Chinese/Japenese: hànzi/Kanji

JLanguage

Senior Member
USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
I've been wondering about the use of ideograms in the Chinese languages and in Japanese. It is hard to remember all the different characters? Does it take a long time to handwrite Chinese and Japanese? What about obscure and archaic characters, do you just look them up in the dictionary? How do you type Chinese and Japanese? After all there can't possibly be a key for each character.

Postscript:
I know that Chinese has many dialects, of which the primary one is mandarin spoken by about 850 million people. These dialects are often mutually unintelligible in speech, but are far more similar in writing. Also, naturally Japanese and Chinese are very different languages.

However, it stands to reason that they have many similarities and that it is much easier to go from Japanese to Chinese and vice versa, then it is to go from an alphabetic or abjad language, then it is to Japanese or Chinese.

I understand that Japanese also uses Hiragana and Katakana syllabaries, but am unsure how that works in relation to Kanji.

Also: Japanese and Chinese natives, please correct me if I'm wrong about anything.
 
  • JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    1. No. In traditional Chinese, the common words are less than 6000, in simplified they are even less. Most characters can be split into several "parts", radical is one of those parts. Once you learn these parts then all you need to do are combining these parts together. They all look like symbols, so it's really difficult to forget once you recognise the word. It's like the male and female sign, or the dollar and euro mark...
    Besides, we rarely create new characters, it's not like English having some posh new words every now and then (bootylicious anyone?), so once you know say 6000 words, then you are pretty much all set.
    2. In terms of time efficiency, I find it all right because we can write in grass script. (some more terms for you to google) But I find writing in Chinese save a lot of space. A page of Chinese usually will translate to 1.5 or 2 pages of English simply because Chinese characters are not "long".
    3. A Chinese teacher might tell you to find the radical first. I rarely used that technique because I am terrible in finding radical. You can guess the pronuncition from the "part" the character consists, then check the dictionary. You can also guess how many strokes are there in one character and use that as a mean. An ordinary Chinese dictionary should provide more than 1 way to search for words.
    4. It's more difficult to type in Chinese than in English. Again, you split the words into different parts, or you type in the romanised sound then choose the word you want from a list because a lot of words have the same sound.

    Hopefully that answered your questions.
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    JJchang said:
    1. No. In traditional Chinese, the common words are less than 6000, in simplified they are even less. Most characters can be split into several "parts", radical is one of those parts. Once you learn these parts then all you need to do are combining these parts together. They all look like symbols, so it's really difficult to forget once you recognise the word. It's like the male and female sign, or the dollar and euro mark...
    Besides, we rarely create new characters, it's not like English having some posh new words every now and then (bootylicious anyone?), so once you know say 6000 words, then you are pretty much all set.
    2. In terms of time efficiency, I find it all right because we can write in grass script. (some more terms for you to google) But I find writing in Chinese save a lot of space. A page of Chinese usually will translate to 1.5 or 2 pages of English simply because Chinese characters are not "long".
    3. A Chinese teacher might tell you to find the radical first. I rarely used that technique because I am terrible in finding radical. You can guess the pronuncition from the "part" the character consists, then check the dictionary. You can also guess how many strokes are there in one character and use that as a mean. An ordinary Chinese dictionary should provide more than 1 way to search for words.
    4. It's more difficult to type in Chinese than in English. Again, you split the words into different parts, or you type in the romanised sound then choose the word you want from a list because a lot of words have the same sound.

    Hopefully that answered your questions.
    Interesting, I guess that explains why many of your new "words" created for technology, are just a compound of two or more simpler characters. Here's what fascinated me:http://www.omniglot.com/images/langsamples/smp_chinese1.gif
    It must be very hard for us Westerners to learn Chinese. I mean 6000 characters is not a lot for you guys, but just looking at the different characters it seems like I would have a hard time remembering which is which, since my brain is wired to understand alphabetic writing.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    It is a bit like those prefix, roots and suffix in English, just we split those into different words. I think to learn English, we need to know some Latin, some Greek, then some German and French, but in Chinese it's just Chinese. (Recently a mixture of Japanese kanji writing is considered chic in the pop culture, like writing 物語 instead of 故事. But if you write that in school assignments, you are just asking for a smack...) So yes, for an English speaker, the progress of learning Chinese will be very slow. Besides, Chinese does't share many common words/sounds with English. I can only think of "cola" "lemon" and "humour". For technical terms, we have proper terms for "modem" (data transmission device), "CD Rom" (laser disc machine), but most of the time we just say them in English.

    btw, I think you know about this already, 一 二 三 木 林 森 水 淼 金 鑫 火 炎...just repeating the same radical then that's a new word, so 6000 is actually not too much.

