,wiki
    Syllabry:wiki,google

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  • @Yalensis
    No one has responded yet to a very good point made by both @scowspi and @doug regarding Japanese writing being a counter-example to the thesis that Chinese writing system kept Chinese civilization backwards. Apparently (this came as news to me), Japanese writing is just as cumbersome as Chinese, and yet the Japanese had an industrial revolution and became a super-advanced civilization. True, their nation has stagnated a bit in the past decade or so, but nobody can take away from them what they accomplished in automotive industry, electronics, robotics, etc. How could they achieve this with a crummy writing system? I don't know. It must have made everything twice as hard for them (like trying to open a tin of sardines with one hand tied behind back), but somehow they were able to tough it out and get the job done. I guess a similar example (not as dramatic) would be USA using old, archaic system of weights and measures instead of switching to metric system like the rest of the civilized world; and yet, no one would call USA technologically backwards. So I would say that this counter-example disproves the thesis that Chinese civilization was kept back (a lot) by its writing system. But I would still advise Chinese people to reform their writing system and make their language easier for foreigners to learn to read; no doubt this would also improve literacy training among their own population. And, while I'm on the subject, ENGLISH orthography is also badly in need of reform. English alphabet cannot even call itself phonemic any more, although that was the original intention. The fact that I even had to use spell-checking software on this comment is a sure sign that something is very wrong here...

    japanese have a variety of writing systems..Kanji(which is logographic chinese systems of writing).The second is the kana system introduced by buddhist priest kukai .This is a phonetic system inspired from the siddham script(sanskrit) .
    Sources:Kanji—wiki ,google
    Kana,Hiragana,Katakana–wiki,google

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  • actually english is a phonetic language but it has spelling problems is no denying. What it lacks is phonemic orthography.There’s not one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and phonemes.Most indic languages,sanskrit,dutch,czeck etc do not .And whats more pathetic is shows like spelling bee actually glorify this fault.Kids wasting their time…
    Sources:Phonemic orthography–wiki,google
    English spelling reform–wiki ,google
    P.S I am not saying other languages are better or easier to learn which depends on a lot of other factors.If ther is a spelling error its not my fault :)

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  • It's been a few weeks since my last post on learning Chinese, so here is new info for anyone interested. 1. In case you missed a late update to the original post: "Because of the simplicity of the grammar, Chinese often feels like slang to speakers used to more formalized languages; i.e. slang such as...
  • @charly
    Learning a language depends on need and exposer. Neither of which schooling excels in.

    ps. Are American films dubbed or (only) subtitled in China because my experience is that dubbing and not speaking English well go hand in hand

    I suppose it is a matter of personal preference, but I personally hate watching dubbed movies. In Soviet period, all foreign movies were dubbed into Russian, and I think this was insult to the intelligence of audience (assuming they would not go to see movie if it wasn’t in Russian, even though Russians are universally literate and able to read subtitles).
    I personally would rather see foreign film in original language with subtitles. Ditto with operas: public enjoyment of operas really shot up when theaters began to show translated super-titles at the top of the stage.

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    • Replies: @charly
    Be happy that it is dubbed. In some markets (read US and somewhat China) they remake it and you can't see the original at all
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  • @charly
    The 氵 radical means water.

    : In terms of historical linguistics, does anyone know what the proto-word for “water” was (phonetically, that is, not the hieroglyph) in the proto-Chinese language? I mean, way back in the days before syllable-final consonants morphed into tones? For example, proto-IndoEuropean-Hittite had 2 “water” words, one was something like “wodar” (becoming English “water”, Russian “voda”), and the other was something like “hokwa” (becoming Latin “aqua”). “Water” is such a basic-concept word that it seems to survive intact throughout the millenia in many different language families.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    The current word is "shuǐ" (水). It seems similar across Chinese / SE Asian languages being "seoi2" in Cantonese, "swu" in Korean, and even "thủy" in Vietnamese so I'm assuming they all come from one similar common source.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @charly
    I doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans. But sports isn't decided by averages but the extremes. And there are also Kenyans with fast-twitching muscles but they don't develop their talent into sprint champions because in Kenya there isn't money and fame in it unlike Jamaica.

    Should read: I don’t doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans.

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  • @Glossy
    Charly, it would be very strange if every person and every kin group had the same exact levels of the same exact talents. Evolution isn't supposed to work that way. A belief that different environments wouldn't have produced different abilities in different peoples is not compatible with the belief in evolution.

    As for sprinting vs. long-distance running, I've read that the former requires lots of fast-twitch muscles and that the latter requires lots of slow-twitch muscles. I've also read that West Africans have lots of the fast-twitch kind, and East Africans of the slow-twitch kind. I'm sure that doping is available in lots of countries besides Jamaica. You think the Chinese government, for example, would pass up a chance like that? If almost everybody does it, then the differential success rates averaged over long periods of time are probably back to reflecting natural differences.

    I doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans. But sports isn’t decided by averages but the extremes. And there are also Kenyans with fast-twitching muscles but they don’t develop their talent into sprint champions because in Kenya there isn’t money and fame in it unlike Jamaica.

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    • Replies: @charly
    Should read: I don't doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans.
    , @Glossy
    Olympic medals wouldn't bring money and fame in a poor country? I don't believe that for a second. This is a clear example of "if they could, they would."

    In sports especially, money and fame follow objectively-measured success more often than they create it. If this weren't true, Saudi Arabia would win dozens of times more Olympic medals than Kenya and Jamaica combined, South American teams wouldn't compete on equal terms with European ones for the World Cup for 80 years straight, and Kenyans wouldn't outperform the entire developed world in marathons decade after decade.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    @yalensis,

    You're right on all counts, you have high linguistic intelligence! One minor point, though - albeit not one you can decipher from the place names (which aren't written in pinyin when in an English text) - is that these "hai", "nan", "jing" etc. should all be written with markers to indicate which of the four tones they belong to.

    Foregoing tones means that Chinese will have a truly difficult time understanding you. ;)

    I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?

    I wouldn't jump to conclusions. For instance, 江 = jiang1 (as in province of Heilongjiang, 黑龙江 lit. Black Dragon River) also means a river; but unlike 河 / he2 it refers to a specifically really wide and big river.

    川 is chuan1 and also means river, though now its largely archaic. But it does survive in the name for a Chinese province, Sichuan (四川) which lit. means Four Rivers.

    And an ocean is 洋 = yang2, so no visible connection there either.

    As for "n" endings, they are very, very common. Like every 3rd word or thereabouts. Because the only consonants on which a Chinese syllable can end is "n", "ng", or "r". So no possible connection there.

