Why learn Chinese?

General discussion about learning languages
User avatar
chove
Yellow Belt
Posts: 77
Joined: Sun Jul 19, 2015 10:42 pm
Location: Scotland
Languages: English (N), Spanish (intermediate), German (high beginner), Polish (basic).
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... =15&t=9355
x 153
Contact:

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby chove » Fri Mar 15, 2019 6:09 am

The main argument I've read against changing the Chinese system of writing is that it would cut people off from their cultural past unless they were willing to learn the old system alongside whatever was brought in as well?
0 x

Inst
Orange Belt
Posts: 105
Joined: Thu Feb 07, 2019 9:43 pm
Languages: English (Primary), 普通话 (Mainland Mandarin Chinese, B2)
x 61

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Fri Mar 15, 2019 6:15 am

I think Hanzi criticisms fall into two categories. The first are by foreigners who can't stand that literacy in Chinese is reminiscent of medical school in the sheer amount of memorization required. That's, well, suspect, but often they do make points. The other is by Chinese who saw Hanzi as a major impediment to modernization.

I think that the effort required to learn Hanzi takes up valuable time in the education of a child, but to date, it's an impediment, but not preventative when it comes to educating a people. And I'd argue that there are other benefits. Memory training is not a priority or is seen as double-edged in the West; i.e, we have a cultural bias against rote. On the other hand, however, in cultures where memorization is emphasized, such as traditional Islamic cultures where memorizing the Quran is obligatory, memorization skills of students are more developed, and the same skill that is needed to rote-memorize Chinese can also be helpful say, in learning a computer language, or attending actual medical school.
0 x

User avatar
verdastelo
Yellow Belt
Posts: 61
Joined: Sun Jan 31, 2016 1:20 pm
Location: Chandigarh, India
Languages: Punjabi (N), Hindi-Urdu (near-native), English (advanced learner), Russian (learning), Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese (A1)
x 146
Contact:

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby verdastelo » Fri Mar 15, 2019 11:20 am

chove wrote:The main argument I've read against changing the Chinese system of writing is that it would cut people off from their cultural past unless they were willing to learn the old system alongside whatever was brought in as well?


Theories on how humans process information can provide a second argument.

From the little that I have read, I think a skilled reader of Chinese characters (or any ideographic script for that matter) will process information faster than a skilled reader of a phonetic orthography. The underlying assumption is that both readers are equally at home with subject matter. Exactly how this happens I do not know. I just happened to read An Information Theory Comparison of Hangul and Hanja and skim through a couple of articles discussing the Stroop Effect.

There is a tiny probability that if the Chinese abandon characters in favor of Pinyin and the Japanese switch to a kana, we humans might lose a skill developed over hundreds of years. I happened to read in a popular science book that silent reading is a skill that we humans have developed after the invention of the Gutenberg process and in the age of the Internet and its bottomless browsing we risk losing it.

P.S. I am not an information theorist and my knowledge of mathematics and Chinese is elementary. Feel free to correct me if you find a mistake. I will be glad to correct myself.
0 x
The life of man is but a succession of vain hopes and groundless fears. — Montequieu

User avatar
Jean-Luc
Yellow Belt
Posts: 91
Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:12 am
Location: Europe
Languages: French (N), English & German (C), Italien & Spanish (B), Russian (A) Chinese & others (beginner)
x 83
Contact:

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Jean-Luc » Fri Mar 15, 2019 11:33 am

One of my reasons to learn Chinese is to understand the Chinese terms of Tai-chi used in my course. It helps to memorise the forms. Our Chinese native teacher and former champion in China of Tai-chi and Kung-fu uses those traditional terms and some Japanese martial arts words to please our Japanese students too. A great way to improve international relationships! The same way someone interested in calligraphy could learn Chinese for that purpose.
Attachments
23172502_866403683534307_1698895313917433528_n.jpg
23172502_866403683534307_1698895313917433528_n.jpg (69.61 KiB) Viewed 271 times
2 x

golyplot
Orange Belt
Posts: 207
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2017 9:41 pm
Languages: English (N), German, French, ASL (abandoned), Spanish, Dutch
x 310

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby golyplot » Fri Mar 15, 2019 2:23 pm

David1917 wrote:We have to do this in English as well, to a lesser extent, sure, but English does not have an intuitive writing system.