    Here is another intersting fact, if you have dyslexia in alphabetic writing, you may not have any problem in Chinese, and vise versa. (and dyslexia is not that common among Chinese, they have lots of illiterates, but not many dyslexia...)

    I talk too much...
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    Do you think illiteracy is related to the nature of the Chinese language? I'm not sure about that theory's legitimacy. I don't know if Chinese is actually harder to learn as a young child than English or other alphabetic language. I suspect it depends on the person and the way they process visual information. I don't think it's harder, just that China has more people in the primary and secondary sectors than the US, who perhaps do not have the time or access to education. But really the literacy for China is pretty high:

    China
    definition: age 15 and over can read and write
    total population: 90.9%
    male: 95.1%
    female: 86.5% (2002)

    Japan
    definition: age 15 and over can read and write
    total population: 99%
    male: 99%
    female: 99% (2002)

    Japan uses a similar writing system and has virtually no illiteracy; therefore I would suspect that as China continues to modernise and urbanise, it's literacy rate will increase until it reaches near 100% literacy.

    Please correct me if any of my suppositions or facts are wrong. I'm just an American.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    What I meant was the reason for having less dyslexia cases recorded is because of the wide spread of illiteracy. If one doesn't know how to read, then it's really difficult to know whether it's because one has difficulty in reading(dyslexia), or one just doesn't have the education...

    I don't believe in those figures. First of all, if that's the official figure, then please remember Chinese government's good record of releasing polished information. (don't forget about SARS)
    Secondly, other than those major cities, most parts of China are not modernised. Besides, what's the standard of "can read and write"? Again, my view can be biased because I was from Taiwan (we are those Chinese fleed to Taiwan during WWII), and we are not that fond of their communist government. In terms of language, they murdered our beautiful traditional chinese script, they introduced lots of "not so classy terms" into the formal writing (because classy equals flamboyant/bourgeois) , and they had that Cultural Revolution interrupted the education process, and we think now they just talk funny. In their term, "punch" the left mouse button to reply, and double punch the IE icon for new window.

    It's like you need to know something about the influence from Mussolini when you study Italian; You will be exposed to a lot of post WWII history at the Chinese beginner level...
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    JJchang said:
    What I meant was the reason for having less dyslexia cases recorded is because of the wide spread of illiteracy. If one doesn't know how to read, then it's really difficult to know whether it's because one has difficulty in reading(dyslexia), or one just doesn't have the education...

    I don't believe in those figures. First of all, if that's the official figure, then please remember Chinese government's good record of releasing polished information. (don't forget about SARS)
    Secondly, other than those major cities, most parts of China are not modernised. Besides, what's the standard of "can read and write"? Again, my view can be biased because I was from Taiwan (we are those Chinese fleed to Taiwan during WWII), and we are not that fond of their communist government. In terms of language, they murdered our beautiful traditional chinese script, they introduced lots of "not so classy terms" into the formal writing (because classy equals flamboyant/bourgeois) , and they had that Cultural Revolution interrupted the education process, and we think now they just talk funny. In their term, "punch" the left mouse button to reply, and double punch the IE icon for new window.

    It's like you need to know something about the influence from Mussolini when you study Italian; You will be exposed to a lot of post WWII history at the Chinese beginner level...
    You're from Taiwan? Ah, so do you speak Taiwanese -福佬話?
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    I can only speak a little bit of Taiwanese. Because my family only went to Taiwan after WWII, and the official language in Taiwan was Mandarin. However, Taiwanese comes handy when swearing...

    The Taiwanese government used to think that Mandarin is elegant, and Taiwanese is vulgar; but because the new governing party encourages people to speak Taiwanese, Taiwanese starts to become popular, especially among the separatists.(~50% of the population) However, that doesn't mean it's not vulgar. The more sophisticated 福佬話 is only used by a handful of people...

