Chinese writing and language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by skaught, Jul 22, 2011.

  1. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    I've just recently started to learn about Chinese. It's difficult for me to even grasp some of the concepts. I've read that their language is all about syllables. Like words only consist of so many syllables. And this is why it is difficult for them to import words from other languages.

    Concerning their writing, It appears that it is pictographic. So how does one even begin to learn how to write or read? If a single pictograph has meaning, how does one look at it and deduce its pronunciation?

    I get the impression that Chinese is a very efficient language, but it seems that the writing is terribly inefficient...

    Is it possible to romanize the Chinese language?

    I find Chinese to be a fascinating language, but I feel like I would have to have a doctorate degree in linguistics to even approach studying it.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Do you understand what a morpheme is? It's the smallest unit of meaning in a language. In inflected languages, a typical word has a root morpheme that carries the basic meaning, and optionally one or more inflection morphemes that add additional meaning, often including changing its basic function, e.g., from a verb to a noun. English is an inflected language, although not as strongly as many others. "Wander" is a root morpheme. "-ed" is an inflection morpheme, adding the additional meaning that the action took place in the past. Other inflection morphemes are "-s" and "-ing." "-er" changes the basic function of the word from a verb to a noun, "wanderer."

    "Avail" is a root morpheme. "-able" is an inflection morpheme changing it from a verb into an adjective, "available." "un-" is an inflection morpheme changing it into a negative, "unavailable."

    In English and other inflected languages these morphemes are attached to the original word.

    Chinese is not an inflected language, it is an analytical language. Root morphemes are concatenated to express ideas that are composed of the meanings of the individual roots, but also are imbued with a je ne sais quois, a sense that all the speakers of the language agree on, which makes it bigger than the sum of its parts. Er4 (I'll use Wade-Giles, the most popular romanization system, with concatenated tones) means "sun," ben3 means "root." Er4-ben3 means, literally, "the root of the sun," but because the sun rises in the east and appears to spring out of Japan, Er4-ben3 is universally understood to mean "Japan." (In fact, that's where our name "Japan" comes from, after passing through a couple of intermediate languages.)

    Analytical languages may build compounds of any arbitrary length. Ji3-qi4-jiao3-ta4-che1 literally means "gas" "engine" "leg" "stride" "wagon," a compound of two original compounds, ji3-qi4 for "fossil-fuel powered motor" and "jiao3-ta4-che1 for "bicycle," and the five morphemes combined this way mean "motorcycle."

    Most of the European languages are both inflected and analytical. Greek words like demokratia and geometria are combinations of both root morphemes and inflection morphemes. The same is true of English: "birdhouse" is a compound of two nouns, and we can add the inflection morpheme "-s" to make it plural. The same for the verb "whitewash" and its past-tense inflection "-ed." Latin is full of compounds with inflections, and German is famous for its long intricate compounds of four or five root morphemes, as well as its highly inflected (from our perspective) grammar.

    Chinese has no inflections. There is no inflection morpheme for plural. Gou3 means "dog" and contains no cue as to whether the sentence is about one dog or several dogs. In general Chinese sentences don't contain those clues because the speakers discovered over the millennia that they aren't usually necessary. Most of the time the listener or reader can tell from context how many dogs, people, tables or nations are being discussed. If you mean "many dogs" you just say "many dogs," or "two dogs," or however many you mean, and you can just as easily say "one dog" if that's what you mean. The same is true of verbs. If it's not clear whether you mean past tense or present tense, you just say "yesterday I went to school" or "next week I will go to school."

    To get back to your original question, all Chinese morphemes are one syllable. I can't explain how this happened so don't ask.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    The obvious problem with this is that there are only 1,600 distinct syllables that comply with the phonetics of Mandarin, and there are a heck of a lot more ideas than that which need morphemes to express them. As the language was simplified in the distant past (in ways about which we have no clue at all) and all morphemes were compressed into one syllable, many homonyms were created. In colloquial speech every syllable has, on average, about 3 1/2 words that it could mean. In more erudite speech that could be as many as fifty words.

    So they make compound words for just about everything. Ye1 means "master," but there are several other words pronounced ye1. So when they mean "master" they say lao3-ye1, "old master." ("Old" is often a synonym for "respected" in Chinese, unlike in our language.)

    Therefore, when you're learning Chinese you learn individual one-syllable morphemes. This requires learning a lot of two-syllable, two-morpheme compounds, although there are quite a few one-syllable, one-morpheme words for very basic meanings such as pronouns, simple actions like "go" and "come," and other everyday things like "house" and "book."

