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Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sun 01.11.2009 1:08 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:Right; the reason Cantonese speakers can "read Chinese" is that they learn to read written Mandarin in school; not because the written text represents both Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time.


See above.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.11.2009 1:26 pm

JaySee wrote:I am actually reading "The Languages of China" by S. Robert Ramsey right now, since my previous 'knowledge' was rather meager. He surely talk about the Mandarin dialect and the Cantonese dialect etc.


The difference between language and dialect is not universally agreed upon, but generally the definition linguists use is that A and B are dialects if speakers of A and B can understand each other's speech. So Cantonese and Mandarin are not dialects of a language because native speakers of those languages cannot understand each other (speaking their native speech).

A small piece of consolation is that both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers can read and understand, say poetry from the Tang dynasti.


Only if they study Classical Chinese. I know a number of native Chinese speakers in the graduate program here at OSU, and they struggle almost as much with classical Chinese as the foreigners who have learned Chinese as a second language.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sun 01.11.2009 1:51 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:So Cantonese and Mandarin are not dialects of a language because native speakers of those languages cannot understand each other (speaking their native speech).

I was quoting S. Robert Ramsey, Professor in the the department of Hebrew and East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Maryland. He knows more than I do, so until other suggestions appear, his definition is fine with me. It really doesn't matter, though. Cantonese and Mandarin are mutually unintelligible dialects when spoken. Or languages, if you insist. When read not so. Much.

A small piece of consolation is that both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers can read and understand, say poetry from the Tang dynasti.


Yudan Taiteki wrote:Only if they study Classical Chinese. I know a number of native Chinese speakers in the graduate program here at OSU, and they struggle almost as much with classical Chinese as the foreigners who have learned Chinese as a second language.


I wrote "Tang POETRY", not classical Chinese at large. I have never studied Classical Chinese and Mandarin for only some months and there was nothing odd in the poetry my text book offered. Perhaps a classical particle, not used in spoken Chinese today. It was merely one further step into the asceticism of Chinese/Mandarin in general. Very "barren" language, in the positive sense (if that could be :-) ). Few words/characters to express very much. Perhaps as Haiku is when read in Japanese?
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby NocturnalOcean » Sun 01.11.2009 3:06 pm

KanjiHanzi wrote: I wrote "Tang POETRY", not classical Chinese at large. I have never studied Classical Chinese and Mandarin for only some months and there was nothing odd in the poetry my text book offered. Perhaps a classical particle, not used in spoken Chinese today. It was merely one further step into the asceticism of Chinese/Mandarin in general. Very "barren" language, in the positive sense (if that could be :-) ). Few words/characters to express very much. Perhaps as Haiku is when read in Japanese?


First of all Tang poetry is from somewhere between 618-907, which doesn't even make it late classical Chinese.
Secondly, how can you put forth such statements as you do with such a confidence, when you clearly state that you have zero knowledge within classical Chinese, and you have hardly studied modern Chinese at all. I just cannot take you seriously.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.11.2009 3:08 pm

KanjiHanzi wrote:Cantonese and Mandarin are mutually unintelligible dialects when spoken. Or languages, if you insist. When read not so. Much.


Written Cantonese is uninterpretable by a native Mandarin speaker, although they will be able to figure out some of the meaning (much in the way that a native speaker of a Romance language can sort of figure out some meaning from a text in another Romance language even if they haven't studied it). Once again, the reason Cantonese and Mandarin speakers read the same texts is that Cantonese speakers learn to read Mandarin in school, not because a single text can represent both Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time. Of course, due to the similarities between Cantonese and Mandarin, and because Cantonese speakers don't (necessarily) learn the Mandarin readings of the characters, it's much easier for a Cantonese speaker to learn to read standard Chinese than it is for a native English speaker. But it's a myth of very long standing that a written Chinese text can be read by a Mandarin speaker as natural Mandarin and by a Cantonese speaker as natural Cantonese.

Very "barren" language, in the positive sense (if that could be :-) ). Few words/characters to express very much. Perhaps as Haiku is when read in Japanese?


I think it's a little different -- the reason classical Chinese, and especially Chinese poetry, is so compressed is that the writers relied heavily on using single characters to represent words that would normally be expressed in standard speech as multisyllable words. Much classical Chinese is literally uninterpretable when read aloud, even to someone who knows classical Chinese, just because you aren't able to disambiguate the homonymous characters when so you have so much abbreviation and compression. (This is still a problem with some modern written Chinese, although the baihua movement has made great strides in bringing the written language more in line with standard speech.)

In a sense, the form in which these classical poems are written is not "language" in the sense of a living language that can be spoken and used in daily life -- even at the time these poems were written nobody would have had a clue what you were saying without writing characters at the same time you were speaking. In a sense you might make a (perhaps somewhat tenuous) connection with something like the poetry of E.E. Cummings or another such poet who used the resources of the written form in conjunction with language to create works that relied on both the visual elements and the resources of the spoken language.

In Haiku, on the other hand, they tend to just use few words to express cryptic ideas; the language of a haiku (and of classical Japanese in general) is much, much closer to standard speech of the time than classical Chinese was.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sun 01.11.2009 3:45 pm

NocturnalOcean wrote:First of all Tang poetry is from somewhere between 618-907, which doesn't even make it late classical Chinese.

Secondly, how can you put forth such statements as you do with such a confidence, when you clearly state that you have zero knowledge within classical Chinese, and you have hardly studied modern Chinese at all. I just cannot take you seriously.