    I'd be really cautious about trying to deduce these connections without a really good grounding in Chinese etymology. There's a lot of debates there even among experts. ;)

    The 氵 radical means water.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    @charly: In terms of historical linguistics, does anyone know what the proto-word for "water" was (phonetically, that is, not the hieroglyph) in the proto-Chinese language? I mean, way back in the days before syllable-final consonants morphed into tones? For example, proto-IndoEuropean-Hittite had 2 "water" words, one was something like "wodar" (becoming English "water", Russian "voda"), and the other was something like "hokwa" (becoming Latin "aqua"). "Water" is such a basic-concept word that it seems to survive intact throughout the millenia in many different language families.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence.

    Learning European languages is pretty hard for Chinese. They have to grasp two complicated things not present in Chinese: (1) lots of new sounds, and the whole concept of disregarding tones and linking across words with multiple consonants as opposed to a limited set of syllables; (2) in many cases, a much more complicated grammar.

    Well, I agree with your wider point - that language learning isn't as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences. I was just highlighting an interesting (counter-conventional wisdom) anecdote, plus it does indicate that Chinese schools - even rural schools - are on the whole doing a really good job if they can teach children to foreign language fluency (this is something that even many of the best grammar schools in the UK don't manage).

    I don’t know if that’s true.

    My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels.

    For instance, the effectiveness of study plummets after an hour or two due to declining marginal returns. But nonetheless some parents insist their children spend their lives tucked in front of books in their rooms. Not only are they getting minimal value out of about 75% of that time, but they also fail to develop social skills. This is very counter-productive, even idiotic. (This is a major reason why there are relatively few Asians in the upper echelons of business and management in the US, despite their greater academic achievements relative to whites. Many become a kind of intellectual proletariat.)

    Of course, this is bad for them; but good for the US. (If it hadn't been for this intellectual proletariat Silicon Valley wouldn't be anything like what it is today). Very bad for the US if indigenous Asians adopt mainstream US attitudes and the inflow of human capital from abroad declines (both are now happening). China itself doesn't face this danger because its mainstream culture very much prizes academic achievement and this will presumably remain the case for at least another generation.

    Learning a language depends on need and exposer. Neither of which schooling excels in.

    ps. Are American films dubbed or (only) subtitled in China because my experience is that dubbing and not speaking English well go hand in hand

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    I suppose it is a matter of personal preference, but I personally hate watching dubbed movies. In Soviet period, all foreign movies were dubbed into Russian, and I think this was insult to the intelligence of audience (assuming they would not go to see movie if it wasn't in Russian, even though Russians are universally literate and able to read subtitles).
    I personally would rather see foreign film in original language with subtitles. Ditto with operas: public enjoyment of operas really shot up when theaters began to show translated super-titles at the top of the stage.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    @yalensis,

    You're right on all counts, you have high linguistic intelligence! One minor point, though - albeit not one you can decipher from the place names (which aren't written in pinyin when in an English text) - is that these "hai", "nan", "jing" etc. should all be written with markers to indicate which of the four tones they belong to.

    Foregoing tones means that Chinese will have a truly difficult time understanding you. ;)

    I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?

    I wouldn't jump to conclusions. For instance, 江 = jiang1 (as in province of Heilongjiang, 黑龙江 lit. Black Dragon River) also means a river; but unlike 河 / he2 it refers to a specifically really wide and big river.

    川 is chuan1 and also means river, though now its largely archaic. But it does survive in the name for a Chinese province, Sichuan (四川) which lit. means Four Rivers.

    And an ocean is 洋 = yang2, so no visible connection there either.

    As for "n" endings, they are very, very common. Like every 3rd word or thereabouts. Because the only consonants on which a Chinese syllable can end is "n", "ng", or "r". So no possible connection there.

    I'd be really cautious about trying to deduce these connections without a really good grounding in Chinese etymology. There's a lot of debates there even among experts. ;)

    Thanks, Anatoly. Yes, deciphering languages is a lot of fun, but it does take many utterances before one can draw etymological conclusions. In my Introduction to General Linguistics class (undergraduate level), as an exercise, we were given something like 10 pages of utterances (for example, “The man took his dog to the hunt in the days when the sun was low in the sky…”) from a completely alien non-Indo-European language class. You get the utterances (in international phonetic alphabet) plus a literal translation, and then try to figure out the words, prefixes, endings, etc. It’s like solving a puzzle, and quite fun! And this is exactly how early anthropologists initially deciphered some of these unknown languages. To do it, they obviously needed an intelligent bi-lingual native speaker who could provide both utterances and translations. If such was lacking, then many of these languages died out, unfortunately.

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  • @Glossy
    "This anecdote supports the contention made on this blog that human capital in the youngest Chinese generations is at least as rich if not more so than in the West – what percentage of Americans can fluently speak a second language?"

    I don't think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence. Learning Chinese writing, especially in adulthood, is of course an exception. That does require brains and a lot of patience.

    For most of human history most people had to have been bilingual or trilingual. I'm assuming that learning multiple languages is more like walking than like doing differential equations - the ability to do it is a human universal. The modern situation where we have huge highly-homogeneous languages spoken by tens of millions each, and where a person can function adequately knowing just one language, would never have come about without modern government-run educational systems and modern media. It's not normal. For most of human history every village and every hunting band would have had its own dialect. This is still true in Africa and in Papua New Guinea. A woman marrying into the neighboring village would have had to learn a new language. There would have usually been a lingua franca used in market places, more often a couple of competing ones. If there was a literate elite, it would have used a different language entirely. The current situation in the anglosphere, where not even the elites, not even intellectuals, are expected to know more than one language, is, I think, bizarre and historically unprecedented. And it may not last, either.

    I do think that the mean IQ in China is high, by the way. Beyond statistics (which can always be fudged), this is supported by my impression that Chinese-Americans tend to come from backgrounds that are ordinary for southern China. And they do extremely well in schools here. Immigration from India and Cuba was skewed towards the elites, but I don't think this is true of Chinese immigration. Anecdotally, these seem to be just ordinary people from the southern provinces.

    "Many foreign critics, as well as many Chinese themselves, argue that the focus on group and rote learning undermines individual creativity and stunts individual development."

    I don't know if that's true. If Amy Chua didn't force her daughters to study, would they have really become more creative? If young, athletic Kenyans didn't concentrate on long-distance running, could any of them have become Olympic sprinters instead? Weightlifters? Is it really a relentless focus on marathons that prevents Kenya from ever winning any 100m medals? I would bet on the answer being "no". Both as individuals and as groups, different people are naturally good at different things. Normally, we get the farthest by exploiting our strengths to the fullest, not by spending all of our time working on our weaknesses.

    I'm a big nerd, for example. Would it have been smart for me to want to break into acting when I was young? News anchoring? There are people out there who're spectacular at that without any effort at all. If I spent 20,000 hours practicing being suave in front of a camera, would I have become some sort of a threat to George Clooney? Would it have been an intelligent way to spend my time? But the sort of thing that Ken Jennings did - THAT I could have probably tried to emulate. In short: most of the time the smart way to go is to exploit one's strengths, and for the average Chinese, studiousness (ru: усидчивость) is the big one.