    So your statement, "words only consist of so many syllables," isn't really correct. Some words have only one morpheme, others can have six or eight or ten. I have no idea how long the longest one is but I'll bet it's some monstrosity invented by the Communist Party.

    But in addition, the concept of "word" is difficult to apply to Chinese. Every morpheme has its own meaning. In most compound words the meanings of the individual morphemes are evident, even if they've been tweaked a little bit. So is a five-morpheme compound one word or five? To complicate things further, some compounds have no discernable relationship to the meanings of their component morphemes. "Thing" is dong1-xi1, literally "east-west." Nobody can figure that one out.
    No. The reason they can't do that is that Chinese phonetics are incompatible with the phonetics of most Western languages. One of the few English words that Chinese imported is "vitamin," and it comes out wei4-ta1-ming3, literally meaning "only this gives life." If you look at the cumbersome ways they transcribe the names of countries, you'll see the problem. Sweden is Ruei1-dian3. If you try to wrestle a word like "videodisc" into Mandarin phonetics you'll end up with about six syllables, and the result won't sound very much like the original anyway. Might as well make up their own, for example yuan1-zi4-bi3, "little ball pen," meaning "ballpoint pen." (Forgive me if I got any of these tone markers wrong. Tone is the hardest thing for foreigners to master in Chinese because it's not phonemic in our languages. I have the sinking feeling that I confused 3rd tone and 4th tone. Good thing you can't actually read Chinese!)
    Not pictograms but logograms. A pictogram represents a concept, whereas a logogram represents a specific word in a language. The highway sign with an arrow bent to the right meaning "You gotta make a right turn from this lane" is a pictogram. It carries that meaning in the language of everyone who reads it, regardless of the words and grammatical forms their language uses to render it. But the character read zhong1 that you see as the first character in Zhong1-guo2 represents the Chinese word zhong1, which can mean "middle" or "center," but also "China" in compounds. It stands for the word, not the idea; it's the word that stands for the idea: it's a two-stage process.
    You have to learn the logograms (called han4-zi3 in Chinese, kan-ji in Japanese) one at a time. Children are taught the simplest logograms for words that they already have in their vocabulary, and they continue as they get older. Foreign students are taught logograms along with the spoken words, so sometimes they have to learn really complicated characters in their first class. A Chinese is considered to have a good education if he knows 5,000 logograms. This is enough to read most newspapers, magazines, and (most important of all) government documents. He is considered to be minimally literate if he knows 2,000, a fourth-grade education, enough to read most signs and simple instructions.

    Since you know the word that the character stands for, you already know the pronunciation. Within one year you will have learned quite a few homonyms.
    Very much. My amateur research indicates that it only takes seven syllables in Chinese to translate ten syllables of English or French, the most efficient European languages.
    What was your first clue?

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    There are at least three well-known romanization systems. The Wade-Giles was the first. That's the one that uses apostrophes. The Yale came second. It has the advantage of representing the sounds with their closest English letters, and it's the one my teacher used, but it never caught on. The Pin-Yin is the one used by the Chinese government, and its advantage is that there are no ambiguities; you can read every word correctly. The world (outside of Taiwan) has adopted Pin-Yin; this is why Peking turned into Bei3-Jing1 ("north capital') and Mao Tse-Tung became Mao3 Zedong. ("Mao3" means a small measurement, I never bothered to find out what Ze and Dong mean and I don't even know what tones they carry.)

    The reason that phonetic writing cannot be adopted in China is that "Chinese" is not one language. Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujian, Shanghai, etc. are all distinct languages, and the speakers cannot possibly understand each other. Yet, because China is the world's oldest continuous civilization, the writing system adopted three thousand years ago has always been in use. Therefore people in every part of China write their words the same way, even though they pronounce them differently. They use the exact same words (about 98% anyway) and use them in the same sequence; the technology of writing has had a profound effect on Chinese culture. "Food" is shi in Mandarin and set in Cantonese, but they both use the same logogram to write it.

    So, a person in Hong Kong can write a letter to a person in Cheng Du, and he can read it. If China adopted a phonetic writing system, it would only be phonetic for one language and the people who speak the other languages of China could not understand it.

