Classical Chinese via Japanese

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by JAndrews, Jun 21, 2013.

  1. JAndrews New Member

    English - American

    I am interested in learning Classical Chinese (besides general interest, I'm a graduate student in philosophy and want to read some Chinese phil. texts). After doing some reading, the consensus seems to be that learning some of a relevant modern language first seems to be a good idea, and many good textbooks seem to assume this.

    I first thought to learn Mandarin, but I have very little incentive to learn Mandarin except as a vehicle for Classical Chinese. I have much more incentive to learn Japanese- anime and such, friends who speak Japanese and want me to learn, general appreciation for the sound of the language, etc. (Of course I don't mean to offend anyone by this; it's all purely personal)

    Would learning Classical Chinese by route of Japanese by as profitable as doing it via Mandarin? Would there be any significant disadvantages (or advantages)?

    (I'm also posting this in the Japanese forum; I hope that that doesn't violate any rules)

    Jacob Andrews
  2. walawala Member

    I think all Chinese philisophy texts have simplified editions as well as classical Chinese editons. If you are interested in Chinese philosphy, then learn Chinese, no matter Simplified / Classical Chinese. I grow up in mainland China but I can read Classical Chinese without any difficulity.
    Learn Chinese by route of Japanese? I don't understand why you would do that. Japanese and Chinese are two different languages though most Japanese characters are from old Chinese.
  3. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Theoretically, you can get to Classical Chinese via Japanese or Mandarin.
    - First of all, Mandarin will no doubt offer you a more direct approach.
    - Secondly, you'll have to be quite good at Japanese or Manadrin, which in itself is not a task to be taken lightly. People normally take advantage of their existing knowledge of Japanese/ Mandarin in learning Classical Chinese; and this is different from starting Japanese/Chinese in order to learn Classical Chinese.
    - Third, Japanese word order is very different from Classical Chinese and this may act as an obstruction rather than a facilitator in your endeavour.

    There is an alternative which you may like to consider: why not just learn Classical Chinese direct? But again, bear in mind that even this is not without serious problems: you'll need a very good teacher for this, and you won't be able to avoid learning a bit of Mandarin during the pursuing your main objective.

    Good luck!
  4. JAndrews New Member

    English - American
    Thank you both for your quick replies!

    This is very helpful. Unfortunately I don't have the time or money to invest in a teacher, and it's not urgent for academic purposes (my focus is medieval European/Islamic phil). I have considered just studying Classical Chinese directly, but without a teacher I don't know if I'd get the facility in the language I'd eventually want. So I figured the thing to do may be to invest time in a modern language that will give me some immediate benefit (Japanese would win that category), read the Chinese texts I'm interested in in English, and if the interest in Chinese phil remains, I can do what I need to learn that. But I see that that may be more work than it's worth.
  5. 维尼爱蜂蜜 Member

    I think walawala are confusing classical Chinese with traditional Chinese. The former means ancient literary works and the latter means the traditional writing.
    It's not easy for a non-native speaker to learn ancient Chinese directly without basic knowledge of the modern language. Won't be easy for any teacher to teach that either.
    And I'm afraid learning Japanese would barely help.
    Why not read English versions of the Chinese books you are interested in?
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2013
  6. JAndrews New Member

    English - American
    I definitely plan on doing that, too, but I would like to study the original language too, if possible. Thanks!
  7. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    维尼, just to clarify, when I said learning Classical Chinese via Japanese, I don't mean using Japanese knowledge (of Hanzi/Kanji) to learn Classical Chinese, but I mean leaning Classical Chinese the way Japanese do.
    You're probably aware, Classical Chinese exists also within Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese literatures as part of these cultures, and people from these countries learn Classical Chinese through their own language, without having to go through Mandarin.
  8. walawala Member

    Oh,I understand. Classical Chinese can be very difficult especially when it comes to philosphy text. <<Laozi>>,<<zhuangzi>>,<<zhouyi>>...... I can't read these books without the help of a big classical Chinese dictionary.
  9. walawala Member

    I has never learnt the Japanese, but I remember my Chinese teacher in middle school told me that Japanese and Classical Chinese have a lot in common. For example, 倒装结构 (I am not sure how to put this into English, maybe "inverse structure in sentences or inverse word order")."...者,...也" structure is very much like the modern Japanese sentence structure "...,...地干活".
    Classical Chinese :"土豆者,洋山芋也"
    modern Japanese:"你地,八路地干活" :))
  10. tarlou Senior Member

    In China we consider classic Chinese as a higher level of the modern language. We can learn it mostly by brute-force reading (using a dictionary or things like that). The more one has read, the higher level his classic Chinese achieves. No systematic training is needed unless one wants to study linguistics. But I don't think this will work for foreigners, perhaps they need to stay in China for a couple of decades to speak better Chinese than natives:D...