    "Western (and Russian) conceptions of time envisage it as going from left to right. The Chinese envisage it going from top to bottom..."

    Another such observation: it appears from their writing system that the ancient Chinese assumed that we think with our hearts. Seems weird. Wouldn't they have noticed that head injuries tend to mess with the victims' thinking?

    I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence.

    Learning European languages is pretty hard for Chinese. They have to grasp two complicated things not present in Chinese: (1) lots of new sounds, and the whole concept of disregarding tones and linking across words with multiple consonants as opposed to a limited set of syllables; (2) in many cases, a much more complicated grammar.

    Well, I agree with your wider point – that language learning isn’t as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences. I was just highlighting an interesting (counter-conventional wisdom) anecdote, plus it does indicate that Chinese schools – even rural schools – are on the whole doing a really good job if they can teach children to foreign language fluency (this is something that even many of the best grammar schools in the UK don’t manage).

    I don’t know if that’s true.

    My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels.

    For instance, the effectiveness of study plummets after an hour or two due to declining marginal returns. But nonetheless some parents insist their children spend their lives tucked in front of books in their rooms. Not only are they getting minimal value out of about 75% of that time, but they also fail to develop social skills. This is very counter-productive, even idiotic. (This is a major reason why there are relatively few Asians in the upper echelons of business and management in the US, despite their greater academic achievements relative to whites. Many become a kind of intellectual proletariat.)

    Of course, this is bad for them; but good for the US. (If it hadn’t been for this intellectual proletariat Silicon Valley wouldn’t be anything like what it is today). Very bad for the US if indigenous Asians adopt mainstream US attitudes and the inflow of human capital from abroad declines (both are now happening). China itself doesn’t face this danger because its mainstream culture very much prizes academic achievement and this will presumably remain the case for at least another generation.

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    • Replies: @charly
    Learning a language depends on need and exposer. Neither of which schooling excels in.

    ps. Are American films dubbed or (only) subtitled in China because my experience is that dubbing and not speaking English well go hand in hand

    , @Brother Karamazov
    AK: "Well, I agree with your wider point – that language learning isn’t as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences."

    Cannot agree with you on this. Brains of different people are organized and do work in different ways. For example, the most talented student among my uni (a top sci/tech in SU - PhyzTech) classmates was always struggling with English. Well, for majority of us it was not much important at that time. However, he was not able to master it even in perestroika in spite of the cardinal change of his attitude towards languages and spending good time in the US. It is the English which did not allow him to get a place in a western uni - the only chance to continue his fundamental research, which was everything to him. In contrast, many of those who are objectively much less math/sci gifted and minded, but more "languagable" managed to do this.

    Another example is a man who can easily memorize a hundred or two of lines of a computer code, but year-by-year struggles to remember faces of more than 6-8 students in his class in spite of teaching them whole academic year. Yet, there is a friend who still cannot write a code of more than 5 lines long, in spite of my many attempts to teach, but easily remembers a few dozens of newly met people in a couple of hours meeting.

    Who is more intelligent? I do think it is valid to compare intellects across different types of activities. Just performances within the same one. I would also recommend to read Netochka Nezvanova, if you did not yet. This Dostoevskii's reflection on studiousness and giftedness is superb.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Yalensis
    @anatoly: Thank you for informative blog, and congratulations on your continuing progress with the Chinese language. By reading your blog, I have learned the following Chinese words:
    “he” = “river”
    “hu” = “lake”
    “hai” = “sea”
    [I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?]
    “shan” = “mountains”
    “yun” = “clouds”
    [Again, is it a coincidence that these words end with the “n” sound, or is that a marker of the plural?]
    ‘an = “peace”
    “shang” = “on” (preposition)
    “jing” = “city”
    [Points of the compass:]
    “bei” = “north”
    “nan” = “south”
    “dong” = “east”
    “xi” = “west”
    Did I get those right?
    Now, as to your delightful tongue-twister (shi shi shi… etc.) obviously this speaks to the issue of homophones. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any homophones in Russian(?), but I know in English there are many homophones, for example “to”, “two” and “too”. Three completely different words, used to be pronounced in 3 different ways, but then, through sound changes over the centuries, came to be pronounced alike, causing many headaches and humorous misunderstandings for speakers of the language.
    If English were to reform its orthography, as I recommend, these 3 words would all have to be spelled alike, something like “tu”. Well, what to do to avoid confusion? This is one of the factors holding languages back from reforming older orthographies.
    Well, I have a proposed solution for this problem: in the case of homophones, simply add a subscript to show which “tu” you mean. Here is an example of proposed phonetic spelling: “Ay wud layk tu(1) bay tu(2) bananaz tu(3).” (“I would like to buy two bananas too…”). Which homophone variant gets which subscript would have to be decided by whichever institute or national academy is responsible for composing standard dictionaries of the written language.
    Similar thing could be done in Chinese, therefore with the addition of subscripts the tongue-twister could be decipherable if written in pinyin.

    @yalensis,

    You’re right on all counts, you have high linguistic intelligence! One minor point, though – albeit not one you can decipher from the place names (which aren’t written in pinyin when in an English text) – is that these “hai”, “nan”, “jing” etc. should all be written with markers to indicate which of the four tones they belong to.

    Foregoing tones means that Chinese will have a truly difficult time understanding you. ;)

    I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?

    I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. For instance, 江 = jiang1 (as in province of Heilongjiang, 黑龙江 lit. Black Dragon River) also means a river; but unlike 河 / he2 it refers to a specifically really wide and big river.

    川 is chuan1 and also means river, though now its largely archaic. But it does survive in the name for a Chinese province, Sichuan (四川) which lit. means Four Rivers.

    And an ocean is 洋 = yang2, so no visible connection there either.

    As for “n” endings, they are very, very common. Like every 3rd word or thereabouts. Because the only consonants on which a Chinese syllable can end is “n”, “ng”, or “r”. So no possible connection there.

    I’d be really cautious about trying to deduce these connections without a really good grounding in Chinese etymology. There’s a lot of debates there even among experts. ;)

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Thanks, Anatoly. Yes, deciphering languages is a lot of fun, but it does take many utterances before one can draw etymological conclusions. In my Introduction to General Linguistics class (undergraduate level), as an exercise, we were given something like 10 pages of utterances (for example, “The man took his dog to the hunt in the days when the sun was low in the sky…”) from a completely alien non-Indo-European language class. You get the utterances (in international phonetic alphabet) plus a literal translation, and then try to figure out the words, prefixes, endings, etc. It’s like solving a puzzle, and quite fun! And this is exactly how early anthropologists initially deciphered some of these unknown languages. To do it, they obviously needed an intelligent bi-lingual native speaker who could provide both utterances and translations. If such was lacking, then many of these languages died out, unfortunately.
    , @charly
    The 氵 radical means water.
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  • @charly
    If Kenya had the same doping tests and doctors as Jamaica than i certainly expect them to win medals.