    The Communist government has been aggressively imposing Mandarin as the national language. It is now taught in every school in every province. So even children who hear a different language at home can speak and understand it. Within another generation virtually every Chinese person will be fluent in Mandarin, even if he speaks a different language with his family. At that time, they will be able to introduce the phonetic writing system.
    Not at all. It's far easier than Russian. Because of its very limited use of inflections and its strong analytical nature, it comes across as rather familiar to a speaker of English. It's even easier because it doesn't have adjectives or adverbs, or (although some people disagree with me) prepositions, pronouns or conjunctions. Only nouns and verbs, and a couple of "particles" that serve as placeholders to parse the sentence more than as actual carriers of meaning.

    I took a class in Chinese at a community college when I was 26 and learned quite a bit. After that I lived with a Chinese girlfriend and exhorted her to speak it with me at home. Within a year I could talk like a three year-old. My vocabulary is minimal but my pronunciation is almost perfect. And one of the amazingly nice things about Chinese people is that they are very impressed with anyone who tries to learn their language. They'll be very patient with you, speaking slowly in simple sentences and helping you learn new words.

    Not at all like the French.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    That was very informative! Thank you sir! No follow up questions necessary!
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. Idle Mind What the hell, man? Valued Senior Member

    As someone currently teaching themselves to read and write Japanese (and speak it), learning the kanji are basically as Fraggle said. I know it's not quite the same as learning Chinese, but it is similar enough.

    Basically just go through them and memorize how they are read (pronounced) and what the meaning is. I am following the elementary school syllabus, so making sure I know all the characters that are learned in grade one, then two, etc. It's time consuming, but it takes them years as well.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    You only have to learn two thousand, the standard Tokyo Daily News font. But each one has two readings, the original Chinese word (with a millennium and a half of phonetic shifts so ri-ben, "sun root" or "Japan" became ni-hon) and a native Japanese word of approximately similar meaning. So you have to know which one it is, from context, when you read it. All other words and grammatical particles are written in kana, the phonetic syllabary. Hiragana for Japanese words, katakana for foreign words, acronyms, etc.

    Japanese is easier to pronounce, but other than that it's much more difficult than Chinese. Even the syntax is a mystery to us: topic-description instead of subject-verb-object, which both English and Chinese use. And then there are inflections for social class!

    I've mentioned this before, a friend of mine who lived in Japan and speaks the language like a native once agreed to translate a short story into Japanese for a writer friend. He got to page two and was stymied. He did not know how to conjugate verbs in the feminine gender! He had to subcontract all the female characters' dialog to a Japanese lady.

    Chinese doesn't even have genders, not even for pronouns. Ta1 means he, she and it.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2011
  9. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    So if your a female in Japan, you speak differently than males?
  10. Idle Mind What the hell, man? Valued Senior Member

    Technically, there are only 1,945 "necessary" kanji. Some of them have many more than just two readings. For example, 生 (life) can be read as sei, shou, i (in the verb ikiru, to live), u (in the verb umu, to give birth) and nama.

    And yes, I'm well aware of the syllabaries. I learned hiragana first and katakana second before even attempting to properly learn kanji. Children's books are usually written in hiragana, because they don't start learning kanji until grade 1. The only real reason I posted is to support your post, and give another perspective from someone who is currently learning how to read and write in a language that uses logograms (and they are borrowed from the Chinese, as you're aware).

    Much easier to pronounce! And learning the grammar is going to be quite difficult, but I'm starting to learn the basic rules. My girlfriend is from Japan and is fluent in English and Japanese, so she gets to help.

    This was definitely the case in the past -- the language changes based on who is speaking and who is being spoken to with honorifics. Only in extremely formal situations is that still the case, or in older literature.
  11. raydpratt Registered Senior Member


    I just tried to write with Chinese characters above. They display correctly now, but they may not post if the board is English only.

    I, too, have started studying Chinese. My strategy is first to learn how to read and pronounce pinyin perfectly before learning much more. I'm going through my second study of McGraw-Hill's Chinese Pronunciation (book and CD). I've recently finished reading the grammar section of another book about Chinese, and it really opened my eyes to the mystery of the structure of Chinese sentences. As a standard form of writing and expression, it's actually pretty good.

    For example, in a good English thesis paper, the subject matter will be stated in the title of the paper, and the rest of the writing will develop that subject. But in many Chinese sentences, the topic of the sentence is given first as a matter of common grammar, and then the sentence develops that topic. In other words, as commonly used, Chinese presents and develops its concepts well.

    An oddity that I would never have deciphered on my own is that prepositional phrases precede the verb. In English, we would write: I went to the store. But, (forgive me if I am wrong as to this particular sentence) in Chinese, we would write: I to the store went.

