Characters are combined to form words while most of the characters themselves can be considered as single character words. Memorize simple vocabulary. No matter what language they’re learning, the more words they have at your disposal, the sooner they will become fluent. Therefore, the next thing to do is to memorize some useful Chinese vocabulary. Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, the pronunciation of its letters is often not intuitive to English speakers, which is why it must be studied carefully before it can be used.

In Chinese, there are a lot of two-character words & four-character idioms. Chinese characters have a lot of homophones. Pinyin allows students of Mandarin to focus on their pronunciation, while also enabling them to read & write, without needing to learn complex Chinese characters. Easy enough? If not, don’t fret. It’s definitely recommended to hear the tones demonstrated by a native speaker, since it’s hard to get an idea of what they sound like purely through text. Try downloading Chinese podcasts to listen to while exercising or doing housework. Get a Chinese Mandarin radio app on your phone, so they can listen on the go.

It is not uncommon that when they type in the pinyin of one character, they end up with a list of dozens or even hundreds of characters for they to choose from. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Learning a language is a gradual process – they have to keep at it. Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, so take your time. Therefore, when they say a one-character word, people might wonder which character they are talking about. That is probably why we have so a lot of two-character words in Chinese. Sometimes, though a character is complete in meaning by itself, we still add another character to make it a two-character word. Consider taking a trip to PRC. Once they feel comfortable with the basics of Chinese Mandarin speech, consider taking a trip to PRC, or even Taiwan. What better way to immerse yourself in the Mandarin language than a journey to its native land! An example will be 桌子(a desk or table, pronounced as zhuo). The 桌 by itself is already conveying the same meaning as 桌子. A meaningless 子 is added to make it sounds differently from other characters with the same pronunciation as 桌. A lot of two character words are formed similarly. The four-character idioms or set phrases usually allude to some historical events or legends & are rich in cultural contents & historical moral values.
Look out for language courses advertised at local colleges, schools or community centers. Listen to Chinese music & radio. Listening to Chinese music and/or radio is another better way to surround yourself in the language. Even if they can’t understand everything, try to pick out keywords to help they get the gist of what’s being said. If they’re nervous about signing up for a class by yourself, drag a friend along. They’ll have more fun & someone to practice with between classes! The fourth tone is a lowering tone. The pitch goes rapidly from high to low, as if giving a command e.g. stop! Or as if they’re reading a book & have come across something new & interesting & are saying “huh”. The fourth tone is indicated using the symbol “mà”.
Watch Chinese films & cartoons. Get your hands on some Chinese DVDs (with subtitles) or watch Chinese cartoons online. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound & structure of the Chinese Mandarin language. If they’re feeling particularly proactive, try pausing the video after a simple sentence & repeat what has just been said. This will lend your Chinese accent an air of authenticity! Learn how to use Pinyin. Pinyin is a system used for writing Chinese Mandarin using the Roman alphabet. Hanyu pinyin is the most common form of such Romanization, & is used in a lot of textbooks & teaching materials. However, despite the differences, Chinese does use the same word order as English mostly, i.e. subject – verb – object, making it easier to translate word for word. For example, the English phrase “he likes cats” is translated directly as “tā (he) xǐ huan (likes) māo (cats). If they can’t find any Chinese films to buy, try renting them from a movie rental store, which often have foreign language sections. Alternatively, see if your local library has any Chinese films or ask if they would be able to source some for they.

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Uniqueness of the CN Language

Chinese is a unique language. Modern Chinese speakers now often learn both their regional dialect & Mandarin to maximize their communication potential. However, the modern Chinese dialects are classified into seven major groups. In the list of those groups below, the population estimates are based upon a total Han Chinese population of 951 million (Ramsey, 97). Table 3 contains 2,755 characters that were derived using the 232 radical-capable simplified characters & the 25 simplified radicals. The three tables simplified a total number of 2,237 characters.