    A lot of your examples are in reality just hard work and the right environment.

    Charly, it would be very strange if every person and every kin group had the same exact levels of the same exact talents. Evolution isn’t supposed to work that way. A belief that different environments wouldn’t have produced different abilities in different peoples is not compatible with the belief in evolution.

    As for sprinting vs. long-distance running, I’ve read that the former requires lots of fast-twitch muscles and that the latter requires lots of slow-twitch muscles. I’ve also read that West Africans have lots of the fast-twitch kind, and East Africans of the slow-twitch kind. I’m sure that doping is available in lots of countries besides Jamaica. You think the Chinese government, for example, would pass up a chance like that? If almost everybody does it, then the differential success rates averaged over long periods of time are probably back to reflecting natural differences.

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    • Replies: @charly
    I doubt that on average Jamaicans are better sprinters than Kenyans. But sports isn't decided by averages but the extremes. And there are also Kenyans with fast-twitching muscles but they don't develop their talent into sprint champions because in Kenya there isn't money and fame in it unlike Jamaica.
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  • @charly
    If Kenya had the same doping tests and doctors as Jamaica than i certainly expect them to win medals.

    A lot of your examples are in reality just hard work and the right environment.

    AFAIK, nearly all prominent Kenyan long distance runners came from the same valley. People in that valley are unique because many have a gene, which somehow blocks feelings of tiredness. This explains lack of prominent sprinters too. There are many similar examples, e.g. North Europeans are much more likely to have a gene blocking effects of alcohol, than e.g. far Eastern Asians.

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  • @Glossy
    "This anecdote supports the contention made on this blog that human capital in the youngest Chinese generations is at least as rich if not more so than in the West – what percentage of Americans can fluently speak a second language?"

    I don't think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence. Learning Chinese writing, especially in adulthood, is of course an exception. That does require brains and a lot of patience.

    For most of human history most people had to have been bilingual or trilingual. I'm assuming that learning multiple languages is more like walking than like doing differential equations - the ability to do it is a human universal. The modern situation where we have huge highly-homogeneous languages spoken by tens of millions each, and where a person can function adequately knowing just one language, would never have come about without modern government-run educational systems and modern media. It's not normal. For most of human history every village and every hunting band would have had its own dialect. This is still true in Africa and in Papua New Guinea. A woman marrying into the neighboring village would have had to learn a new language. There would have usually been a lingua franca used in market places, more often a couple of competing ones. If there was a literate elite, it would have used a different language entirely. The current situation in the anglosphere, where not even the elites, not even intellectuals, are expected to know more than one language, is, I think, bizarre and historically unprecedented. And it may not last, either.

    I do think that the mean IQ in China is high, by the way. Beyond statistics (which can always be fudged), this is supported by my impression that Chinese-Americans tend to come from backgrounds that are ordinary for southern China. And they do extremely well in schools here. Immigration from India and Cuba was skewed towards the elites, but I don't think this is true of Chinese immigration. Anecdotally, these seem to be just ordinary people from the southern provinces.

    "Many foreign critics, as well as many Chinese themselves, argue that the focus on group and rote learning undermines individual creativity and stunts individual development."

    I don't know if that's true. If Amy Chua didn't force her daughters to study, would they have really become more creative? If young, athletic Kenyans didn't concentrate on long-distance running, could any of them have become Olympic sprinters instead? Weightlifters? Is it really a relentless focus on marathons that prevents Kenya from ever winning any 100m medals? I would bet on the answer being "no". Both as individuals and as groups, different people are naturally good at different things. Normally, we get the farthest by exploiting our strengths to the fullest, not by spending all of our time working on our weaknesses.

    I'm a big nerd, for example. Would it have been smart for me to want to break into acting when I was young? News anchoring? There are people out there who're spectacular at that without any effort at all. If I spent 20,000 hours practicing being suave in front of a camera, would I have become some sort of a threat to George Clooney? Would it have been an intelligent way to spend my time? But the sort of thing that Ken Jennings did - THAT I could have probably tried to emulate. In short: most of the time the smart way to go is to exploit one's strengths, and for the average Chinese, studiousness (ru: усидчивость) is the big one.

    "Western (and Russian) conceptions of time envisage it as going from left to right. The Chinese envisage it going from top to bottom..."

    Another such observation: it appears from their writing system that the ancient Chinese assumed that we think with our hearts. Seems weird. Wouldn't they have noticed that head injuries tend to mess with the victims' thinking?

    If Kenya had the same doping tests and doctors as Jamaica than i certainly expect them to win medals.

    A lot of your examples are in reality just hard work and the right environment.

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    • Replies: @Brother Karamazov
    AFAIK, nearly all prominent Kenyan long distance runners came from the same valley. People in that valley are unique because many have a gene, which somehow blocks feelings of tiredness. This explains lack of prominent sprinters too. There are many similar examples, e.g. North Europeans are much more likely to have a gene blocking effects of alcohol, than e.g. far Eastern Asians.
    , @Glossy
    Charly, it would be very strange if every person and every kin group had the same exact levels of the same exact talents. Evolution isn't supposed to work that way. A belief that different environments wouldn't have produced different abilities in different peoples is not compatible with the belief in evolution.

    As for sprinting vs. long-distance running, I've read that the former requires lots of fast-twitch muscles and that the latter requires lots of slow-twitch muscles. I've also read that West Africans have lots of the fast-twitch kind, and East Africans of the slow-twitch kind. I'm sure that doping is available in lots of countries besides Jamaica. You think the Chinese government, for example, would pass up a chance like that? If almost everybody does it, then the differential success rates averaged over long periods of time are probably back to reflecting natural differences.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • “This anecdote supports the contention made on this blog that human capital in the youngest Chinese generations is at least as rich if not more so than in the West – what percentage of Americans can fluently speak a second language?”

    I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence. Learning Chinese writing, especially in adulthood, is of course an exception. That does require brains and a lot of patience.

    For most of human history most people had to have been bilingual or trilingual. I’m assuming that learning multiple languages is more like walking than like doing differential equations – the ability to do it is a human universal. The modern situation where we have huge highly-homogeneous languages spoken by tens of millions each, and where a person can function adequately knowing just one language, would never have come about without modern government-run educational systems and modern media. It’s not normal. For most of human history every village and every hunting band would have had its own dialect. This is still true in Africa and in Papua New Guinea. A woman marrying into the neighboring village would have had to learn a new language. There would have usually been a lingua franca used in market places, more often a couple of competing ones. If there was a literate elite, it would have used a different language entirely. The current situation in the anglosphere, where not even the elites, not even intellectuals, are expected to know more than one language, is, I think, bizarre and historically unprecedented. And it may not last, either.

