Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Sibilia, Jan 11, 2013.
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When we're talking about the history of a language, the physiology of its phonetics, the relationship between dialects, etc., we can be objective. But when we're talking about how the native speakers regard it, we have no choice but to accept what they think.
If Chinese people believe that "east-west" means "thing" because a "thing" describes everything from east to west, and therefore dong xi is obviously and comfortably a compound word, and that's the way they teach it to their children so another generation grows up with the same belief, what reason do we have to insist that their language is not, subjectively, exactly what they think it is?
We're welcome to dig through the ancient texts and look for another explanation, but don't you think that they have already done that?
Indeed. The way I usually state that is, "There are no absolutes in life, including this one."
But that doesn't stop them from inventing legends that tie all of their beliefs neatly together and reinforce them.
"Standard" Beijing Mandarin (the Chinese call it guo yu, the "national language," because it's the dialect of the emperor, president, dictator, or whoever is in power in this particular century) has four tones. Other dialects of Mandarin have more; Sichuan has six. Other Chinese languages have many more. The language of Fujian (these are not "dialects": a person from Beijing and a person from Fujian cannot even come close to understanding each other) has twelve.
They're about 99.9% phonetic. But in other languages they can be inflections that carry grammatical meaning.
There is a Sprachbund in southeastern Asia (languages--often completely unrelated--that adopt features from each other due to proximity and familiarity) in which tonality is widespread (but not universal: Vietnamese has it but not Japanese or Korean). But tonality seems to be ephemeral. Some linguists see evidence that as recently as 3,000 years ago, Chinese was not tonal.
On the other hand, sometimes it just springs up spuriously. Punjabi and a few other Indo-European languages have a bit of it.
Ancient text? That was from a modern textbook on Chinese grammar, written by a native speaker none the less saying blatantly that not all their polysyllable words are compounds, WHAT MORE EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED? Well at least I agree with the author that some people will never be convinced otherwise.
Yet you believe every single polysyllable word in mandarin is a viable compound word.
You lost me here.
No, you missed my point. It was that we can dig through the ancient texts looking for the origin of dong xi, and perhaps discover how those two words got to mean "thing."
For someone to say that not all combinations of two words are compounds is to say almost nothing, unless he can tell us how any combination of two words, both of which have standard meanings, came to mean something that is not obviously derived from a juxtaposition of their standard meanings. The Chinese mommies and daddies who teach their children words have an explanation, no matter how fanciful, and your guy doesn't. I'd say that's M&D 1, professional linguist 0.
It is never enough to say that someone is wrong, without explaining why or offering an alternate hypothesis. If you have represented him fairly, he does neither.
Apparently you didn't actually understand my statement. The meaning is that "There are no absolutes in life" is false. All humans need food to live. Gravity always pulls denser objects down through the air. Duh?
Even if your guy is right, Chinese people have nonetheless invented a legend that explains why dong xi is a compound word. These folk-etymologies (assuming for the sake of argument that this is what they are) support and perpetuate their belief that all combinations of two or more words are compound words. They pass these on to their children much the same way people pass on the supernatural stories that comprise their religions. Children generally accept explanations they receive when very young (which is why it's so difficult to eradicate religion), and so another generation grows up convinced that dong xi means "thing" because "east-west" encompasses the contents of the entire ancient universe.
You and/or your guy simply have to come up with a better counterargument. So far all you've attributed to him is an assertion that billions of Chinese mommies and daddies are wrong. How far do you suppose that will get him in a culture that exalts its elders?
Yes as the author pointed out these words may have stared as compounds but they aren't any more. Just because a word started as a compound does not mean it always is one.
What explanation? How does myth and legend change how the words functions? When the Chinese "mommies and daddies" teach their children these words they say "these are compounds words, every one can be broken down into single syllables that make distinct sense"? Your literally claiming they say something with no evidence that they do!
You didn't read a thing he said did you? You want me to go over his book for examples for you?
