jeudi 15 mai 2008

Spot the difference!

Each stroke and its length in Chinese characters are very important. They can produce a totally different meaning if they were written wrongly. There are examples below to show how vastly different the meanings can end up to be:

ri4 (sun)

yue1 (say)

日 and 曰 are essentially made up of the exactly the same strokes but one of them is thinner and taller than the other. Hence, the importance of writing the characters to the correct size is crucial in such words. There are more examples below that are self-explanatory. Some words end up having opposite meanings because of the lengthening of a single stroke.

wei4 (have not)

mo4 (end)

未 stands for the future when used in the context of 未来 wei4 lai2 (have not - come). But when used in the context of 未做完 wei4 zuo4 wan2 (have not - do - finish), it can be taken as 'have not' and it would mean "haven't finish doing".

dao1 (knife)

li4 (strength)

刀 can be used in Chinese proverbs like 拔刀相助 ba2 dao1 xiang1 zhu4 (pluck - knife - each other - help); it means to whip out one's knife to help those in need. In modern terms, it simply means to help each other when in need.
力 can be used in proverbs like 力不从心 li4 bu4 cong2 xin1 (strength - not - from - heart); it means that strength to help does not come from the heart alone. It is normally used in contexts when one would like to do something, but does not have the means to.

tu3 (soil)

shi4 (soldier)

土 can be used in phrases like 水土不合 shui3 tu3 bu4 he2 (water - soil - not - compatible); it does NOT mean that water and soil doesn't go together. When taken in a phrase as such, it means that one is unable to adapt to the enviromental conditions of a foreign place.
士 can be used together with 兵 (bing1) to mean 'soldier' as well. 士兵 = soldier.

mercredi 14 mai 2008

Ancient Chinese Texts

The earliest records of writings of the origins of the Chinese language are not from bone oracles (as many would believe it to be), they are actually from ancient tombs that contained potteries with inscriptions on them that resembled words on bone oracles. These potteries antedated oracle bones by about more than 1,000 years. They are called “pictographs” and showed resemblance to scripts. Hence, Chinese is not an alphabetic language, but a script of ideograms.

Over many thousand years of China’s history, the written Chinese language had changed tremendously; from pictographs that might vary to the standardized words that we see now. Especially with the rise of print capitalism, Chinese words are standardized and even simplified (see below).

However, it is through these gradual changes, many Chinese characters lost their visual meaning. Some words cannot be identified to be associated to what it means as a whole word through looking at its radicals or phonetic complexes.

Words that still contain meaning through visual means:
凹 ao1 (concave)
凸 tu1 (convex)
山 shan1 (mountain)
一 yi1 (one)
二 er4 (two)
三 san1 (three)

An example that has no visual links:
默 mo4 (silence), made up of 黑 hei1 and 犬 quan3 (black and dog)

Chinese words and their components

Chinese words are often made up of several components and each of them sometimes has meanings on their own. Here is an example:

Sometimes, by recognizing each of the components, one might be able to get a hint of what the word mean. Especially by looking at the radicals, it is easy to classify the word and to determine what is it associated with.

For example: “你”,“他”,“们”
The radical of the two words shown above is “standing person”, hence we can recognize that the words are associated with humans.

Another example: “脑”,“脚”,“腿”
The word“月”when used as a radical, refers to “flesh”. Hence most words that refer to the human anatomies are often written with a “月”radical.

Can you figure out what these words are associated with (if you don't know them yet)?
地铁 (di4 tie3)
垃圾 (la1 ji1)

However, not all words are associated as such.

Some phrases did not exist in the Chinese dictionary until they were invented due to the need to create a Chinese name for a foreign item. An example would be the above picture that shows “Sprite” in Chinese (left can). In Chinese it is read as “xue3 bi4”.

The word “chocolate” did not exist in the Chinese dictionary until the introduction of chocolate to the Chinese people. (Just for fun: The first people known to make chocolate were from Mexico and Central America, it was later spreaded further through the Spanish conquistadors.) A sound-adaptation of the English word “chocolate” was created and hence, in Chinese, chocolate is 巧克力 (qiao3 ke1 li4). Such words are termed "loanwords". (外来词 wai4 lai2 ci2)

mardi 13 mai 2008

Having Fun with Chinese

There’s an interesting website that I found, it’s all about modern and traditional China, travel, study, news, business, Chinese learning material, tools and resources, forum and language exchange club.

By beakee on Flickr

One can even type one’s name and get it translated into Chinese~! Though not all names are available for translation, there’s still quite a wide range available. There are various bilingual dictionaries available; however, to those with basic grasp of Chinese may still face difficulties. Fret not, use it as a tool to guide your learning process and you can always double check with your tutor.

People sometimes find it difficult to learn Chinese because it’s all memory work. It is pretty different from other languages such as English or Korean, because the words show no hints as to how it is pronounced. Due to the increasing cross cultural flows, people are picking up foreign languages like never before; hence, many languages have a Romanized version to aid learning. However, one cannot learn Chinese through Romanizing the words only.

By think cink on Flickr

If not, it might end up like this:

1. That's not right - Sum Ting Wong (Something wrong)
The correct way of saying it should be: 有点不对 you3 dian3 bu2 dui4

2. Are you harbouring a fugitive? - Hu Yu Hai Ding (Who you hiding)
The correct way of saying it should be: 你是不是偷藏通缉犯?
ni2 shi4 bu2 shi4 tou1 cang2 tong1 ji1 fan4?

(Taken from

The above is meant to be a joke (to be read with a false-Chinese accent), created by somebody who posted on the forums of Chinese-tools.

It is important to get the basics right in learning Chinese, which means putting in some effort to memorize words. Once you get past the first few stages of learning, everything else would become easier.