Chinese language, specificity kills creativity?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Dysmania, Aug 2, 2011.

  1. Dysmania Registered Senior Member

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    Hi there. This is my first post, so please bare with me.


    I've been living in asia for approximately six years now. Most recently I moved to China. And I find that most chinese people lack a common sense or creativity that much of the western population have and I'm wondering whether this is due to the mechanics of the chinese language. For example, the other day, I had demanded a tv-cable repairman to install my new DVR so he came and did that. I wanted to ask him if there was a way to change the DVR menu to english. Having trouble in finding what to say, my second year University chinese class came in handy and I pointed to the "menu" button on the remote and said "this, have english or not?", he assures me that yes, it had. After fixing one of the initial problems, he shows me a tv channel thats in english. Of course, I know that I ordered english channels, how could I ever be so oblivious to the tv package I had ordered, after all, why on earth would I have pointed at the remotes menu button asking if it had english or not. And no, my chinese accent, is fine, I get around every day without a problem.


    Also, from hearing from friends who work in chinese offices I hear that there are things such as if they do not know how to perform a particular demanded task, they will avoid mentioning their difficulty and work on something else. Now, our chinese counterparts are not as smart after all. Maybe the smart ones left and came to North America but that is beside the point.


    My question now remains, is this due to their language mechanics? This is what I mean, about how their language is. For example, if you want to know if a restaurant or someone has something (e.g., water), you say "do you, or do you not, have water?" This is very specific, and straightforward as it requires less abstract processing because its demands whether there is either option of having or not having. Another example of non-creative sentence structure is when you count out objects or ask for objects there are number word. For example, 1 crayon, requires to say, 1 [flat-object number word] [crayon]. Another, to say a cup of coffee. 1 [cup number word] [coffee].

    Can a prolonged use of a specific language induce a psychological effect that could discourage development of creativity or common-sense?of creativity or common sense?
     
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  3. spidergoat Venued Serial Membership Valued Senior Member

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    I would suggest the culture is far more influential. A totalitarian society doesn't encourage creativity and critical thinking.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    They've had a Confucian society for a lot longer than that, and it imposes some very strict ways of thinking. The elders are always right! This overlay of Confucian philosophy is what allowed them to build the only communist system (in a large country) that more-or-less works.

    I studied Chinese and lived with my Chinese girlfriend for a couple of years. Compared to many other leading languages, I find English and Chinese rather similar.
    • Subject-verb-object syntax. In Japanese it's topic-description.
    • Minimal inflections. None in Chinese, very few in English by Indo-European standards.
    • Economy of syllables. Compared to Spanish or Japanese, it takes very few syllables to express a thought in English, Chinese or French. This allows them to be spoken more slowly, making them easier for a student or foreigner to understand, an advantage in building a cosmopolitan society.
    • An unlimited, straightforward ability to build new words. Chinese does it exclusively by analytical methods (combining existing morphemes in new ways) whereas we often do it by borrowing morphemes or entire words from other languages, but both ways make it easy for us to keep up with new concepts.
    Of course every language has its peculiarities. Lack of tense, gender and number in Chinese (more precisely, the requirement to express them explicitly if they're critical to the meaning of the sentence and not obvious from context) reflects a much different perspective on life than ours. Perhaps one in which things are expected to never change. A reasonable attitude when you live in the world's oldest continuous nation, by a factor of five!
     
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  7. birch Valued Senior Member

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    yeah, i think this is the real issue.

    i would have believed it might have something to do with it if i had not had the experience of living elsewhere. i meet people all the time who are stupid or lack common sense or creativity in the west as well so it's something else.

    but i would say that in general it has to do with wealth and off-time. wealthier countries tend to have more resources or time to use imagination or be less serious about pragmatic matters or having to focus only on literal. asian countries had to focus on survival and it is very difficult as most work long hours or have only one day off a week too. children don't really have much of a childhood in the sense that they don't have much playtime and that is important for developing creativity. it doesn't lend much time or encourage a free flow type of culture or mentality. creativity tends to be most heightened when relaxed, not tense or stressed.
     
  8. Dysmania Registered Senior Member

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    I think you are quite right here. I haven't really thought about that. May this be why, western country has more innovation? As innovation is derived from having a stronger sense of creativity.

    That's very true. It may be caused by the chinese collectivist society wherein, pressure from family is present to get their child to perform highly in school. Also, they seem to be quite tense as there is much more etiquette, therefore they are more likely to be shaped by society instead of behaving however they want.
     
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Don't downplay the impact of Confucianism. Respect tradition! Respect the wisdom of your elders! Don't rock the boat!
     