    Frankly speaking I don't think Japanese grammar or sounds are more similar, that's not like Chinese. The most important feature (tones) is not kept in modern Japanese. Anyway taking advantage of the similarities between a modern language and classic Chinese is a bad idea, I think.
    What you should consider is the textbook (or the way to learn) rather than the similarity. It's possible that there is a more scientific and efficient way for Japanese to learn classic Chinese. If this is the case, you may try to learn Japanese first. Of course, if there is a classic Chinese textbook written in English, just read it.:)
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2013
  11. Serafín33

    Serafín33 Senior Member

    Many English and German speakers learn Latin or Ancient Greek (Attic or Koine) without ever learning a Romance language (Spanish, Italian, Romanian...) or modern Greek. I don't see why a Westerner couldn't similarly have a better knowledge of Classical Chinese than Mandarin or Japanese, except because of certain problems with materials, which do not exist for English/German speakers learning Latin/Ancient Greek.

    A pretty big one is that, although there are various Classical Chinese-English dictionaries in existence, the best resources are in Mandarin and Japanese... Even English-language textbooks of Classical Chinese like Michael Fuller's Introduction to Literary Chinese generally recommend the use of certain Classical Chinese-Mandarin and Classical Chinese-Japanese dictionaries. (With the right resources it wouldn't be like this. For example, since I live in Canada, I have learned quite a bit of Latin using English-language textbooks, using English explanations of Latin, even though I'm a native speaker of modern Latin myself (that is, Spanish). I bet Japanese textbooks for Classical Chinese similarly use just Japanese for explanations.)
    If this knowledge is useful to you, what xiaolijie probably means by "you won't be able to avoid learning a bit of Mandarin during the pursuing your main objective" is that Western-language textbooks for Classical Chinese tend to assume you know a bit of Mandarin already. Most English-language books I've seen only give Pinyin pronunciations for example (without explaining how to pronounce Pinyin), without even caring about Japanese readings (and the one I've seen that had Japanese readings didn't explain how to use Japanese readings—not that my survey is exhaustive).

    As far as I know, the usual Japanese way of reading Classical Chinese is the process of "kanbun", which is the systematic transformation of Classical Chinese sentences into a limited kind of Classical Japanese (yes, that's right, limited Classical Japanese) following marks added to the text for it. The example on Wikipedia should give you a good idea of what it is. The Latin-English analogy right before that section is also pretty good.

    I'd also like to point out that Classical Chinese word order is also distinct from that of Mandarin anyway. I could certainly imagine quite a number Mandarin speakers getting confused with constructions like 吾所愛 'what I like' (which is literally "my what like"), since that'd be more like 我喜歡的事 (lit., "I like 's thing") in Mandarin.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2013
  12. tarlou Senior Member

    Just a small comment: The kanbun example in the Wikipedia page does not seem accurate to me (how can they translate 有 to "was"), maybe because they want to put it into Japanese through a weird process... Their final version (with "among" and "exist") seems correct anyway. This is a simple sentence and almost plain modern Chinese.
    Classic Chinese is not a different language to modern Chinese speakers. Some old words and structures are still used, just not so widely used. Chinese people stuck to write most essays in classic Chinese until early 20th century regardless of the oral language. You won't be able to avoid modern Chinese completely because the intersection is large.
    I'm not suggesting to learn via modern Chinese. The best choice is still to learn directly (via English) if possible. For most foreign Chinese learners, I think their lessons will mostly focus on modern language and won't really reach the classic writing Chinese -- that's too much work unless your major is Chinese instead of philosophy.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2013
  13. Serafín33

    Serafín33 Senior Member

    Hmm I agree. I just skimmed and didn't see how inappropriate its explanations were. Either way, the end result is alright as you say. As for using "was" for 有, you would have to ask Kuang-Min Wu, who wrote that weird "literal" translation... I just edited it quite a bit, since the explanations were somewhat faulty, the English was a bit too old-fashioned and perhaps even faulty ("[Japanese word] can be substituted by [Chinese word]", surely it was meant the other way?), and using that translation by Kuang-Min Wu was violating his publisher's copyright anyway.
    Well, the same goes for Greek, but Ancient Greek and Classical Chinese certainly bring problems to modern native Greek and Chinese speakers trying to read texts.
    A good part of the Classical philosophical texts I bet JAndrews is intending to read come from a time before the diglossia between vernacular Chinese and Classical existed though (Zhuāngzi, Mèngzi, Hánfēizi, Shāngjūnshū...), so... I'm not quite following that.
    The Classical Chinese lessons that non-native students of Chinese receive are definitely not focused on the modern language. In fact, it seems you'd probably be surprised at how much works in Classical Chinese written during the Yuan dinasty and afterwards are neglected.
  14. tarlou Senior Member

    Many classic Chinese structures are still in use. For example, to me the 所 structure you mentioned is a modern structure. If one has learnt classic Chinese, then he automatically has already learnt a lot of modern Chinese, even he didn't intend to. At least he already has no serious problems in expressing himself -- just use classic Chinese and avoid rare characters, native Chinese won't have any troubles with his grammar. The only problem is that he's still not able to understand pure modern Chinese.

    What I meant was modern Mandarin lessons, because OP wants to learn classic Chinese through a modern language.:) According to my impression such classes teach .... conversations.
    And why is Yuan dynasty mentioned here, what's the point?... It is true that after Yuan dynasty people began to write novels in modern language, but formal documents and essays were still in classic Chinese. I don't think classic works after Yuan dynasty is negligible. As I mentioned people stuck to write in the same way as 2000 years ago until early 20th century.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2013

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