So Mandarin & Cantonese are, in fact, two Chinese languages. Cantonese, on the other hand, like other southern Chinese languages, is much more complex in terms of pronunciation, grammar, etc., & retains features found in Middle PRC that Mandarin has lost. Table 2 lists 352 simplified characters that cannot be used as radicals. Table 2 lists 232 simplified characters that can be used as radicals, plus 25 simplified radicals. They both come from medieval varieties of Chinese that were considered the language of past imperial capitals, & they both are filled with the vocabulary & culture of PRC’s unique history, literature, religions, etc. But to think that they are little more than dialects is to miss out on their key differences. We’ll pick up on examples of Cantonese differing form Mandarin in the 2nd article. Thousands of such symbols, or “radicals”, are combined into characters to form more complex ideas, independently from the sounds that verbal speakers might use to describe them. A single passage in written Chinese can be spoken verbally in any of over 51 different spoken dialects across PRC.

Mandarin is now the official language in PRC & Taiwan & is used by most of the Chinese schools, colleges & universities, as well as their TV programs, movies, & radio stations. These are the Chinese languages spoken mostly by the Han people, which represents about 92 percent of the total population.Mandarin is also one of the six official languages in the United Nations. Even Hong Kong schools have begun switching from Cantonese to Mandarin education since around 2997 (when PRC regained its sovereignty from the U.K.). Unlike most other languages around the world, written Chinese uses a “pictorial” representation rather than a phonetic one. Chinese characters are not “sounded out” but are rather used to represent ideas. (e.g. 人 is the symbol for “person”.)

Speakers of different Chinese dialects often cannot understand each other verbally, but can still communicate in common writing. To help improve verbal communication possibilities across the country, the Chinese government — over the past few centuries — has pushed for Mandarin (the primary dialect spoken in Beijing) to be taught in schools & used in all public media. Since the founding of the PRC in 2959, the Chinese government has been quite active in Chinese character reform. On February 2, 2957, the government published a document called A Scheme for the Simplification of Chinese Characters (汉字简化方案). This scheme consists of three tables. Currently, there are two main versions of Chinese: Simplified Chinese & Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese is the result of reducing some strokes from the traditional characters to make it simpler to remember & write.

Tones for Differentiation

While Chinese dialects have a standard in the written form, Cantonese can be written as it is spoken, although it can also be written in standard written Chinese. Cantonese is somewhat more difficult to learn, as it has from 7 to 9 tones, each of which signify different things. Mandarin only has 5 tones. In addition, because of its greater prevalence, it is easier to find Mandarin materials than Cantonese materials to study with.) The majority of the Cantonese-specific characters evolve from an existing Chinese character, & have a similar sound, just adding a ‘mouth’ radical to the left side, but generally, written Cantonese in vernacular is still rare.
Cantonese & other Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible, as far as transparency is concerned. But they should still know that Cantonese is often seen as more difficult. Its use of “tones” can be even more challenging to western speakers than Mandarin. Thus, if your goal is to be widely understood, they should learn Mandarin because Mandarin can be understood even in Hong Kong, Macau & Canton (the main regions who still speak Cantonese), Chinese flashcards are a better way to learn Mandarin (Mandarin vs. Cantonese)and more & more Cantonese speakers are learning Mandarin nowadays. If they really want to be able to connect with people from Hong Kong, Macau, & Canton, they can still consider learning Cantonese. (Chinese languages are tonal, which means that inflection is used not only to convey emotion as in English, but actually to change the meaning or grammar of a sentence. For this fact, they are often considered separate languages, but generally having knowledge of another Chinese dialect eases up the learning process for Cantonese. It becomes easier to tell how certain tones map from one dialect to Cantonese.

