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Thread: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

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    If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    I have recently heard from a Chinese-speaking friend that if you can read Chinese, you can read Japanese - and vice versa of course.
    It would make sense, as most Japanese Kanji are of Chinese origin, but what about the sentence structures and grammar or each language? Would they be roughly the same? I picked up a book on Chinese script a few days ago, and I saw that a lot of the simple Kanji I was familiar with (moon/month, river, bank, etc) were exactly the same. But the Chinese couldn't read the kana syllabaries... unless they had knowledge of those as well.

    I'd just like to know if it's true that if you can read Chinese, you can read Japanese and vice versa. Does anyone know?

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    Re: Japanese and Chinese?

    It depends. Mainland China now uses simplified characters, whereas the South (H.K...) and Japan use traditional ones. No Chinese can read Japanese aloud or viceversa, but they can understand some of what is being said in the text. Because of the kanas, Chinese people are slightly in a disadvantage, so Japanese normally understand a bit more written Chinese than the other way round.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Yes, because of the kanas, we Chinese people will hardly understand the exact meaning of a Japanese passage, but can only guess what it is about.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    I don't know much about Chinese grammar, but I can just look at a bunch of Chinese letters and guess what it's about because a lot of the letters are the same in Japanese. For example, if I go to a Chinese restaurant and read a Chinese menu, I can guess what the entree is because the letters for "fish" and "meat" are the same. However, knowing Japanese doesn't automatically mean you can read Chinese and vice versa. I find that a lot of Chinese characters I see look a lot more complicated than I'm used to seeing in Japanese, and in Japanese (probably in Chinese too) the same letters can be said many different ways.

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    Re: Are Kanji truly necessary for the Japanese language?

    Once I was in 北京(Baisin), I was in a hurry to catch a train and was hungry too.
    So I gave a memo to a waitress writing down.
    我欲飯共急!
    There came a rice with beans on top of it!

    I have never made myself understood well in China, ever. I swear.
    There are too many differences between us.

    It just reminds me of our cause of defects on English word proper recognition. Those which are already in our daily life, we don't actually know the original term's use, and suddenly native English got puzzled off on our use of them.
    (In my home town, there is a bowling game hall with a logo of 'Human plaza'....What is it made of? )
    (In 1970, the first instruction plate for Japanese pavilion said ' A Japanese mental house')

    Well, I guess you might know what I might have said in China.
    Last edited by wathavy; 7th January 2009 at 10:33 PM.
    Toshi

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    Re: Are Kanji truly necessary for the Japanese language?

    Quote Originally Posted by wathavy View Post
    ... I gave a memo to a waitress writing down. 我欲飯共急! There came a rice with beans on top of it!
    That's a fun story. (I wondered if 急 somehow means beans in Chinese. It doesn't...)

    Many years ago when I was in fifth grade my homeroom teacher wanted to convince us that it might be a good idea to study Latin instead of French. (We got to make a choice between those two languages for sixth grade, and he was a Latin teacher.) He told us a story about how he met someone from Hungary, and after trying many different languages, they found they could both speak Latin.

    For some crazy reason I actually took Latin instead of French. I still remember a little, almost forty years later. I've never met anyone from Hungary who spoke Latin, though. ^_^

    When I hosted two Russian dancers some time ago, I found that my Russian wasn't good enough (I only took a year in college), but one of them spoke German quite well, so we were able to communicate easily.

    I think the lesson is that knowing more than one language can be useful, and you never know what might come in handy.

    I think everyone here knows that relying on the similarity in meaning between kanji and their Chinese originals would be similar to relying on one's knowledge of Latin to travel in France. Chinese meanings and Japanese meanings have often drifted far apart. I read that Japanese also invent new kanji, something that seems to annoy some purists, and would leave a Chinese reader baffled.
    Last edited by hmoulding; 8th January 2009 at 1:22 AM.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Hi, I am Chinese and I have learnt Japanese for years.
    Hope that I can be of help.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strike View Post
    I have recently heard from a Chinese-speaking friend that if you can read Chinese, you can read Japanese - and vice versa of course.
    Quick test: 這個理論有點不合邏輯。

    For those who can read Japanese and do not know Chinese, do you totally understand the meaning of the above Chinese sentence?


    I'm afraid the answer is no. The reasons are:
    1. There are many Chinese characters that are not used in Japanese at all. For example, the word 邏輯 above is not used in Japanese. Japanese people who have no knowledge of Chinese may not understand what it means.
    2. The same kanji may have different meanings in Japanese and in Chinese. For example, the character 這 above has completely different meanings in Japanese and in Chinese.
    3. The grammar between the two language is completely different. For example, verbs are often put at the end of a Japanese sentence, while it is not true in Chinese. In the above sentence, for example, the last word 邏輯 is a noun, not a verb. Not to mention there are many other differences in grammar between the two languages.
    However, I have to admit that Chinese people without Japanese knowledge can guess the meaning of a Japanese essay to a certain extent, let's say 30% of the meaning (the % here is arbitrary), and vice versa, because of the similar meaning of certain characters in both languages. For example, the word 理論 in the above sentence has exactly the same meaning in both Chinese and Japanese.