    That and other oddities are why we cannot as new learners figure out why Chinese sentences often do not transliterate well -- even though we often hear that Chinese is like English.

    The characters are tough to learn, but I have already learned to identify many of them just from the repetition of their use in different example sentences. It's like learning to read as a child and slowly getting better. (I could read when I was still in diapers -- Mom taught me to read road signs as I was standing on the front seat next to her. Now, I've got to start at a similar level in Chinese.)

    Very Respectfully,
    Ray Donald Pratt
  12. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    I'm developing a method to memorize Kanji. I ran a couple experiments and it seems to work well enough. I just need a larger sample size. James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (one for Chinese too) is an excellent method too

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Japanese syntax goes even further in that direction. It is usually categorized as topic-description rather than subject-verb-object.
    This misunderstanding is rooted in the convention that European linguists insist on calling words like dao prepositions, because it makes them feel more comfortable with Chinese. If you view them as verbs, everything makes much more sense. Dao does not really mean "to," it means "to approach." The combination of Chinese's phonetic poverty with its rigidly monosyllabic morphemes results in every syllable having on average three synonyms (in vernacular speech; there may be dozens in scholarly writing). This requires building a high level of redundancy into the language. So we say wo dao pu-zi qu, "I approach [the] store go." If you leave out either dao or qu the ambiguity would make comprehension difficult because the one you leave in could have several different meanings and Murphy's law assures us that at least two of them would make sense.

    This is why written Chinese can be significantly more compact than the spoken language. If I had written that sentence in han zi (which I can't do since I never learned the character for pu) I could omit not only one of the verbs, but also the zi. No one writes quite that economically today, but the ancient writings are more easily understood in writing than in recitation--with their nearly 100,000 characters representing only 1600 distinct syllables in modern Mandarin pronunciation.
    I think you meant "translate?" Transliteration is just mapping the same sounds to a different writing system. As I said, one reason Chinese seems so unapproachable is that European linguists tried very hard to squeeze it into the Indo-European model.

    This is of course consistent with their history. Many of you have probably seen excerpts from the early English schoolbooks, which analyzed English as though it were Latin. Every noun had five cases. Nominative: the boy; genitive: the boy's; dative: to the boy; accusative: the boy; vocative: O boy! This is where the fallacies come from that it's illegal to split an infinitive (infinitives are a single word in Latin, duh!) or end a sentence with a preposition (Latin syntax is so free-form that this would make the sentence incomprehensible).

    I have always insisted that Chinese has only two parts of speech: nouns and verbs. Plus a few particles like de and le which are really only placeholders that help us parse the sentence rather than adding any meaning. What we call adjectives are really verbs. Hong does not mean "red," it means to be red. Che hong is not a Russian style sentence with the verb "to be" eliminated. It literally means "car be-red." Hong che does not mean "red car," it literally means "being-red car," taking into account that Chinese has no verbal inflections (or any other kind) and relies on severely constrained word order to make relationships clear.

    Shang Hai does not mean "above the sea." Shang is not a preposition, it is a verb meaning "to be above" or "to go on top" so the city's name means "the being-above sea," or "the sea that is above," or better yet, "the upper sea."

    In my paradigm of Chinese, the words we call adjectives and prepositions are verbs. The words we call pronouns and "measure-words" are nouns. No one has ever suggested that Chinese even has adverbs, but a sentence like gou pao kuai does not mean "[the] dog runs quickly," but rather (always remembering the lack of inflections) "[the] dog['s] run[ning] be-fast. San zhang zhuo-zi does not mean "three [silly measure-word that's not a noun, verb, adjective, preposition, or anything else] table." It means "three slab [of] table."

    To take a more complicated sentence, wo chi zao-fan kai qi-che xiang ke does not mean "I go to class by car after breakfast." It means "I eat breakfast drive car attend class." Rather than using time-expressive prepositions it simply lists the activities in the order in which they occur.

    I find that Chinese makes much more sense my way and it's far easier to avoid getting lost in the syntax--which is now much more clearly our good old familiar subject-verb-object, not topic-description. Maybe some day I'll publish it.
  14. Idle Mind What the hell, man? Valued Senior Member

    Care to share? What's your method?
  15. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    It's really just taking what James Heisig does and trying to expand on it. In his method you make a story for each Kanji and than link the primitives to that story. In essence I'm just trying to expand the stories and flesh them out, not too much, but a little more.

    There's a website dedicated to him somewhere on the internet where all of his characters and other people's stories are listed. It's a professional job and they got his permission to create the website.