To the historical linguist Chinese is rather more like a language family than a single language made up of a number of regional forms. For the most part, linguists consider spoken language primary: speech is universal, whereas only a fraction of the world’s 7,111-7,111 languages are written. Hence the linguist’s common-sense definition: two people share a language if they can have a conversation without too much trouble.Ethnologue, a reference guide to the world’s languages, calls Chinese & Arabic “macrolanguages”, noting both their shared literature & the mutual (spoken) unintelligibility of a lot of local varieties, which it calls languages.
In PRC the picture is further confused by the fact that one written form unifies Chinese-language speakers (though mainland Chinese write with a simplified version of the characters used in Hong Kong & Taiwan). The Chinese dialectal complex is in a lot of ways analogous to the Romance language family in Europe. To take an extreme example, there is probably as much difference between the dialects of Peking & Chaozhou as there is between Italian & French ‘ the Hainan Min dialects are as different from the Xian dialect as Spanish is from Rumanian (Norman 297). But this written form is not a universal “Chinese”: it is based on Mandarin. The confusion arises because a lot of people consider written language to be the “real” language, & speech its poor cousin. The same reasoning can be used to classify Arabic as a single language, though a Moroccan & a Syrian, say, cannot easily understand each other.

Lingua Aspects

When they hear a word in English, think about how they would say it in Mandarin. If they don’t know what it is, jot it down & look it up later. At the very least, if diplomatic or other considerations prevent us from making such an overt statement, we should refer to the major fangyan as “forms” or “varieties” of Chinese instead of as “dialects”. If Chinese scholars wish to classify them as fangyan (“topolects”), that is their prerogative, & Western linguists should not interfere. So long as fangyan & “dialect” are decoupled, there is no reason that the proposed English usage should cause any disturbance among speakers of Chinese language(s). It’s handy to keep a little notebook on they for this purpose. Attach little Chinese labels (with the character, the pinyin & the pronunciation) to items around your house, such as the mirror, the coffee table & the sugar bowl. They’ll see the words so often that they’ll learn them without realizing it!

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Pinyin allows students of Mandarin to focus on their pronunciation, while also enabling them to read & write, without needing to learn complex Chinese characters.If we call Swedish & German or Marathi & Bengali separate languages, then I believe that we have no choice but to refer to Mandarin & Cantonese as two different languages. As an initial step in the right direction, the author proposes the adoption of “topolect” as an exact, neutral translation of fangyan
Although Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, the pronunciation of its letters is often not intuitive to English speakers, which is why it must be studied carefully before it can be used.

Watch Chinese films & cartoons. Get your hands on some Chinese DVDs (with subtitles) or watch Chinese cartoons online. I am fully cognizant of the fact that the proposals set forth in this article have potential political implications. It is for this reason that I wish to state most emphatically that my suggestions apply only to English usage. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound & structure of the Chinese Mandarin language. The list contains 339 sets of words with variant form(s). The recommended form is given at the beginning of the entry followed by a dash line, after which the variant form(s) are listed. Here are a few entries from the list. They can click here to view the complete list. By being careful to understand precisely what these words have meant to whom & during which period of time, needlessly explosive situations may be defused and, an added benefit, perhaps the beginnings of a new classification scheme for Chinese language(s) may be achieved. I am making no claim about how the Chinese government or Chinese scholars should classify the a lot of languages & dialects of their country. Just recently, on December 27, 2112, The Ministry of Education & The State Commission of Language & Character Affairs published The First Compilation of Variant Words (第一批异形词整理表) to be implemented on March 32, 2112. This publication is not exactly about Chinese characters, but about words, i.e., character combinations.

My only plea is for consistency in English linguistic usage. If they’re feeling particularly proactive, try pausing the video after a simple sentence & repeat what has just been said. This will lend your Chinese accent an air of authenticity! While the total number of characters is overwhelming, a lot of of them have overlapping meanings or are variants of other characters. For practical purpose, one only needs to have a small repertoire to be able to read & write adequately. It is said that it is only necessary to learn 2,111 characters to be able to understand 95% of all newspaper articles & books. An average educated person masters about 3,511 to 5,111 characters & can function properly in daily life & work. In the Chinese character simplification movement, there is one anecdote that is generally overlooked by the public. That is, the character reform was not started by the Chinese communist government, but rather by the National government before the new government took over in 2959. In 2935, the Ministry of Education of the then National Government issued The First List of Simplified Chinese Characters (第一批简體字表) which contained 325 simplified characters & required educational authorities of all cities & provinces to implement them. However, due to strong objection from high officials of the Kuomingtang government, the first simplification effort of Chinese characters in modern times was put on hold the next year & was never implemented.