    I do think that the mean IQ in China is high, by the way. Beyond statistics (which can always be fudged), this is supported by my impression that Chinese-Americans tend to come from backgrounds that are ordinary for southern China. And they do extremely well in schools here. Immigration from India and Cuba was skewed towards the elites, but I don’t think this is true of Chinese immigration. Anecdotally, these seem to be just ordinary people from the southern provinces.

    “Many foreign critics, as well as many Chinese themselves, argue that the focus on group and rote learning undermines individual creativity and stunts individual development.”

    I don’t know if that’s true. If Amy Chua didn’t force her daughters to study, would they have really become more creative? If young, athletic Kenyans didn’t concentrate on long-distance running, could any of them have become Olympic sprinters instead? Weightlifters? Is it really a relentless focus on marathons that prevents Kenya from ever winning any 100m medals? I would bet on the answer being “no”. Both as individuals and as groups, different people are naturally good at different things. Normally, we get the farthest by exploiting our strengths to the fullest, not by spending all of our time working on our weaknesses.

    I’m a big nerd, for example. Would it have been smart for me to want to break into acting when I was young? News anchoring? There are people out there who’re spectacular at that without any effort at all. If I spent 20,000 hours practicing being suave in front of a camera, would I have become some sort of a threat to George Clooney? Would it have been an intelligent way to spend my time? But the sort of thing that Ken Jennings did – THAT I could have probably tried to emulate. In short: most of the time the smart way to go is to exploit one’s strengths, and for the average Chinese, studiousness (ru: усидчивость) is the big one.

    “Western (and Russian) conceptions of time envisage it as going from left to right. The Chinese envisage it going from top to bottom…”

    Another such observation: it appears from their writing system that the ancient Chinese assumed that we think with our hearts. Seems weird. Wouldn’t they have noticed that head injuries tend to mess with the victims’ thinking?

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    • Replies: @charly
    If Kenya had the same doping tests and doctors as Jamaica than i certainly expect them to win medals.

    A lot of your examples are in reality just hard work and the right environment.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has learned a foreign language says much about his intelligence.

    Learning European languages is pretty hard for Chinese. They have to grasp two complicated things not present in Chinese: (1) lots of new sounds, and the whole concept of disregarding tones and linking across words with multiple consonants as opposed to a limited set of syllables; (2) in many cases, a much more complicated grammar.

    Well, I agree with your wider point - that language learning isn't as intellectually demanding as high-end math and sciences. I was just highlighting an interesting (counter-conventional wisdom) anecdote, plus it does indicate that Chinese schools - even rural schools - are on the whole doing a really good job if they can teach children to foreign language fluency (this is something that even many of the best grammar schools in the UK don't manage).

    I don’t know if that’s true.

    My main point there is while encouraging a studiousness is good (and far better than the glorification of the lack of it, which now prevails in some quarters) many Asians take it to ridiculous levels.

    For instance, the effectiveness of study plummets after an hour or two due to declining marginal returns. But nonetheless some parents insist their children spend their lives tucked in front of books in their rooms. Not only are they getting minimal value out of about 75% of that time, but they also fail to develop social skills. This is very counter-productive, even idiotic. (This is a major reason why there are relatively few Asians in the upper echelons of business and management in the US, despite their greater academic achievements relative to whites. Many become a kind of intellectual proletariat.)

    Of course, this is bad for them; but good for the US. (If it hadn't been for this intellectual proletariat Silicon Valley wouldn't be anything like what it is today). Very bad for the US if indigenous Asians adopt mainstream US attitudes and the inflow of human capital from abroad declines (both are now happening). China itself doesn't face this danger because its mainstream culture very much prizes academic achievement and this will presumably remain the case for at least another generation.

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  • What percentage of Americans can fluently speak a second language?

    Huh, which country is famed for it being monolingual?

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  • @anatoly: Thank you for informative blog, and congratulations on your continuing progress with the Chinese language. By reading your blog, I have learned the following Chinese words:
    “he” = “river”
    “hu” = “lake”
    “hai” = “sea”
    [I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?]
    “shan” = “mountains”
    “yun” = “clouds”
    [Again, is it a coincidence that these words end with the “n” sound, or is that a marker of the plural?]
    ‘an = “peace”
    “shang” = “on” (preposition)
    “jing” = “city”
    [Points of the compass:]
    “bei” = “north”
    “nan” = “south”
    “dong” = “east”
    “xi” = “west”
    Did I get those right?
    Now, as to your delightful tongue-twister (shi shi shi… etc.) obviously this speaks to the issue of homophones. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any homophones in Russian(?), but I know in English there are many homophones, for example “to”, “two” and “too”. Three completely different words, used to be pronounced in 3 different ways, but then, through sound changes over the centuries, came to be pronounced alike, causing many headaches and humorous misunderstandings for speakers of the language.
    If English were to reform its orthography, as I recommend, these 3 words would all have to be spelled alike, something like “tu”. Well, what to do to avoid confusion? This is one of the factors holding languages back from reforming older orthographies.
    Well, I have a proposed solution for this problem: in the case of homophones, simply add a subscript to show which “tu” you mean. Here is an example of proposed phonetic spelling: “Ay wud layk tu(1) bay tu(2) bananaz tu(3).” (“I would like to buy two bananas too…”). Which homophone variant gets which subscript would have to be decided by whichever institute or national academy is responsible for composing standard dictionaries of the written language.
    Similar thing could be done in Chinese, therefore with the addition of subscripts the tongue-twister could be decipherable if written in pinyin.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    @yalensis,

    You're right on all counts, you have high linguistic intelligence! One minor point, though - albeit not one you can decipher from the place names (which aren't written in pinyin when in an English text) - is that these "hai", "nan", "jing" etc. should all be written with markers to indicate which of the four tones they belong to.

    Foregoing tones means that Chinese will have a truly difficult time understanding you. ;)

    I notice that these 3 water words all start with the letter “h”, is that a coincidence, or, more likely, are they variants of the same proto-word?

    I wouldn't jump to conclusions. For instance, 江 = jiang1 (as in province of Heilongjiang, 黑龙江 lit. Black Dragon River) also means a river; but unlike 河 / he2 it refers to a specifically really wide and big river.

    川 is chuan1 and also means river, though now its largely archaic. But it does survive in the name for a Chinese province, Sichuan (四川) which lit. means Four Rivers.

    And an ocean is 洋 = yang2, so no visible connection there either.

    As for "n" endings, they are very, very common. Like every 3rd word or thereabouts. Because the only consonants on which a Chinese syllable can end is "n", "ng", or "r". So no possible connection there.

