Chinese writing and language

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

  1. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

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    89
    I have or have partly read books using Wade-Giles and Gwoyeu Romatzyh, and its a real pain to figure out the correct pronunciations. I just figured out today that the difference between K and K' in Wade-Giles is unaspirated and aspirated respectively, which is G and K in pinyin.

    Long live pinyin!
     
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    I had never heard of GR, so thanks for the introduction. It looks like a well-crafted experiment to improve on Wade-Giles. Indicating the tones by changing the letters would obviously be intuitive to a Chinese speaker, since A1 and A2, I3 and I4, etc. (I'm not going to fight with this software's character set!) are different vowels to them. But to speakers of non-tonal languages like us, most of whom never stop needing to be constantly reminded that tone is phonemic, the superscripts are surely better. IMHO the modern placement of diacritics directly on top of the vowels is best of all since it provides the reminder at the earliest possible moment. Well I suppose we could write 1guo and 3jiang, but surely somebody already thought of that and discarded it for a good reason.
    I'm sure that was an earnest academic effort to transcribe the phonemes as accurately as possible. But unless everyone who needs to read these transcriptions is provided with a reference card explaining that: 1) Like tone, aspiration is phonemic in Chinese and 2) Chinese has no voiced consonants; it's pointless. And of course most anglophones would also need to have the concept of "aspiration" explained since they don't notice any difference between the T in "top" and the T in "stop" until you teach them the trick of dangling a square of toilet paper in front of their mouth and watching for the puff of air.

    For speakers of Spanish, Russian, and the many other languages that have no aspirated stops, this explanation would need to be much more elaborate. Czech is one of the few languages in that group that even has the consonant H, which would at least make a good starting point for the lesson.
    My professor, and the textbooks he chose for us, used the Yale romanization system. It was very helpful for learning the proper sounds quickly: The vowel at the end of words like zhi and shi is written R, and the one at the end of zi and ci is written Z, very intuitive for anglophones. But its inconsistency drove the student of orthography inside me batty. Pinyin zhang is "jang" and jiang is "jiang." But Pinyin shang is "shang" and xiang is "syang." And ri is simply written "r".

    I can read Wade-Giles, Yale and Pinyin. But I can't write reliably in W-G and to do so in Yale is an arduous effort with lots of correction. Only in Pinyin can I always get it right the first time.

    I content myself with micro-crusades. Why don't we stop writing the name of one of the most popular dog breeds Shi-tzu, begging for a constant stream of vulgar jokes, when it should be written Shizi and pronounced Shrrr-dzzz? And my biggest peeve: Beijing is not a French city, so will newscasters please stop pronouncing that J as if it were French!!!
     
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  5. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

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    I still find Rs at the beginning of a word like ren(people) or renminbi to be quite difficult. It's like taking the zhhh sound in usually and putting it before an R. That one doesn't come very naturally.
     
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    It's a retroflex consonant. That whole series is: aspirated affricate CH, unaspirated affricate ZH, aspirated fricative SH, unaspirated fricative R.

    The correct way to produce it is to curl your tongue back toward the rear of your mouth. It is not like an English R at all! If you do it right it will feel and sound like a strange variation of the S in "occasion," not so much like an R.

    All four of those consonants should be pronounced with your tongue in that position.

    Czech also has one consonant formed that way, the Ř. But in addition to everything else, it's also trilled!
     
  8. raydpratt Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    89
    After I learned that the R of Shi4, Zhi4, Chi4, & Er4 is created more by the retroflex tongue position than by a voiced sound, I could do the zhhh & R in the same sound when R is pronounced by itself (e.g., Er4), but I almost doubt that the sound is real since I only seem to hear it when it is over-emphasized. I am probably wrong on this, and more study will tell.
     
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Messages:
    24,690
    I think it's both retroflex and voiced. At least in Beijing Mandarin.
    I don't think that the ending vowel-like sound in ri4 (sun) or chi1 (eat) is the same as the ending vowel-like sound in er4 (two, son). (Again, at least in Beijing Mandarin.) The former is an extended voiced retroflex fricative, whereas the latter is very similar to American English R, an alveolar approximant. (I had to look up that term.)
     
  10. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

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    Fraggle, I have to look up most of your terms

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  11. marywhite Registered Member

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    recommend a free e-book to learn Chinese





    I have been using this e-book for a while, and I think it good to help learn Chinese.
    I highly recommend this to you. Hope you'll enjoy it.

    if you are in need, please give me a PM.
     
  12. Anew Life isn't a question. Banned

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    I have thought that the Asian character language orginated form beings noticeing free placement of tree twig on the ground, and therefore began happily developing their character languages and alphabets.

    <*>
     
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    The non-phonetic symbols used for writing Chinese, also used heavily in Japanese and more sparingly in Korean, are properly known as logograms, from Greek logos, "word," and gramma, "writing or drawing." In Chinese they're called Han zi, literally "Han characters." The Han are the dominant Chinese ethnic group, living in a vast region around Beijing ("Northern Capital"), and exercisng cultural and political dominance for centuries; we call their language "Mandarin," but they call it Bei Jing hua, literally "Beijing speech," or sometimes more formally Han hua. We're more familiar with the Japanese pronunciation of this word: kanji.

    There are myriad artifacts bearing ancient Chinese writing, and these symbols obviously evolved from pictorial drawings of the object, activity, etc. being represented--using circles and other curves. Over the centuries each was stylized into a group of primarily (but by no means exclusively) straight lines, for the convenience of the scribes. As they became standardized, educated people simply learned them, so resemblance to the object or activity was no longer important. Most Chinese logograms are combinations of two or more, which requires them to be stretched, squashed or curved to fit into the standard footprint for one character. As a result, the originals are not always easily recognized. There are about 70,000 han zi, of which only a few hundred consist of a single original character; the rest are all compounded. Only 5,000 are in use by modern educated people; the rest are known only to scholars who study the ancient texts. Most Chinese words are compounds of two or more, so 5,000 han zi gives them the capacity to invent 25 million words; they will probably never run out.

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    Chinese logograms are not an alphabet. An alphabet, by definition, is a phonetic writing system in which each symbol represents a sound, not an idea. Alphabets have symbols for both vowels and consonants. Other phonetic writing systems include:
    • An abjad is a system similar to an alphabet in which each symbol represents one sound, but lacking symbols for vowels. Abjads are common in the Afroasiatic language family (Arabic, Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, etc.), because in those languages vowels are not phonemic (at least in their ancient forms) and therefore are not important enough to waste space on. In Hebrew (and perhaps others), a system of diacritic marks was invented to represent vowels, since for 2,000 years Hebrew was not a living language yet Jewish people were required to read the Torah in the original language, so the vowels had to somehow be there. These diacritics are only used in the Torah and language textooks, never in other books, newspapers or websites.
    • A syllabary is a system in which each symbol represents one syllable, of the form consonant-vowel. Languages that use syllabaries have very strict phonetics with no consonant clusters. Japanese uses two syllabaries (one for Japanese words that can't be written with Chinese logograms and one for foreign words), and the Cherokee writing system invented by Chief Sequoia is also a syllabary.
    • An abugida is a special kind of syllabary in which all syllables beginning with the same consonant use the same symbolic component to represent it, and all those ending with the same vowel also use the same symbolic component for that. However, they don't always fit together neatly so they may be distorted and not easily recognized by foreign students.
     

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