    For Example, remember the Lewinsky incident? The news in Taiwanese became extremely entertaining. Because the Mandarin term of fellatio ("oral intercourse" in Chinese) cannot be translated directly into Taiwanese, you can see the anchorman/anchorwoman pull a serious face saying "Lewinsky-sucking-dxxk-incident". ('cos there is no sophisticated way to say genital in Taiwanese either)
     

    airlie

    New Member
    U.S.A.- English-German-
    Re: Chinese Pronunciation-


    Hello Friends,
    reading chinese is very different from speaking it. My western ear does not know the tonal qualities. Please help in a pronunctiation guide to the phrase " congratulations on your impending wedding" .Could someone write a phonetic approximation in English ?Any help would be greatly appreciated so I don't say something dreadful like the American televisioin ad where a man is running after a taxi in China yelling " Chicken! Chicken please!" and while eating a bowl of soup he says "My what good taxi soup."
    Thank you.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    That ad. sounds stupid. Chicken in Mandarin only has one syllable (one word), but Taxi has 3. In Cantonese, chicken still has only one syllable, and taxi has 2. However, chicken in Chinese slang also means prostitute, so yeah, if you yell at some taxi on the street "whore, whore", you bet it is going to stop...

    congratulations on your impending wedding (congratulations on you going to wed soon?) gong1-xi2-ni3-iao4-jie2-hun1-le0.
    xi should be 3, but because of that ni is also 3 following this xi, so xi changes to 2. iao read as meow (cats meow) without that m sound, jie pronounce as ji-e, hun sounds like when, le sounds exactly like le in French, and make it very short.
    If you don't know about these 4 tones, here is a website for you
    www.graman.net/hongkong/tone

    This sentence is not very formal, we don't "say" this kind of thing in a very formal way. (it's still impending, right?) You can still use this in office, to your teacher, to your boss etc though.
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    I think that the three main Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) are very difficult for those who use grew up using abjads or alphabets. It would be much easier if the Chinese characters used in China were the same in Korea and Japan. However my friend has been studying Japanese for 6 months and already knows the two syllabaries and a small amount of characters. He's really adamant on learning Japanese, but most of the other kids in class are not all that serious about it. I told him that it be very beneficial if he found a Japanese student and hung out with him.

    Just my random thoughts,
    -Jonathan
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    I think you just need time to adjust to their thoughts. You can still tell that it has some sort basic linguistic difference between these three languages: you can tell the pronunciation from the Korean words, it's not the same in Chinese. In Korean and Chinese each syllable equals a word, and has a meaning. In Japanese it's different.

    I haven't studied Korean before, so I cannot say much about Korean. However, in Japanese and Chinese there are little variation in the verb, but we have huge amount of "counting adjectives" (a piece of paper, a glass of water...), and we pay looots of attention on tones, which is a foreign concept to lots of people.

    Find some Japanese songs, like the theme songs for those cartoons, they are very helpful. Hanging with Japanese student can have some benefit, but there's no guarentee that they won't developed a "pidgin language" among themselves... That happens very often. (the origin of "long time no see"....)
     

    airlie

    New Member
    U.S.A.- English-German-
    dear JJChang,
    you were most helpful. it is a stiff sentences isn't it?what would be better to say at a convention of american and chinese furniture business officals where people are polite and not very intimate or relaxed?

    thank you.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    airlie, that sentence is suitable in that occassion. What I mean by not very formal is that it can't be used during toasting... The problem is, even though people can use it, it may feel awkward to hear someone suddenly switch to Chinese and utter that sentence. Say ni2 hao3 (hello) first, then followed by that sentence, that can ease the awkwardness. ;)
     

    lauraleina

    New Member
    America - English/Chinese/Russian
    Hi, I'm glad you're interested in Asian languages. I don't know about Korean, but Japanese is actually just alphabets that sound different and represented by two sets of letters. In Chinese, one character represents a thought or thing and you combine characters for other stuff....yeah...and when reading Chinese, the radicals and other parts of a character can give an indication to its meaning and pronounciation even if you haven't memoised that character yet. But like English, you have to get to a certain point to begin interperate it correctly.

    You could always say zhu4 nin3 de huen1 li3 yi4 sheng1 kuai4 le4. Hope your (formal)wedding is forever happy...? I'm not good at translations.

    I never heard that ji1 is a swearword!!! Maybe you are thinking about niu1? Then again, my vocab is pretty limited.
     

    JJchang

    Senior Member
    NZ - English, Chinese
    Sorry to rain on your parade, but do not, I repeat, do not say that.
    That means "I wish your wedding 'ceremony' happy for your entire life".
    nin3 should be nin2, and nin2 equals Sie in German. (compare with du)
    ji1 is not a swearword, it depends on the context. If you shout "chicken" at someone when there shouldn't be any chicken around, then we will take it as "whore".
    niu1 equals "girl" or "chick" in American slang, this word is not only not very classy but is also very passé, but this doesn't necessarily mean "whore". (I think the last time I read this word was in 老殘遊記.)
    Again, the speed of evolution of language in Mainland China, HK and TW are so different (read my previous post), so maybe it's still common in the Mainland.
    There are some cliché to use for wishing people's marriage ever lasting:
    zhu4 nin2 (I wish you)
    bai2 tou2 xie2 lao3 (getting old together...)
    yong2 yu4 ai4 he2 (fall in love forever...)

