Yudan Taiteki wrote:Well, "professional educator" may be a bit おおげさ as I'm just a teaching assistant, but I suppose I do have teaching experience.
There's really no way to quantify the difficulty of a language.
That's where I beg to differ. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that THE AMOUNT OF INFORMATION you have to learn, digest, and be able to output, has a lot to say about the "difficulty" of a language, i.e. the amount of time it will take before you can consider yourself more or less fluent.
Yudan Taiteki wrote:You can do it a little better with a writing system, but in general the best you can do is talk about relative difficulties for speakers of certain languages. For instance, a native Cantonese speaker will probably find Mandarin easier to learn than English, but that's not really "proof" that Mandarin is easier than English.
I can't ell for 100% sure, but my guess is that a respectable percentage of Cantonese speakers have felt the need to learn Mandarin too. Linguistically Mandarin and Cantonese is considered as two Chinese DIALECTS, even if the spoken tongue is different enough to be considered as two different LANGUAGES. There are some differences in Grammar, but not enough to not consider WRITTEN Mandarin and WRITTEN Cantonese as THE VERY SAME LANGUAGE.
Almost any person in China can grab a book or a newspaper, read it, and understand it, no matter if the writer had Mandarin or Cantonese in his/her head when writing. The only difference is that it will SOUND entirely unintelligible when read out load. Same "words" (Hanzi), different pronunciation. - To simplify and sum up my understanding.
Writing systems are easier to quantify as harder or easier; I think it is self-evident that the Chinese writing system is considerably more difficult than Western alphabet-based scripts.
Yudan Taiteki wrote:It's also difficult to talk about difficulty of a language because of the tendency to conflate languages and writing systems, and to consider a language merely as the sum of vocabulary items and ignore cultural factors. The politeness system of Japanese is enormously complicated and by far one of the most difficult parts of the language to master well.
One of the advantages of Mao and friends: This has been almost removed from Mandarin, since I assume that it was more like Japanese once upon a time. There is even rarely a REQUIREMENT to use the more polite 您
(nin) instead of the informal/neutral (ni)你
You see/hear people addressing superiors etc. with the "impolite" NI all the time. (Of course this must be different in literary Chinese, but I don't know enough to have an informed opinion there.)
Yudan Taiteki wrote:Speaking from an objective linguistic standpoint, all languages are equally complex. There's nothing in one language that cannot be expressed in another one, and losses in complexity in certain areas tend to result in gains in other areas. For instance, English has a much poorer (and simpler) system of inflection and conjugation than Greek or Latin. But English's prepositions and semi-fixed word order are more complex than Greek and Latin.
To simplify even further: To express the same English idea, you usually have to ADD STUFF in Japanese, but in Mandarin you REMOVE STUFF, i.e. a Mandarin sentence usually gets short, using fewer words, than the English original sentence. It's VERY ECONOMICAL language.
Yudan Taiteki wrote:Chinese grammar is deceptively simple, but has complexities. Y. R. Chao's "Grammar of Spoken Chinese" is 850 pages, which is a similar length to Martin's Reference Grammar of Japanese.
No, Mandarin grammar is NOT DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE. It **IS** SIMPLE! PERIOD!
There is no way to get away from this definition. I own ONE Mandarin Grammar Book - ("Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar" - 396 pages
) and I am very confident that will be enough for me at least a couple of years. My shopping virus has been trying to convince me that I also need the more advanced Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar (Routledge Grammars), 434 pages
but it's simply too expensive at $62.32 on Amazon.com. Using the Look Inside feature on Amazon.com doesn't reveal much apart from the same excellent layout and structure as the one I have. No surprise, since they are from the same publisher.
Y. R. Chao's "Grammar of Spoken Chinese" is not available anymore unless you want to spend $89.98 - $211.86 on a used copy. I think I'll pass for the time being. Oooops!!! "A Reference Grammar of Japanese (Hardcover)"
has obviously been reprinted since I tried to find a copy!!!! http://tinyurl.com/8xud2j
$51.75 and 1198 pages in this edition. And suddenly you can buy a used copy for less than $40. When I looked - obviously years ago - the Tuttle edition was $100+++ and beyond what I could consider paying. But now ......
Amazon.com wrote:Product Description
Have you ever wondered about a Japanese sentence your textbook fails to explain? Do you feel unsure about the use of "wa," "ga," and "mo?" Or what the rules and meanings of words in their literary forms are? If so, you will find your answers in A Reference Grammar of Japanese, the most comprehensive and reliable reference source available.
With an extensive 105-page index, the reader will quickly find explanations for particles such as wa, ga, mo, ni, and de; difficult nouns such as mono, koto, tokoro, wake, hazu, and tame; sentence extensions such as ne, yo, sa, yara, and nari; verb tenses, literary forms, negative forms--in short, everything concerned with the Japanese language. For the serious student, this book is indispensable for clearing up the ambiguities of puzzling Japanese sentences.
I am sure Martin's "Essential Japanese"
is considered as TOTALLY outdated, but it's actually one of those text books on Japanese that I've found most useful. He is truly a Great Teacher!!! Romaji only, but with tons of example sentences for almost every new item he introduces. If you are a Kana/Kanji purist then some of his texts appear in "A Japanese Reader - Graded Lessons for Mastering the Written Language", another excellent book.
Nevertheless: You can't even compare Mandarin and Japanese grammar on the same day! They just exist in different worlds where you have to wait until they intersect. If this isn't ONE serious aspect weighing in when comparing the DIFFICULTY of a - any - language with another one, then I truly don't know what to use. Both Chinese linguists and students make a lot of fuzz about the difficulty of the "particle" "le"了
and it **IS** kinda vague, indeed. But this is just A SINGLE ONE, compared with almost each and every Japanese particle being exactly as vague and multifunctional as LE. There is only a handful of these 'words' in Chinese, compared with the dozens in Japanese.