    You can find that site here:

    Just site in and go to the individual Kanji and then read the top stories

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  16. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

    The book that I am reading, Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide, by Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma (Routledge, 2006), is probably the only Mandarin grammar book that has actually made any sense to me -- enough at least to warrant finishing the book.

    Fraggle Rocker has understandably brought his intelligence to bear in trying to make real sense out of the meaning of Mandarin grammar. Few of the grammar books available actually impart understanding.

    Interestingly, the authors of the above book note that words that function as prepositions or adverbs, etc., when used in one position or way can also function as verbs when used in another position or way. As such, I can understand how Fraggle Rocker could not only classify all Mandarin words as either verbs or nouns, but even perhaps how he could correctly figure out the gist of the meaning of Mandarin sentences.

    However, when the distinctions are maintained, I think it makes the sentences clearer and easier to understand.

    For example, in the sentence 他跟他的女朋友吃晚饭 (Ta gen ta de nu pengyou chi wanfan) the literal meaning is 他(He) 跟(with) 他的(his) 女(girl) 朋友(friend) 吃(eats) 晚饭(dinner [evening meal]). Or, in grammatical English: He eats dinner with his girlfriend.

    If we take it that prepositional phrases precede the verb ("with his girlfriend"), then there is no ambiguity in the meaning of the sentence and we know that the main verb of the sentence is 吃 chi ("eats") and not 跟 gen ("with") which could mean 'being with' if taken as a verb. Fraggle Rocker could nonetheless figure out the meaning of the sentence, but it's easier to figure it out with some well-taught grammar.

    Mandarin has prepositions, adverbs, etc., but many of its words can do double duty grammatically.

    I will definately take Fraggle Rocker's thoughts as a potentially meritorious way of figuring out the meaning of Mandarin sentences -- as a potential way of making the language truly my own -- but the grammar portion of the book I'm reading is very well done and seems to cover both the rules and the exceptions very well and with good reasoning. I can't discount that fact unless I encounter something different that is just as clear and comprehensive.

    That said, most other Mandarin grammar books are pretty opaque and not just unreadable -- but unfinishable.

    Very Respectfully,
    Ray Donald Pratt
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Gen is indeed a verb, meaning "to accompany, to join." There is no "main verb" in a Chinese sentence. The verbs are laid out in strict temporal sequence. "He join girl-friend eat late-food." In other words, he has to join his girlfriend first, otherwise it would be logically impossible for them to eat together.

    As I noted earlier, due to the ambiguity of homonyms, two words with the same or overlapping meanings are often included in a sentence to resolve the ambiguity with redundancy. If they are verbs, then in this case there is no before/after structure. But in this case there is also no hierarchy of any other kind, so there is no misunderstanding. Wo cong jia lai, "I leave house come," or "I come from home." It would not change the meaning to say "I come leave house." But cong and lai are always paired in that order.

    As I've noted before, Chinese grammar does not have a lot of macro-rules that apply broadly to all nouns, all verbs, all sentences of a certain type, etc. You probably already know them, unlike Russian, in which you'd still be studying grammatical paradigms in your second year, or Latin, in which it might take a lifetime. But Chinese grammar is an endless minefield of micro-rules that apply only to the twenty nouns that represent a particular type of object, the twelve verbs that describe a certain type of activity, etc.

    The measure-words are a good example. For many of them it's very difficult to explain why one goes with a certain group of nouns and the other goes with another group. It's easier to simply list the nouns that go with each one!

    It's the same with the micro-rules about verb hierarchy when temporality is not an issue. Cong, dao, hui, etc., always precede lai and qu.

    Looking back over this I seem to be saying that in Chinese there's no clear distinction between grammar and syntax. Okay, so that's just one more of the many ways in which Chinese differs from the Indo-European languages. Like the definition of "a word" itself!
    That's because they were written by people who tried to fit Mandarin into an Indo-European paradigm. Just like the Brits who wrote the first English grammar books by copying the paradigms out of their Latin grammar books and translating the words.

    BTW, peng-you, "friend," is one of those compounds that defies analysis and makes no literal sense, like dong-xi, "east-west" for "thing." I don't remember what the root morphemes mean anymore, but I once heard a charming legend explaining how they got joined together to mean "friend." If you ever run across it, please share.