    So, I will rewrite the hypothesis of the first post as:

    If you can read Chinese, you can guess the meaning of written Japanese (to a certain extent) - and vice versa.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Quote Originally Posted by lammn View Post
    If you can read Chinese, you can guess the meaning of written Japanese (to a certain extent) - and vice versa.
    Amen to that. I learned Chinese first, and before I started studying Japanese I found that I could barely understand anything at all in written Japanese. As time went on and I realized how many words are in common, I appreciated the similarity.

    But I would say that being able to guess the meaning of written Japanese if you can read Chinese is as likely as being able to guess the meaning of written Spanish if you can read English.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    I've gone through years of Chinese school. All I can say is that the more Kanji they use in Japanese sentences, the more I understand them.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Ohh, so Japanese is to CHinese as Spanish is to French?

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Quote Originally Posted by Armando_arx_20 View Post
    Ohh, so Japanese is to CHinese as Spanish is to French?
    I don't know whether I would say that. Spanish and French are FAR, FAR more closely related to each other than Japanese is to Chinese.
    Athenis habito, sed non Athenis illis

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Quote Originally Posted by Starfrown View Post
    I don't know whether I would say that. Spanish and French are FAR, FAR more closely related to each other than Japanese is to Chinese.
    A better analogy might be Chinese is to Japanese as Italian is to Basque. That's because Italian is a modern Indoeuropean language, while Basque is not, but Basque uses the Roman alphabet. Also, Basque borrows a lot from Spanish and French, similar to how Japanese borrows a lot from many modern languages.

    It's important to realize just how different Japanese and Chinese are from each other. It might seem that the two languages are very similar, since Japanese has borrowed liberally from Chinese vocabulary and, of course the characters from the Han writing system. However, the similarities are extremely superficial. Important parts of the vocabulary are nothing alike. The grammar is completely different. Even the phonetic morphologies are different.

    So aside from recognizing a few characters, kanji knowledge doesn't really help with reading Chinese, or vice versa. I might be able to spot the postoffice in China, knowing the kanji 郵便局 and supposing that a Chinese postoffice has a large sign out front with those characters on it, but I wouldn't have a hope of understanding, say, a sentence in a Chinese newspaper stating that the Beijing main postoffice was going to close next week for construction. No matter how good my Japanese was.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    Quote Originally Posted by palomnik View Post
    But I would say that being able to guess the meaning of written Japanese if you can read Chinese is as likely as being able to guess the meaning of written Spanish if you can read English.
    Perhaps I was misleading in being so brief in the above statement.

    My point was that English and Spanish share many words in common, particularly but not exclusively more or less educated words derived from Latin.

    Chinese and Japanese share a large number of words too, written in Kanji, and mostly educated words. Readers of both languges can understand them without much difficulty.

    But the most basic and common words of each language are different, and this is where understanding will break down.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    To that (often asked) question, one will simply answer : yes and ... no.
    Yes, when it comes to WORDS and simple (short) sentences. A good comparison would be to consider NUMBERS. Writing any given number (5, 32, 291, 68.914 ...) can be read and understood in any given language (provided the use of so-called Arabic numbers is common), as numbers can be taken as ideograms, like kanji/hanzi.
    Japanese and Chinese, who share those same ideograms (except a few rare cases of "Japanese made" ideograms and different simplification of the same ideogram), will then undertand easily basic concepts like "water, sun, man, female, society" and many others.
    No, when it comes to complicated concepts, articulated sentences, because Chinese and Japanese each belong to a different group of language, which is syntactically different (word order in the sentence is different), a little like English and German (though both belong to the same language group).
    This being said, Chinese and Japanese will still be able to read the same old Chinese Classical Texts (like Confucius, Lao Zi etc), but they will read them in a different way.
    So, a final answer to : If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese ? has to be : not quite, but it will help you .
    "Les langages, à mon gré, sont comme les gouvernements, les plus parfaits sont ceux où il y a le moins d'arbitraire". (Voltaire)

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    which is easier to learn, chinese or japaness?

    Do you think the japaness has something related to chinese? Is it easier to learn than chinese?

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    Re: which is easier to learn, chinese or japaness?