Sure English is bad, but I don't think it's quite that bad. The majority of words are of Germanic, French, Latin, or Greek origin, and spelling is relatively consistent within each category.
0 x

User avatar
Deinonysus
Green Belt
Posts: 457
Joined: Tue Sep 13, 2016 6:06 pm
Location: Boston
Languages:  
• Native: English
• Advanced: French,
   German
• Intermediate:
   Esperanto
• Beginner: Icelandic,
   Italian, Hebrew,
   Japanese, Spanish,
   Danish, Indonesian
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... =15&t=7581
x 1113

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Deinonysus » Fri Mar 15, 2019 2:36 pm

golyplot wrote:
David1917 wrote:We have to do this in English as well, to a lesser extent, sure, but English does not have an intuitive writing system.


Sure English is bad, but I don't think it's quite that bad. The majority of words are of Germanic, French, Latin, or Greek origin, and spelling is relatively consistent within each category.

The non-Germanic words are internally consistant, but the Germanic words are a nightmare, especially the vowels. Any combination of two vowels is a crapshoot.

Ambiguity
Unlike many other languages, English spelling has never been systematically updated and thus today only partly holds to the alphabetic principle. As an outcome, English spelling is a system of weak rules with many exceptions and ambiguities.

Most phonemes in English can be spelled in more than one way. E.g. the words fear and peer contain the same sound in different spellings. Likewise, many graphemes in English have multiple pronunciations and decodings, such as ough in words like through, though, thought, thorough, tough, trough, plough, and cough. There are 13 ways of spelling the schwa (the most common of all phonemes in English), 12 ways to spell /ei/ and 11 ways to spell /ɛ/. These kinds of incoherences can be found throughout the English lexicon and they even vary between dialects. Masha Bell has analyzed 7000 common words and found that about 1/2 cause spelling and pronunciation difficulties and about 1/3, decoding difficulties.

Such ambiguity is particularly problematic in the case of heteronyms (homographs with different pronunciations that vary with meaning), such as bow, desert, live, read, tear, wind, and wound. In reading such words one must consider the context in which they are used, and this increases the difficulty of learning to read and pronounce English.

A closer relationship between phonemes and spellings would eliminate many exceptions and ambiguities and make the language easier and faster to master.[29]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-l ... for_reform
2 x
Italiano
: 14 / 150 Pimsleur Italian
: 8 / 100 Assimil L'italien sans peine
: 13 / 66 Duolingo Italian

Deutsch
: 5 / 55 Barron's German - 55 Essential Verbs

David1917
Green Belt
Posts: 412
Joined: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:36 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Persian, German, French, Old English, Hindi, Arabic, Cornish
x 850

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby David1917 » Fri Mar 15, 2019 4:22 pm

golyplot wrote:
David1917 wrote:We have to do this in English as well, to a lesser extent, sure, but English does not have an intuitive writing system.


Sure English is bad, but I don't think it's quite that bad. The majority of words are of Germanic, French, Latin, or Greek origin, and spelling is relatively consistent within each category.


We still have to memorize various spelling conventions is my point. It's not something like Spanish where after a brief amount of time any new word you hear you can spell, and any new word you see you can pronounce correctly. It's not on the order of Chinese per se, but it's that Chinese is not unique in that sense.

As for the student not knowing how to write by hand the characters for sneeze, I just edited an article written by two very prominent academics in my field that had spelling/homophone errors in it. Shit happens.
2 x

Beli Tsar
Orange Belt
Posts: 124
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2018 3:59 pm
Languages: English (N), Ancient Greek (intermediate reading), Farsi (Beginner), Biblical Hebrew (Beginner)
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... =15&t=9548
x 238

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Beli Tsar » Fri Mar 15, 2019 4:54 pm

verdastelo wrote:I happened to read in a popular science book that silent reading is a skill that we humans have developed after the invention of the Gutenberg process and in the age of the Internet and its bottomless browsing we risk losing it.

Forgive me for not having the references handy, but this is an often-repeated assertion in pop science and history books of a certain era, still quoted, but that has been debunked repeatedly.

It was in part based on a misreading of a passage in Augustine's Confessions, in which he is suprised to hear the Bishop Ambrose reading silently. This was taken to mean that even the extremely literate Augustine hadn't seen it done before. But it is to misunderstand the reason for surprise, and there's evidence from the ancient world that people could read silently before.

They might not have done it much, but that's more to do with the need to read for others, a more oral society, and reverence for books that were few and valuable.
3 x
: 7 / 20 Ancient Greek - Read 1,000,000 words
: 13 / 55 Hebrew - Kittel & Hoffer
: 19 / 20 Persian - Read 100,000 words

vonPeterhof
Green Belt
Posts: 492
Joined: Sat Aug 08, 2015 1:55 am
Languages: Russian (N), English (C2), Japanese (~C1), German (~B2), Kazakh (~B1), Norwegian (~A2)
Studying daily: Classical Syriac, Korean, Tatar
Studying weekly/on-and-off: Chechen, Setswana, Belarusian, Afrikaans
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1237
x 1457
Contact:

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby vonPeterhof » Fri Mar 15, 2019 7:28 pm

MacGyver wrote:
vonPeterhof wrote:
Inst wrote:Iirc, a comparison of Qing China and Tokugawa Japan showed that the literacy level of the latter was about twice of the former because the latter at least had a syllabary for casual use.