    I'd be really cautious about trying to deduce these connections without a really good grounding in Chinese etymology. There's a lot of debates there even among experts. ;)

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  • Seeing as I'm known as a "Sino-triumphalist" anyway why not go the full nine yards and learn the language? That is what I'm doing (c. 300-500 汉字 to date) and here are my thoughts so far. 1. Tones. In stark contrast to every major European language, Chinese pronunciation is based on tones. Four of them:...
  • @Yalensis
    ну, ладно... :)

    It must be great fun to work in a Chinese tattoo studio (will consider this for my next vacation job) :D

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    Thanks, I added your recommendations. I've downloaded the Anki program and will see what I can do with it.

    The greater popularity of Japanese has, IMO, mainly to do with the fact that 1) they're a rich country already and 2) emerged as a big language by the 1980's when US execs began flocking to learn it because it was perceived as having the secrets to management success. I think much the same process is beginning with China, although on a much larger and more sustainable scale; if and when it develops to its full potential, China will be ten times bigger than Japan (and much bigger than the US).

    And it helps Chinese is easier than Japanese, too.

    I think that French is so highly esteemed is due to (1) an attractive history, culture, culinary might, etc; (2) yes, has aristocratic connotations and allows one to show off; (3) the main rival, Spanish, is more popular, but is tainted by fact that Americans associate it with poverty of southern neighbors and immigrants; (4) what other languages are there to compete with it? German is hard and doesn't sound nice to Anglophone ears (though it has managed to develop a "hip" reputation, along with Japanese); Russia is hard and language of commies and crooks; Portuguese - don't all Latin Americans speak Spanish anyway? I'm guessing the thought process goes something like this.

    And it’s terrible to listen to a native French speaker who tries to express something in English :)
    But I want to add that German has the greatest number of native speakers in the European Union and is even known by more people in the European Union than French. However, our colonial empire seems to have been a failure, except in Namibia where there’s significant German settlement it didn’t catch on. On the other hand the Second French Empire is very clearly visible on a map of languages. Yes, French is a beautiful language derived from a great culture.

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  • @Doug M.
    Oh, there are languages that are much, much harder than Japanese -- whether you measure it as "harder for an English speaker" or "just frickin' hard".

    Two that I've come in contact with personally: Georgian uses an ergative grammar that is deeply alien and non-intuitive to Indo-European speakers, and combines that with seven noun cases, an agglutinative system for verbs and verbals, and some fairly freaky phonology. Meanwhile Javanese -- the language spoken on Java, by 70 million people or so -- has three different modes or registers depending on formality, with each mode being almost a completely separate language: different words, different phonology, different grammar. It also has a complex agglutinative grammar and some insane number of honorifics and humilifics that must be memorized before you can dare begin to actually use the language outside the classroom.

    Japanese is hard, but it's not /that/ hard. Also, Japanese are pretty forgiving of foreigners trying to speak their language. (This is not the case with everyone. Javanese, for instance, often prefer that foreigners use Indonesian.)


    Doug M.

    I know little about that language, but from history I would guess that there’s significant Sea-Indian, Sea-Arabian and Chinese influence, especially on the higher levels. What’s your opinion, does it help to know some of these languages?

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  • @Craig Willy
    I will consider this. If oral Chinese is as easy as you say one would really be foolish not to learn to speak to the world's rising third economic superpower.

    Yes, oral Chinese is easy. There are about 92 thosand something hanzi, so every Chinese learns new characters all his live. However, the claim that there’s no logic behind the hanzi is wrong, my Chinese teachers always explained us all the little radicals they are composed of (they’re very logical) and what the depictions want to show. I’m not so far by now(750), but I think after 5,000 hanzi I’ll be able to get the meaning of many new ones just by looking at the composition. Still, if you really want to learn Chinese, learn oral Chinese first and after you are able to speak and watch TV, you can start with the “alphabet”, otherwise it takes you 2-3 years to be able to talk about the wheather and you don’t memorize so easy because the knowledge stays out of a fluent and versatile context for a very very long time.

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  • @Kyle
    Hey Anatoly, would you be so kind as to recommend any good (preferably online) resources you've come across to help learn Mandarin? I'm sure many of your readers would appreciate it. Thanks!

    What I’ve mentioned in the post, plus:

    * Chinese Pod is widely considered to be the best online program for Mandarin learning. (No personal experience so can’t confirm).
    * If you can’t find Chinese people willing to converse with you in real life, a good idea may be to find them on Craiglist. The typical charge is $10 for a 1 hour conversation via Skype, but doing this once or twice a week is well worth it if you’re serious about developing your conversational skills.

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  • Hey Anatoly, would you be so kind as to recommend any good (preferably online) resources you’ve come across to help learn Mandarin? I’m sure many of your readers would appreciate it. Thanks!

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    What I've mentioned in the post, plus:

    * Chinese Pod is widely considered to be the best online program for Mandarin learning. (No personal experience so can't confirm).
    * If you can't find Chinese people willing to converse with you in real life, a good idea may be to find them on Craiglist. The typical charge is $10 for a 1 hour conversation via Skype, but doing this once or twice a week is well worth it if you're serious about developing your conversational skills.

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  • On ebonics: I believe is a “dialect”, not a “slang”. English linguistics is not my specialty, but I have read a couple of books by (African)-American linguist John McWhorter, who specializes in English-language creoles and has written a lot about ebonics as well. He argues convincingly that “ebonics” is a fully-functional dialect, like Castilian Spanish, with its own phonology, morphology and syntax. Grammar is somewhat simplified from standard English, but not to the degree that would make it a pidgin. McWhorter also refutes the notion that it is a creole. Is not a creole, just a regular dialect. Also, the fact that this dialect happens to be a major source of modern urban slang words and expressions is what causes the confusion between dialect and slang.
    I am not black myself, so I don’t get a vote, but I would propose the term “Standard American Negro Dialect” (SAND). A good example of written SAND: the lyrics to the opera “Porgy and Bess”. One can also find many written examples in the works of American southern writers (or the works of Mark Twain), attempting to duplicate the speech of negro characters.
    The reason I do not like the term “ebonics”, it makes people laugh, because they confuse it with “jive talk”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa5XLny8Wmc

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    Added a bit about how Chinese, because of grammatical simplicity, sometimes feels like slang (e.g. ebonics) to speakers of more formalized languages such as English.

    Hey, thanks for fixing my IMG tag, Anatoly! The point I was trying to make with that symbol/hieroglyph (still don’t know the difference) is that some linguists (namely, semoticians) do claim you could build a universal “written” language (independent of all spoken languages) based on hieroglyphic symbols. Based on universal semantic substantives like “person”, “fire”; and basic verbs like “run”, “walk”, etc. In other words, you could take Chinese system and work it out to the Nth degree, creating a universal written language. If such a thing could be invented, it would be a great boon to humanity; but personally I am skeptical that it is possible.

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  • Added a bit about how Chinese, because of grammatical simplicity, sometimes feels like slang (e.g. ebonics) to speakers of more formalized languages such as English.