    The Chinese love their language so much that they have mythology about the words.
  18. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

    A sifu once told me a Chinese creation story that said something about the One becoming Two, and the Two creating Heaven and Earth, and Man in the middle, and then ten thousand things. I can imagine the dong-xi, (east-west) "things" being related to the directions from man (maybe it's easier to travel east and west than north and south).

    I have not quoted the creation story accurately, but it's probably from the I Ching.
  19. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

    You'd say '_____ wo qu guo' or 'place I go [already done]'

    I've been living in Chinese for four years and just picked it up naturally without studying much. At least picked up enough to order food delivery / see a doctor etc. Not enough to attend a uni class.

    I actually believe Chinese is super easy to learn. You don't have to fuss with grammar , just pick up vocab. And if you're living here the pronunciation comes naturally.

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2011
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    See Post #10 in which I suggest (persuasively, I like to think

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    ) that the Chinese words that Westerners translate as prepositions are really verbs. Wo dao pu-zi qu should be translated as "I approach [the] store, go" rather than "I to [the] store go." The qu is a redundancy required in speech (but not strictly in writing) because of all the homonyms in Chinese.

    We do the same thing with so-called "adjectives." Hong does not mean "red," it means "to be red." So che hong and hong che lai do not mean "car red" and "red car come." They mean "car is-red" and "be[ing]-red car come." In my class the prof used a textbook that referred to these words as stative verbs.
    I always thought that Chinese syntax was rather similar to English. Not like Japanese or German. Add to that the complete lack of inflections and Chinese should be rather easy for Americans to learn.
    Pronunciation is what really deters Americans. Few of us ever completely internalize the tonality. We're always struggling to remember that tone is phonemic, rather than a non-linguistic way of expressing feelings.

    I once had a girlfriend from Sichuan. Si Chuan Hua is a true dialect of Mandarin, not a separate language like Guang Dong Hua. The primary difference is in the tones. We Americans tend to hear the vowels and consonants in Chinese first, and struggle to pick up the tones as afterthoughts. Therefore I could understand quite a bit of what she was saying to her friends and family, when she thought I had no idea what she was saying. I didn't realize she thought that until one day when she told them a bunch of lies about me and I asked her, Ni wei shen-ma shuo huang?

    Other sticking points for anglophones:
    • The paradigm of aspirated voiceless consonants (T K P C CH Q) vs. unaspirated voiceless consonants (D G B Z ZH J), with no voiced stops or affricates.
    • The three series of retroflex fricatives and affricates (CH ZH SH R) vs. alveolar fricatives and affricates (C Z S null) vs. palatal fricatives and affricates (Q J X null)
    • The HW combination as in Zhong Hua, although a few people pronounce "what" that way, proper English from a couple of centuries ago.
    • Z and R serving as vowels.
  21. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I always thought that the Emperor was the center of everything and no one was any higher than him/her.:shrug:
  22. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

    I am definately not the student of Chinese philosophy that should answer this, but as I understand it, the I Ching is primarily a book about predicting the future, but it has been co-opted with additional or separate writings by both the Confucianists and the Daoists. The Confucianists were extremely interested in morals and social duties, and they would have been the ones to place an emperor in high esteem, but even they may have recognised that an emperor can lose 'the mandate of Heaven.' In contrast, the Daoists would have been more interested in each individual's spiritual development, even at the expense of social obligations. That said, a Daoist text called the Tao Te Ching is partly devoted to guidance in how to rule a country, which overlaps the interests of the Confucianists. So . . . I don't know where the Chinese creation story comes from, if not from the I Ching, but I think that the Daoists would have developed a spiritual creation story more faithfully from the I Ching than the Confucianists.

    So, you may be correct, if you ask a Confucianist, but perhaps not if you ask a Daoist.

    More likely, however, you may be in Japan, not China. The Japanese Emperor was considered a demigod, but I don't know that a Chinese emperor was ever considered a demigod (except perhaps the Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti ?).
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2011
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Wade-Giles romanizations of well-known historical names and terms persist, but today we would spell this Yi Jing in Pin-Yin, coaching Westerners to pronounce it a tiny bit more authentically.
    The philosophy of Kong Fu-Zi is called Confucianism, but his followers are simply Confucians, not Confucianists.
    See, we've already made headway by writing Dao instead of Tao.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Again, the modern romanization is Dao De Jing or Daodejing. Authorship is traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao-Tzu in Wade-Giles).
    You have first-hand observation of Chinese life, but we are consistently told that the philosophy/spirituality of most Chinese people is a "Chinese menu luncheon" of selections from the Daoist, Confucian, Buddhist and communist columns.

Share This Page