  10. birch Valued Senior Member

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    5,077
    this is true. this is the crappy part of confucianism. also, asian culture tends to not be direct, especially more so with korean and japanese culture. their logic is really messed up too which tends to end in more deceit and unreliability or fickleness, but that would really apply more to the last generation, perhaps 35 and older. i find the chinese a bit more refreshing in this department.

    the worst part is the sexism of the last generation which still hangs over like a dark oppressive cloud. but it's not overtly obvious on the surface. how women are more quiet or encouraged to be ultra feminine is part of this oppression or in some ways degradation, it's really part of the conditioning. i know this from my experiences with my male relatives. i mean there are men like that in any culture but it's annoying in how sneaky and passive-aggressive they are about it. it's really the men who are more than the women because they know it's not right or they find a way to do it that's less than obvious. they are very threatened by assertive women and see it as a competition which really isn't masculine but is indication of true masculine weakness so they try to keep women down. i notice it's the men who tend to think they are the toughest who are like this, not necessarily the emasculated ones. it's disgusting.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2011
  11. Dysmania Registered Senior Member

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    I've considered what you said but I chose not to mention about anything on that just yet as I wasn't done collecting my thoughts on the subject matter.

    Again, the collectivist society is a derivative of Confucianism. As I've previously mentioned, there are family with strong demands on their children (e.g., choosing their career choice), in a way that would help the family name and reputation. So, children will obey their elders choice, consequently may follow a career chosen by their elders or parents. This can have a diminishing effect on ones creativity and innovation. For example, if a child who does not choose to be a doctor but is forced by their relatives in one way, their 'passion drive', or their drive for creativity is killed. The only reason I have love for the sciences is, it satisfies my deep inclination for curiosity. The student who has no heart-felt passion for medicine would hardly be ready to imagine or undergo any free thought in the medical context. They will simply do their job and leave.

    I agree the Confucianist ideal, 'not rocking the boat' plays an intrinsic role that deters creativity as you can never follow your spurts of genius because the society will discourage you of such actions. Further, respect for traditions, will inevitably diminish the tolerance for innovation, (e.g., new ways of thinking) that could lead for a more sophisticated system adapted for the present day.


    Does anyone know how Confucianists leaders pictured themself for the future? I know this philosophy is quite dated, but does anyone know what they thought the future would hold if they always stayed the same? Or were they only thinking of the power that would be bestowed upon them?

    It seems its really about power, conditioning and control. Those are my thoughts.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The true Confucian ruler knows that he has his position only because he has a "Mandate from Heaven," which can be withdrawn at any time if he ceases to rule with ren, or "humaneness." Their most important guiding principle was a bland sort of kindness. Progress, prosperity and everything else we take for granted in modern politics were apparently not part of the deal. If they could rule over a society in which everybody was simply nice to everybody else, then they would be remembered as good rulers.

    It was Mao who created the hybrid of Confucianism and communism that now defines China. This did indeed result in a certain increase in progress and prosperity, but only after a very dark period. He allowed himself to be guided by pride and anger, and was not very strong on ren, allowing millions of his people to die of starvation. He will surely not be regarded as a good ruler when enough time passes for the history of China in the 20th century to be written objectively.
     
  13. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

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    89
    I've been dipping into a book, Everything Mandarin, and the author says that subscribing to foreign T.V. programs through satellite TV is illegal in China, even though you wouldn't know it from the satellite dishes that sit on buildings everywhere, even in Beijing.

    My guess is that the repairman/installer may have been playing dumb to avoid potential complications.

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

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    China has a lot of laws that are only enforced selectively.
     
  15. Shogun Bleed White and Blue! Valued Senior Member

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    If you got the cash, the cops didn't see it

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  16. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

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    I have enough trouble in the United States from selective interpretation and application of the law by those charged with administering it, so I admit that my greatest fear about visiting China is that I could end up as the star attraction in a public execution with a stick tied to my back with written characters on it that I can't read.

    That's why it was utterly amazing to me as a taxi driver to meet and see so many Chinese students at the University of Arizona in Tucson, for I cannot imagine a totalitarian government allowing so many potential escapees to visit America.

    My other thought was that they must all be spies or diehard party members, but that doesn't quite add up with their characters as I came to know them.

    Could it be that -- despite all the rhetoric -- that China and the United States are pretty much the same for people who don't butt heads with the government? In other words, could it be that Chinese students return to China because it's home and not because their parents and family are chained to walls until they come back?

    Just some thoughts.
     
  17. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

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    I'd just like to say that Chinese are very creative. Geesh, just look at their history. Are they AS creative as Europeans? I would think they are. BUT, if they are not, I think that could be an accident of geography more than anything else. Their's is amore uniform society and that might have a somewhat limiting effect on thinking outside the box.

    Japanese can seem idiotic at time. Some are, some are not. Same with Americans. I was listening to a person tell me about how she speaks to the dead via a psychic medium ($50/hr) and I thought : What an idiot. I didn't think: Oh, there's the damn English language again

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    While I'm sure there are a LOT of studies on language and cognitive ability, I'm much more inclined to think it's more other cultural effects at play.
     

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