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    • Replies: @Yalensis
    Hey, thanks for fixing my IMG tag, Anatoly! The point I was trying to make with that symbol/hieroglyph (still don’t know the difference) is that some linguists (namely, semoticians) do claim you could build a universal “written” language (independent of all spoken languages) based on hieroglyphic symbols. Based on universal semantic substantives like “person”, “fire”; and basic verbs like “run”, “walk”, etc. In other words, you could take Chinese system and work it out to the Nth degree, creating a universal written language. If such a thing could be invented, it would be a great boon to humanity; but personally I am skeptical that it is possible.
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  • @Zoroaster
    "Hieroglyphs"? I don't think that word means what you think it does.

    Would you consider this a universal hieroglylph?

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  • @Zoroaster
    "Hieroglyphs"? I don't think that word means what you think it does.

    Why can’t Hanzi be considered hieroglyphs?

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  • “Hieroglyphs”? I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Why can't Hanzi be considered hieroglyphs?
    , @Yalensis
    Would you consider this a universal hieroglylph?

    , @Anon
    In Russian, Chinese characters are referred to as Hieroglyphs rather than ideographs, semiographs, or sinographs.
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  • @Scowspi
    Only for masculine personal nouns: men, soldiers, bureaucrats, etc. Not for inanimate masculine nouns.

    I was putting together data for a possible article on unnecessary complexity in language, and this "masc. personal" stuff was one example. You don't need to mark this info, because we already know that we're dealing with male human beings; no need to create a separate category for them. Ditto with the special form of the nom. plural that these take.

    Come to think of it, Russian does do something analogous to that, distinguishing “animate” vs. “inanimate” masculine objects/beings in the accusative case. For example, you would say “ja vizhu stol” – “I see the table”, with masculine accusative null-ending; but “ja vizhu soldata” – “I see the soldier”, with masculine accusative a-ending. This rule would hold for any masculine animate being, a man, a bureaucrat, even a male animal (“ja vizhu psa” – “I see the dog” ) or imaginary creature like a ghost. But not a plant (sorry, plants, you’re simply not ALIVE enough!). Sometimes even native Russian speakers get confused if something is animate or not (“I see the paramecium?…”) Since this ridiculous feature is similar to Polish example, I am guessing is something that both languages inherited from Common Slavic. Is certainly not something that people would just coincidentally come up with on their own. (Like, sitting around campfire at night, “Okay, guys, how can we make our language even MORE complex than it already is… Wait, I just thought of something: animate vs. inanimate masculine objects!”)

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  • @Yalensis
    Yeah, the "21 year" stuff is the same in Russian, although Russians say "god" instead of "rok", but use same word in genitve plural (Russian = "let", Polish ="lat'", from the Common Slavic word for "summer" -- "many summers ago...") I think that's a Common Slavic thing. On the other hand, Russian doesn't have anything like the "Dwóch panów są w mieszkaniu” thing: In nominative case Russians would say "dva muzhika" (genitive singular, descended from Common Slavic dual). So, Poles say that for all substantives of the masculine gender? Or literally just the word for "men"?

    Only for masculine personal nouns: men, soldiers, bureaucrats, etc. Not for inanimate masculine nouns.

    I was putting together data for a possible article on unnecessary complexity in language, and this “masc. personal” stuff was one example. You don’t need to mark this info, because we already know that we’re dealing with male human beings; no need to create a separate category for them. Ditto with the special form of the nom. plural that these take.

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    • Replies: @Yalensis
    Come to think of it, Russian does do something analogous to that, distinguishing "animate" vs. "inanimate" masculine objects/beings in the accusative case. For example, you would say "ja vizhu stol" - "I see the table", with masculine accusative null-ending; but “ja vizhu soldata” – “I see the soldier”, with masculine accusative a-ending. This rule would hold for any masculine animate being, a man, a bureaucrat, even a male animal (“ja vizhu psa” – “I see the dog” ) or imaginary creature like a ghost. But not a plant (sorry, plants, you’re simply not ALIVE enough!). Sometimes even native Russian speakers get confused if something is animate or not (“I see the paramecium?...”) Since this ridiculous feature is similar to Polish example, I am guessing is something that both languages inherited from Common Slavic. Is certainly not something that people would just coincidentally come up with on their own. (Like, sitting around campfire at night, “Okay, guys, how can we make our language even MORE complex than it already is… Wait, I just thought of something: animate vs. inanimate masculine objects!”)
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  • @charly
    But there is one advantage to written Chinese. The same written text can be parsed as Mandarin but also Cantonese or any other Chinese language

    AK, it seems that the system doesn’t go so deep so i have to reply to myself.

    Displacing the language of the poor is easy but don’t try it with the economic elite. Franco tried it with Catalan and failed miserably. I don’t think that the current CCP can be compared with Franco so to add to the list of languages that are globally more useful to learn than France i would Cantonese or Shanghainese

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  • @charly
    But there is one advantage to written Chinese. The same written text can be parsed as Mandarin but also Cantonese or any other Chinese language

    Not sure this plays a great role. China isn’t India. The CCP tries to displace regional languages in favor of Mandarin anyway, so this feature of the hieroglyphic system probably isn’t all that awesome (for them).

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  • @Scowspi
    Polish and Czech do similar weird stuff with numbers; it must be a Common Slavic thing. In Polish, I learned the phrase "dziecko ma rok, dwa lata, sześć lat" ("the child is one, two, six years old") as a memory aid. And what makes it extra weird is that, when you get to 21, the whole cycle repeats! ("21 year")

    Polish also does a weird thing where they use the genitive plural when referring to men *in a nominative sense* ("Dwóch panów są w mieszkaniu" - "Two men are in the apartment"). I have no idea where that comes from.

    Polish and Czech also have this crazy "plural for men" (e.g. "české knihy" [books] but "čeští vojaci" [soldiers]) - but I don't want to scare anyone further, so I won't describe it in detail.

    Yeah, the “21 year” stuff is the same in Russian, although Russians say “god” instead of “rok”, but use same word in genitve plural (Russian = “let”, Polish =”lat’”, from the Common Slavic word for “summer” — “many summers ago…”) I think that’s a Common Slavic thing. On the other hand, Russian doesn’t have anything like the “Dwóch panów są w mieszkaniu” thing: In nominative case Russians would say “dva muzhika” (genitive singular, descended from Common Slavic dual). So, Poles say that for all substantives of the masculine gender? Or literally just the word for “men”?

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    • Replies: @Scowspi
    Only for masculine personal nouns: men, soldiers, bureaucrats, etc. Not for inanimate masculine nouns.

    I was putting together data for a possible article on unnecessary complexity in language, and this "masc. personal" stuff was one example. You don't need to mark this info, because we already know that we're dealing with male human beings; no need to create a separate category for them. Ditto with the special form of the nom. plural that these take.