1. Chinese word is not tied to its written form, many of the words even though they may be written with multiple characters can't be divided into individual morphemes per character. Page 13
2. Mandarin has changed from a monosyllable ancestor, lost syllables created too many homophones, His example: 'yiu' and 'yeuhk' in Cantonese became only 'yao', The had to compound to solve this. Page 14
3. The compounded word the second syllable's tone may be made neutral thus changing its meaning from its isolated stated. Page xxi
3. Polysyllable words like 'chengzi' ("city") using locomotive particles particular for them alone: while monosyllable words may use either form of locomotive particle the polysyllable one must use only one form. Page 392
4. Polysyllable words can't undergo reduplication as monosyllable words can, thus the definition of the word is the construct of the two syllables and thus duplicated each syllable would create a new nonsensical word. Page 35
5. Suffixes specific to polysyllable words. Page 40
6. Poly and monosyllabic synonyms. Page 68-69
Define food? Cause technically we can keep people alive on IV, it not a long happily life, but it is alive. I can with a magnetic field/lifting wing/thrust defeat and defy gravity creating situations where objects denser then air do not fall down. Nothing in this universe is certain: the whole universe could in fact be a false construct, a matrix, an illusions made by the gods to shackle us, and all rules of physics and reality that we hold dear could be broken or erased with the twinkle of a deities nose! technical its possible, not really probable or practical, but it is possible and thus there is a degree of uncertain to everything.
That does not make its so! I could say the name 'butterfly' was created when people tried to eat them in butter, does that make it so? By the way I asked several Chinese co-workers to break down the Chinese word for butterfly 'hú-dié' and they couldn't: they said it did not make sense broken down, one of them even said that in the past "ancient" Chinese, they had a single syllable word for these things but now they don't. And these guys are laymen speakers that you so cherish as the source of god.
How does that change it back to a compound word? If we were to explain that to a computer could it then compound other words using that one legend?
Up to 67% of Chinese words are polysyllabic, is there a legend to explain the compounding of EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM???
That sounds more like philosophy than linguistics. It's the same dadgum word!
It changes the way people perceive those functions, and in language perception is pretty much everything.
I have admitted several times that I am only an amateur in this discipline so my knowledge could be wrong. Nonetheless, the evidence I have was gathered from at least a dozen well-educated native speakers of at least three different Chinese languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and Fujian).
The Chinese mommies and daddies insist that they can.
I'm familiar with this phenomenon. As far as it's been explained to me, the morpheme added for clarity always has a related meaning, so the compound comes out something like "puppy-dog." After all, these compounds were not fabricated by scholars in a laboratory. They were developed by native speakers, surely different populations coming up with different compounds and one eventually winning out in the usual "marketplace of ideas." There were already accents and dialects, that's where today's incomprehensibly different Chinese languages evolved from. One compound would be a little more obvious and understandable in one region, another in another, and in a third the ambiguity didn't occur so they didn't even feel the need for a compound. I would imagine that the speech of the emperor's capital would usually win out, but not invariably.
As I noted in an earlier post, in common phrases like "How do you do?" the tones of all but the first word are often flattened because there's enough redundancy to make them unnecessary. The same is true in compounds. Have you ever seen a movie in Chinese? They speak every tone perfectly, because they know that half the people in the audience are not standard-Beijing-dialect Mandarin speakers and need the help. It's a boon for us foreign students to have not only subtitles in English and subtitles in Chinese, but also classroom-prefect pronunciation to help us improve our own.
And they still know the meanings of the individual morphemes. Ji3 qi4 jiao3 ta4 che1, "gas engine leg pace wagon" --> "motor bicycle" --> "motorcycyle" is always pronounced ji3 qi0 jiao0 ta0 che0 but everybody knows what the tones are and will automatically pronounce them correctly if you ask them for help with the word.
Every language has a huge amount of redundancy and Chinese is no exception.
Sorry, I'm not familiar with the term "locomotive particle" and all Google retrieves are articles about Chinese railroads.