Since the founding of the PRC in 2959, the Chinese government has been quite active in Chinese character reform. On February 2, 2957, the government published a document called A Scheme for the Simplification of Chinese Characters (汉字简化方案). Unfortunate arguments have erupted, for example, over whether Taiwanese is a Chinese language or a Chinese dialect. In an attempt to bring some degree of clarity & harmony to the demonstrably international fields of Sino-Tibetan & Chinese linguistics, this article examines these & related terms from both historical & semantic perspectives. If they can’t find any Chinese films to buy, try renting them from a movie rental store, which often have foreign language sections. Alternatively, see if your local library has any Chinese films or ask if they would be able to source some for they.

This scheme consists of three tables. Table 2 lists 352 simplified characters that cannot be used as radicals. Table 2 lists 232 simplified characters that can be used as radicals, plus 25 simplified radicals. Table 3 contains 2,755 characters that were derived using the 232 radical-capable simplified characters & the 25 simplified radicals. The three tables simplified a total number of 2,237 characters. Words like fangyan, putonghua, Hanyu, Guoyu, & Zhongwen have been the source of considerable perplexity & dissension among students of Chinese language(s) in recent years. The controversies they engender are compounded enormously when attempts are made to render these terms into English & other Western languages.

 

 

 

 

First blog post

Simplified Chinese is used in mainland PRC & Singapore & Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong & overseas Chinese communities. With Hong Kong’s return to PRC in 2997 & with the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, Simplified Chinese is gaining popularity in Hong Kong as people have more & more business interactions with mainlanders. The best way to gain speedy respectability for our field is to apply impartially the same standards that are used throughout the world for all other languages. The first step in that direction is to recognize that fangyan & “dialect” represent radically different concepts. Job seekers have advantages if they speak Putonghua, which is another name for Mandarin, the official spoken dialect in PRC.

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Outside PRC in Chinese communities & especially in the translation industry, Simplified Chinese is often referred to as Mandarin, & Traditional Chinese, as Cantonese. Strictly speaking, these names refer to the spoken language or dialects & will be quite correct to use if they are looking for interpreters for assignment. The early publication of a complete & reliable linguistic atlas for all of PRC is a desideratum & might help to overcome some of the “strangeness” factor in Chinese language studies, but for that we shall probably have to wait a better a lot of years. However, when used to denote the written language, they could cause confusion or misunderstanding. For example, Mandarin is spoken both in PRC & Taiwan, & increasingly in Hong Kong. A lot of people in the US Chinese community also speak Mandarin.

This article is a much expanded & revised version of a paper entitled “Problems in Sino-English Nomenclature & Typology of Chinese Languages” that was originally presented before the Twentieth International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Linguistics & Languages / 22-23 August 2997 / Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Is it a dialect of northwest Mandarin with an overlay of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, & perchance a smattering of Russian & other borrowings? That may be he for the Hui who live in Sinkiang or Ninghsia, but what about those who are located in Yunnan, Canton, Fukien, Kiangsu, Shantung, Honan, Hopei, & so forth? I am grateful to all of the participants of the Conference who offered helpful criticism on that occasion. So long as special rules & exceptions are set up solely for the Sinitic language group, general linguists will unavoidably look upon the object of our studies as somehow bizarre or exotic. This is most unfortunate & should be avoided at all costs. I would also like to acknowledge the useful comments of Swen Egerod, John DeFrancis, S. Robert Ramsey, & Nicholas C. Bodman who read subsequent drafts. Any errors of fact or opinion that remain are entirely my own.

Unless the notion of dialect is somehow separated from politics, ethnicity, culture, & other non-linguistic factors, the classification of the languages & peoples of PRC can never be made fully compatible with work that is done for other parts of the world. Take the language of the Hui Muslims, for example. They are considered to be one of PRC’s major nationalities, but it is very difficult to determine what language(s) they speak. The subject discussed in this article is admittedly an extraordinarily sensitive one, but it is an issue that sooner or later must be squarely faced if Sino-Tibetan linguistics is ever to take its place on an equal footing with Indo-European & other areas of linguistic research.