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  • @charly
    But there is one advantage to written Chinese. The same written text can be parsed as Mandarin but also Cantonese or any other Chinese language

    Yes, that is true, and I am guessing that is one of the main reasons why they kept his hieroglyphic alphabet. Switching to a phonemic alphabet would require separate written languages for Mandarin and Cantonese. (In the same way that there are separate written languages for Russian and Ukrainian.)

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  • @Yalensis
    Well, it's obviously not pointless if that's the only option. But if there were other options... Like, what would you think about a guy who insisted on doing calculus problems using Roman numerals, just out of traditionalist stubborness, wouldn't you consider him somewhat eccentric? Actually, I personally know a computer programmer who writes web pages in Assembler instead of HTML. His code works, but he is rightfully considered a nutcase by his peers! And I admit that's my opinion of the Chinese -- they're CRAZY to continue with this madness when somebody already invented a much better way to read and write. (And ditto that for the Japanese...)

    Changing the system, IMO, would only have been of use a few decades ago or earlier.

    But what’s the point today? Latest census shows literacy rate of 97%, so any effects of speeding up spread of literacy that would have come from a simpler system are now irrelevant.

    Information technology allows characters to be looked up quickly. Cell phone penetration in China is already at c. 70% and in a few more years I’m sure they’ll all get Pleco-style auto lookup dictionaries. Converting pinyin to hanzi when typing is already very easy.

    Basically, I just don’t see the point. Changing the system now will only create a lot of confusion and destroy a distinctive part of the national heritage (yes, it may exist in “School of Art”, but what percentage of the population will care to study it?).

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  • @Yalensis
    Well, it's obviously not pointless if that's the only option. But if there were other options... Like, what would you think about a guy who insisted on doing calculus problems using Roman numerals, just out of traditionalist stubborness, wouldn't you consider him somewhat eccentric? Actually, I personally know a computer programmer who writes web pages in Assembler instead of HTML. His code works, but he is rightfully considered a nutcase by his peers! And I admit that's my opinion of the Chinese -- they're CRAZY to continue with this madness when somebody already invented a much better way to read and write. (And ditto that for the Japanese...)

    But there is one advantage to written Chinese. The same written text can be parsed as Mandarin but also Cantonese or any other Chinese language

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    • Replies: @Yalensis
    Yes, that is true, and I am guessing that is one of the main reasons why they kept his hieroglyphic alphabet. Switching to a phonemic alphabet would require separate written languages for Mandarin and Cantonese. (In the same way that there are separate written languages for Russian and Ukrainian.)
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Not sure this plays a great role. China isn't India. The CCP tries to displace regional languages in favor of Mandarin anyway, so this feature of the hieroglyphic system probably isn't all that awesome (for them).
    , @charly
    AK, it seems that the system doesn't go so deep so i have to reply to myself.


    Displacing the language of the poor is easy but don't try it with the economic elite. Franco tried it with Catalan and failed miserably. I don't think that the current CCP can be compared with Franco so to add to the list of languages that are globally more useful to learn than France i would Cantonese or Shanghainese

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    It was a joke. Learn the smilie alphabet!

    ну, ладно… :)

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    • Replies: @kurt
    It must be great fun to work in a Chinese tattoo studio (will consider this for my next vacation job) :D
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  • @Craig Willy
    You can learn both. Spanish is very easy if you know French.

    Spanish verbs are pretty complicated, though. I find French verbs much easier, but maybe that’s just me…

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  • @Craig Willy
    Agreed. English and French writing are frickin' arbitrary and by no means the "natural" way these might be written. (E.g., largely forgotten etymological spelling.)

    Now you’re catching on, my friend! English and French are badly in need of spelling reforms. The very idea of a written language needing children’s “spelling bees” is anathema to linguists. Spelling should be as easy as counting from 1 to 10. Some examples of languages with great spelling systems: Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Polish. Russian okay, but not as good as the above. Hebrew bad. Not familiar with Arabic, so I can’t judge. Apologize for all the great alphabets I didn’t mention simply because I am not familiar with them…

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  • @Craig Willy
    Don't tell a guy his learning activities are pointless :-P Probably the Chinese could have a Korea-style alphabet which would still look "Asian" but be practical. I don't see them in any rush to change however..

    Well, it’s obviously not pointless if that’s the only option. But if there were other options… Like, what would you think about a guy who insisted on doing calculus problems using Roman numerals, just out of traditionalist stubborness, wouldn’t you consider him somewhat eccentric? Actually, I personally know a computer programmer who writes web pages in Assembler instead of HTML. His code works, but he is rightfully considered a nutcase by his peers! And I admit that’s my opinion of the Chinese — they’re CRAZY to continue with this madness when somebody already invented a much better way to read and write. (And ditto that for the Japanese…)

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    • Replies: @charly
    But there is one advantage to written Chinese. The same written text can be parsed as Mandarin but also Cantonese or any other Chinese language
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Changing the system, IMO, would only have been of use a few decades ago or earlier.

    But what's the point today? Latest census shows literacy rate of 97%, so any effects of speeding up spread of literacy that would have come from a simpler system are now irrelevant.

    Information technology allows characters to be looked up quickly. Cell phone penetration in China is already at c. 70% and in a few more years I'm sure they'll all get Pleco-style auto lookup dictionaries. Converting pinyin to hanzi when typing is already very easy.

    Basically, I just don't see the point. Changing the system now will only create a lot of confusion and destroy a distinctive part of the national heritage (yes, it may exist in "School of Art", but what percentage of the population will care to study it?).

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    Yep. Japanese is hard. Perhaps, the hardest. The guy in my class who studied it agrees Chinese is substantially easier.

    Oh, there are languages that are much, much harder than Japanese — whether you measure it as “harder for an English speaker” or “just frickin’ hard”.

    Two that I’ve come in contact with personally: Georgian uses an ergative grammar that is deeply alien and non-intuitive to Indo-European speakers, and combines that with seven noun cases, an agglutinative system for verbs and verbals, and some fairly freaky phonology. Meanwhile Javanese — the language spoken on Java, by 70 million people or so — has three different modes or registers depending on formality, with each mode being almost a completely separate language: different words, different phonology, different grammar. It also has a complex agglutinative grammar and some insane number of honorifics and humilifics that must be memorized before you can dare begin to actually use the language outside the classroom.

    Japanese is hard, but it’s not /that/ hard. Also, Japanese are pretty forgiving of foreigners trying to speak their language. (This is not the case with everyone. Javanese, for instance, often prefer that foreigners use Indonesian.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @kurt
    I know little about that language, but from history I would guess that there's significant Sea-Indian, Sea-Arabian and Chinese influence, especially on the higher levels. What's your opinion, does it help to know some of these languages?
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  • @grfomanka
    Also to work for EU you typically need to speak French (which is why I'm learning it tho I would rather spend time learning Spanish).

    You can learn both. Spanish is very easy if you know French.

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    • Replies: @Yalensis
    Spanish verbs are pretty complicated, though. I find French verbs much easier, but maybe that's just me...
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