The way I've always seen this comparison framed is that Edo Japan's high literacy levels in comparison with the other Hanzi-using societies at the time had more to do with the relatively wide availability of basic education for commoners than with anything inherent to its writing system.


Hmm, I think there is some validity to Inst's argument here. Hangul was created to promote literacy among the common people of Korea. "Even a stupid man can learn the alphabet in 10 days" of whatever the quote is.

I wasn't really saying anything about the validity of Inst's overall argument though, just that Tokugawa Japan might not be the best comparison.

One more thing that could be mentioned aside from the availability of Terakoya schools is that the presence of Japanese syllabaries didn't really eliminate the need for learning Chinese characters. For one, back then hiragana wasn't the straightforward "one syllable - one character" syllabary we know and love today. Most syllables could be represented by a number of characters which were all essentially cursive versions of Chinese characters (there are apparently still people alive with those characters in their legal names), and that's not to mention the by then significant discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation. Additionally, actual Chinese logograms were also taught as they were very often used in writing, albeit with less consistency than in modern written Japanese. Sure, the number of characters needed for functional literacy in Japanese is lower than in Chinese, but it's hardly non-trivial. And on top of all that, the vernacular writing movement wouldn't really take off until the Meiji era, so pretty much all written Japanese was in Classical Japanese, modelled after Heian-era grammar and very different from the Early Modern Japanese of the Edo era (admittedly, Chinese was in a similar situation at the time, although attempts at writing vernacular literature were already being made as early as the 17th century).

In short, it's far from obvious that the mere existence of Japanese syllabaries made "literacy" in Japanese considerably easier to attain and that it explains the discrepancy in literacy levels between Tokugawa Japan and China in the corresponding period.
6 x

Inst
Orange Belt
Posts: 105
Joined: Thu Feb 07, 2019 9:43 pm
Languages: English (Primary), 普通话 (Mainland Mandarin Chinese, B2)
x 61

Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Sat Mar 16, 2019 1:23 am

verdastelo wrote:
chove wrote:The main argument I've read against changing the Chinese system of writing is that it would cut people off from their cultural past unless they were willing to learn the old system alongside whatever was brought in as well?


Theories on how humans process information can provide a second argument.

From the little that I have read, I think a skilled reader of Chinese characters (or any ideographic script for that matter) will process information faster than a skilled reader of a phonetic orthography. The underlying assumption is that both readers are equally at home with subject matter. Exactly how this happens I do not know. I just happened to read An Information Theory Comparison of Hangul and Hanja and skim through a couple of articles discussing the Stroop Effect.

There is a tiny probability that if the Chinese abandon characters in favor of Pinyin and the Japanese switch to a kana, we humans might lose a skill developed over hundreds of years. I happened to read in a popular science book that silent reading is a skill that we humans have developed after the invention of the Gutenberg process and in the age of the Internet and its bottomless browsing we risk losing it.

P.S. I am not an information theorist and my knowledge of mathematics and Chinese is elementary. Feel free to correct me if you find a mistake. I will be glad to correct myself.


There's actually been studies back and forth on Chinese vs English comprehension rates. Originally, people believed that since Chinese words were oriented in compact square shapes, they better fit the human field of view and were scanned more rapidly than English. In practice, however, researchers found that the number of effective words the Chinese read were about the same as English speakers, i.e, more characters per minute than words per minute, but compensated for as 1.8 characters per word or some other equivalence was chosen.

There are yet other studies that suggest the key might not be orthographic conversion, but rather the terseness of the language, something that can be ascribed to the discipline imposed by what is a painful writing process. Hanzi / Kanji / Sinograms might be beautiful and all, but you try writing 2000 characters. Classical Chinese is notable for its laconicism; detailed explication often seems as though it's to be avoided as a human rights violation. De Beauvoir, who was accussed of logorrhea, would likely end up hospitalized for writing something as wordy as Le Deuxième Sexe in Chinese.

===

What is actually fascinating about Chinese characters isn't the particular form, but the linguistic co-evolution between a relatively inefficient script and a tonal language. The North Koreans and Vietnamese, who've moved off Sinograms, encountered difficulties with homophones enabled by a logographic script. The persistence of these homophones is likely related to the logographs, as is the laconicism.
1 x


Return to “General Language Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: AnthonyLauder and 2 guests