    Genetically, Japanese is not related to the Chinese languages. Japanese belongs to its own language family, and is called an isolate, because we actually don't know where the language came from. It just sort of sprouted up in the Pacific one day. However, because of historical reasons, such as being a part of greater east-Asian culture and interaction with other languages (most importantly the Chinese), Japanese has obtained certain similarities with other mainland Asian languages. Nonetheless, no Chinese-speaking person can hear Japanese and say "Oh yeah, I get it", and vice versa. They are indeed very different.

    Asking whether one language or another is easier to learn is a bit of a hard question to answer. It all depends on your own linguistic background. Coming from an English background, without having ever studied an agglutinating language (Finnish, Swahili, Hungarian... native American languages...) or a case-marking language (Latin, Greek, German, etc), you might find Japanese grammar a bit shocking. Chinese grammar, on the other hand, would seem quite a bit more familiar, or at least not as radical. As far as pronunciation goes, Japanese is actually far simpler than English, while Chinese tones will be mind-breaking at first. The writing system will not be particularly easy either way, although you will find Japanese to feel more like home, since you can actually sound words out. None of the languages are in any way related to English, so the vocab will be all new in both cases.

    But to be honest, the only thing that will make any one language easier to learn than another is your motivation to learn it, and your ability to find exposure. Learning a language takes a significant investment of time, so whichever language will hold your interest the longest is the one to go with.

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    Re: which is easier to learn, chinese or japaness?

    The main influence of Chinese into the Japanese language is how words are written.

    It is also the case of English, but with Latin. That doesn't exactly mean that once you learn Latin you are automatically learnt English, although it may ease the learning of the other one if you have knowledge of one of them, at least when it comes to identifying written words and figuring out their meaning.

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    Re: which is easier to learn, chinese or japaness?

    This question has been asked in the Forum already (in fact, quite a few times). Frog.frog has already given a pertinent answer.
    Now, to answer simply the question, which comes here, I guess, from the fact that you may think that Chinese and Japanese are quite similar, Chinese and Japanese share a lot of common points, but they belong to two completely distinct language groups. Syntactically, the order of words is different, but it is still true that Japanese can reasonably read a Chinese text, though won't be able to pronounce it. The reverse is not true.
    This being said, I will give you this simple answer :
    . Chinese is easier than Japanese for simple conversation, the grammar is simpler
    . Japanese is more difficult from the beginning
    . but when you get deeper into mastering both languages, than Chinese will turn out to be harder, Japanese easier, because Japanese has a "real" grammar, whereas Chinese grammar is more "nebulous", this coming from the fact that Japanese has kanas that act as grammatical articulations. Not the case with Chinese, which has only kanjis/hanzis , some of them also acting as grammatical articulations, but not as systematically as in Japanese.
    Then there is the problem of pronounciation. Chinese has tones, Japanese doesn't (almost, to be simple). That difficulty is an important element.
    Last edited by Aoyama; 10th October 2011 at 5:37 PM.
    "Les langages, à mon gré, sont comme les gouvernements, les plus parfaits sont ceux où il y a le moins d'arbitraire". (Voltaire)

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    Re: which is easier to learn, chinese or japaness?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aoyama View Post
    Japanese and Chinese, who share those same ideograms (except a few rare cases of "Japanese made" ideograms and different simplification of the same ideogram), will then undertand easily basic concepts like "water, sun, man, female, society" and many others.
    Water ... with 湯 excluded I suppose. Females ... again I guess you don't include 娘 and 老婆 and 女將. I hope you won't encounter any of these "ideograms" when reading modern Chinese. They may give you the wrong ideas.

    This being said, Chinese and Japanese will still be able to read the same old Chinese Classical Texts (like Confucius, Lao Zi etc), but they will read them in a different way.
    No doubt they can, if they've spent years or decades to study Classical Chinese. So can a German or a Finn.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aoyama View Post
    Syntactically, the order of words is different, but it is still true that Japanese can reasonably read a Chinese text, though won't be able to pronounce it. The reverse is not true.
    Of course the reverse isn't true, but nor is the obverse.
    Last edited by Ghabi; 11th October 2011 at 5:54 PM.

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    Re: If you can read Japanese, can you read Chinese?

    My outline was a simplification (but still pertinent, I dare think). Obviously we are not going to engage here in a full-blown comparison between Chinese and Japanese, which would require (and deserve) volumes.
    Two comments though : Japanese do learn Chinese classics in high school, in the original text, with diacritical signs to match Japanese syntax. I don't think Germans or Finns (can) do that (but then, it may depend on what high school they go to) ...
    And Japanese can read a Chinese text, but Chinese, unless they know kanas (and even that may not help them so much, because they should also have some smatterings of Japanese grammar articulations) will have no doubt a harder time ...
    Last edited by Aoyama; 11th October 2011 at 6:48 PM.
    "Les langages, à mon gré, sont comme les gouvernements, les plus parfaits sont ceux où il y a le moins d'arbitraire". (Voltaire)

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