    However, before you say any of these cliché, make sure the conversation turned to his/her wedding already, 'cos if you suddenly utter these phrases then that will cause some confusion and having some inverse effect. ("err? what?! oh, OH THAT, oh, okey, thanks...") ;)
     

    lauraleina

    New Member
    America - English/Chinese/Russian
    Yeah, ok. I don't speak Chinese often, and when I do I make sure everyone knows that I've only had two years of Chinese school (I mean actually in china)...as for nin3, that was a typo :p. I don't write often either. arrg, don't mind me, I"m just babbling ><"
     

    lasirena

    Senior Member
    US English
    JLanguage said:
    I think that the three main Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) are very difficult for those who use grew up using abjads or alphabets. It would be much easier if the Chinese characters used in China were the same in Korea and Japan. However my friend has been studying Japanese for 6 months and already knows the two syllabaries and a small amount of characters. He's really adamant on learning Japanese, but most of the other kids in class are not all that serious about it. I told him that it be very beneficial if he found a Japanese student and hung out with him.

    Just my random thoughts,
    -Jonathan
    Hi,

    I'm ruan3 an1 ling2 阮安玲and I've been studying Chinese for a while now. Jonathan, I just wanted to let you know that as far as I'm concerned, learning Chinese is about as difficult as learning any other foreign language aside from the fact that there are very few cognates (as you probably know, cognates are foreign words that resemble English words i.e. appartamento). Anyway, the first year was hard because I struggled trying to figure out why door, group (women de men), start (kaishi de kai), relationship (guanxi de xi), and stuffy (men) all were the same except for a different little symbol in the middle. But manmanman, I got used to it and realized that similarities among characters actually make the learning process easier. I still can't read a newspaper without a good dictionary, but after you get into the swing of learning characters, you just have to do it; there are no difficult concepts involved. In fact, Chinese conversational grammar is also probably one of the easiest to grasp because the word order resembles English and there are neither verb conjugations nor pluralizations. The one thing that some English speakers struggle with is tones, so if you ever have intentions of learning Chinese, I suggest that you study, practice, and master the actual pronunciation (pinyin is the easiest for me) before you learn anything else. Let me know if you have anymore questions regarding English speakers learning Chinese! As you may have noticed, I love talking about it!!! I <3 国语.(对不起,因为我不会注音所以我只好打出简体字.)
     

    JLanguage

    Senior Member
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    lasirena said:
    Hi,

    I'm ruan3 an1 ling2 阮安玲and I've been studying Chinese for a while now. Jonathan, I just wanted to let you know that as far as I'm concerned, learning Chinese is about as difficult as learning any other foreign language aside from the fact that there are very few cognates (as you probably know, cognates are foreign words that resemble English words i.e. appartamento). Anyway, the first year was hard because I struggled trying to figure out why door, group (women de men), start (kaishi de kai), relationship (guanxi de xi), and stuffy (men) all were the same except for a different little symbol in the middle. But manmanman, I got used to it and realized that similarities among characters actually make the learning process easier. I still can't read a newspaper without a good dictionary, but after you get into the swing of learning characters, you just have to do it; there are no difficult concepts involved. In fact, Chinese conversational grammar is also probably one of the easiest to grasp because the word order resembles English and there are neither verb conjugations nor pluralizations. The one thing that some English speakers struggle with is tones, so if you ever have intentions of learning Chinese, I suggest that you study, practice, and master the actually pronunciation (pinyin is the easiest for me) before you learn anything else. Let me know if you have anymore questions regarding English speakers learning Chinese! As you may have noticed, I love talking about it!!! I <3 国语.(对不起,因为我不会注音所以我只好打出简体字.)
    Do you know of any sites that have sound bites of the same word with different tones so that I can find out if I'm able to hear any difference?
     

    lasirena

    Senior Member
    US English
    zhuyin is a really cool system, but Jlanguage, you'll probably want to start by learning pinyin because it's easy for beginners since it uses roman letters. but when you start learning characters, learn traditional first. they're cooler and then it's also easier to make the transition from traditional to simplified than vice versa.

    sites with pinyin pronunciation (click on sheets listed on the first website)

    http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~pinyin/

    http://www.ctcfl.ox.ac.uk/Pinyin.htm

    these resources seem pretty good
     
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