Well duh? I can't come up with any reason why this obvious information might be important. And surely we all know that not all root words can be duplicated.
Okay, I'm curious.
You're splitting hairs. It's still food! Protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. BTW they can keep coma patients alive on IV for years, to the point that we have to start facing the question of when to pull the plug. It's recently been discovered that some of them can hear and be trained to respond to yes-or-no questions by activating two widely separated parts of their brain that shows up on a monitor. So in some cases we'll simply be able to ask them. In my case, just assume that the answer is RIGHT NOW!
Splitting hairs. Gravity pulls down on the coffee cup in my hand, even though my hand stops it from falling. Another "duh" for this one.
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No, but we actually know that this is not true because we have ancient texts showing that it was more likely named because A) people thought that butter and milk were their favorite foods or B) the particular species in a particular region where the word arose had butter-colored wings. Apparently none of the ancient Chinese texts explain why "thing" is "east-west." Nature abhors a vacuum and so do people, so they made up their own explanation.
As I keep saying, this does not mean that their explanation is correct, but it absolutely ensures that they continue to regard it as a compound word.
I don't know that word so I've never asked anyone about it. Not all Chinese care about these things. Most of the ones I know are software engineers so they are analytical by nature. When their children ask them why a "thing" is an "east-west," they have to have an answer.
The answer is out there, fanciful though it may be. My guys are interested enough to track it down. Yours are not.
You're just being snarky. Obviously each legend is developed independently.
Huh? The vast majority of them require no explanation, like Ji3 qi4 jiao3 ta4 che1 for motorcycle, dian nao (electric brain) for "computer," shi you (stone oil) for "petroleum" (identical to our Latin "petroleum" but as usual with fewer syllables), and wei qi (surround chess) for "go" (the game). Japanese and Korean go players have looked at the Chinese characters for wei qi and after a moment said, "Aha, I bet that's the Chinese name for go."
As for the others, every time I ask one of my (analytically oriented software engineer) Chinese friends to explain one, they already have one that they learned as (analytically oriented) little children.
And no, don't give me any assignments. Since I moved to the East Coast all of my project team mates are now Indians instead of Chinese.
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I can see we will make no progress on this, if you believe so strongly that mandarin is monosyllabic take the fight up on wikipeida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_language#Morphology
They even cite a non-monosyllabic word that is not a compound: kulong
The writer doesn't make a very strong case. He seems to be a better scholar than a writer, which unfortunately is not uncommon in any discipline.
One word. He says there are others but doesn't even hint at the number. There are exceptions to everything. I wish I had more Chinese friends here, I'd like to ask them how they explain that word as a compound to their children, and what the fanciful etymology is. I'm dying to know why that monosyllable was stretched into two syllables, since it's bucking a millennia-long trend. Was it just a whimsical touch that caught people's fancy?
So far I'm underwhelmed. I'd like to see his source material. I'm not going to read all five of the books in the footnotes, trying to find one word. Oh yeah, and only one of those books was written by a Zhong Guo ren, and that one appears to focus on the written language.
BTW, I've written Wikipedia articles. They're not all 100% accurate. None in the field of linguistics, although I've added tidbits and cleaned up a couple of errors. I was once corrected with great hostility in an article about dogs. Learned a lot that time. And I did the same to somebody else in an article about music, although I was considerably kinder about it.
I wasn't saying the article was word of god, rather that you can argue with them, they have the stamina.
As for me I got linguist telling me they are not monosyllabic, I got my laymen coworkers telling me they are not monosyllabic, but I'm not so old and rigid in my way of thinking as you are to believe I know something for sure, so I'll ask them about "legends" that explains the meanings of certain disyllabic words and hence its compounding and ask them if they think that makes their language monosyllabic.
What I think and say isn't terribly important. But you've raised the controversy and I don't have the time (much less the permissions) to track down the people who think that Chinese is not entirely monosyllabic and challenge them. So I will henceforth add the standard caveat, "... although some scholars disagree with this," when I post my opinion.
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