You don't have to take me seriously. Free ride. But you should check things up yourself if *you* want to be taken seriously. I will post the Tang poem I read (but not until Wednesday), and you can see for yourself. Or you can do a Google search and find plenty of Tang poems, I suppose. Perhaps you can take this snippet seriously:
Professor Ramsey wrote:Cantonese is said to be a conservative dialect, and to a certain extent this reputation is deserved. In its sound system it preserves with great fidelity the final consonants and tonal categories of the Tang dynasty literary standard. This means that a Tang poem read in Cantonese keeps more of its original patterns of rhyme than when read in Mandarin--or in any other dialect.

"Classical Chinese" is just a bunch of Hanzi for me, you and the Chinese people. The underlying grammar and other subtleties are not present there. Either you recognize the MEANING of the Hanzi only, and will get a good understanding of the poem. Hopefully. Or you can also utter the SOUNDS in your own language/dialect, perhaps even in Japanese! I am convinced that the snippet above doesn't suggest any need to be a Classical Chinese scholar to be able to do this. But, by all means. do some research on your own.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.11.2009 3:58 pm

KanjiHanzi wrote:"Classical Chinese" is just a bunch of Hanzi for me, you and the Chinese people. The underlying grammar and other subtleties are not present there. Either you recognize the MEANING of the Hanzi only, and will get a good understanding of the poem.


You don't know what you are talking about. I've tried to be polite and repeatedly write lengthy explanations of the way Chinese and classical Chinese work, but at this point I'm going to give up. Believe what you want.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Sun 01.11.2009 4:14 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:Once again, the reason Cantonese and Mandarin speakers read the same texts is that Cantonese speakers learn to read Mandarin in school, not because a single text can represent both Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time. Of course, due to the similarities between Cantonese and Mandarin, and because Cantonese speakers don't (necessarily) learn the Mandarin readings of the characters, it's much easier for a Cantonese speaker to learn to read standard Chinese than it is for a native English speaker. But it's a myth of very long standing that a written Chinese text can be read by a Mandarin speaker as natural Mandarin and by a Cantonese speaker as natural Cantonese.

No, it will not be entirely "natural". But it will allow for a very acceptable degree of understanding:

wikipedia wrote:Chinese dialects vary not only by pronunciation, but also, to a lesser extent, vocabulary and grammar.[36] Modern written Chinese, which replaced Classical Chinese as the written standard as an indirect result of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, is not technically bound to any single dialect; however, it most nearly represents the vocabulary and syntax of Mandarin, by far the most widespread Chinese dialect in terms of both geographical area and number of speakers.[37] This version of written Chinese is called Vernacular Chinese, or ??/?? b疂hu・(literally, "plain speech").[38] Despite its ties to the dominant Mandarin dialect, Vernacular Chinese also permits some communication between people of different dialects, limited by the fact that Vernacular Chinese expressions are often ungrammatical or unidiomatic in non-Mandarin dialects. This role may not differ substantially from the role of other lingua francas, such as Latin: For those trained in written Chinese, it serves as a common medium; for those untrained in it, the graphic nature of the characters is in general no aid to common understanding (characters such as "one" notwithstanding).[39] In this regard, Chinese characters may be considered a large and inefficient phonetic script.[40] However, Ghil'ad Zuckermann痴 exploration of phono-semantic matching in Standard Mandarin concludes that the Chinese writing system is multifunctional, conveying both semantic and phonetic content.[41]

The variation in vocabulary among dialects has also led to the informal use of "dialectal characters", as well as standard characters that are nevertheless considered archaic by today's standards.[42] Cantonese is unique among non-Mandarin regional languages in having a written colloquial standard, used in Hong Kong and overseas, with a large number of unofficial characters for words particular to this dialect.[43] Written colloquial Cantonese has become quite popular in online chat rooms and instant messaging, although for formal written communications Cantonese speakers still normally use Vernacular Chinese.[44] To a lesser degree Hokkien is used in a similar way in Taiwan and elsewhere, although it lacks the level of standardisation seen in Cantonese. However, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China is currently releasing a standard character set for Hokkien, which is to be taught in schools and promoted amongst the general population.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_written_language

I would very much like to know what sources you base your assumptions on. I would also like to know - since I do not know - if a Mandarin only speaking person would find a newspaper from, say, Hong Kong totally incomprehensible, as you suggest. Since I don't KNOW AT ALL FOR SURE - but THINK about it - I will find out.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Sairana » Sun 01.11.2009 4:31 pm

Just give him his validation already.

Yes, Japanese is THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE in the whole world. You made a great choice to switch to Mandarin. Not only is it a beautiful language, but it is easy to learn. Undoubtedly, you will be speaking and reading fluently in less than three years! I envy your most intelligent decision, while I masochistically pursue my own studies in Japanese, which will probably continue to progress at the rate of molasses in January.

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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.11.2009 4:38 pm

That quote from Wikipedia you posted *supports* what I'm saying, so I guess there's no more discussion.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby AJBryant » Sun 01.11.2009 7:49 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:That quote from Wikipedia you posted *supports* what I'm saying.



Which is my favorite part of all this. :)


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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Mon 01.12.2009 3:29 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:That quote from Wikipedia you posted *supports* what I'm saying, so I guess there's no more discussion.

You are free to stop "discussing" at any point. This is anyhow kind of off-topic. You didn't seem to be very interested in discussing the on-topic focus here: Is Japanese the most difficult language to learn (for English speaking individuals)? The thickness of a Japanese grammar book vs. the thickness of a Chinese grammar book might be interesting, but it isn't really the END of any discussion.

So even if you have quit "discussing" I just don't agree with your interpretation of the wiki text. Nowhere do I find ANY support for your idea that WRITTEN Mandarin and WRITTEN Cantonese are two entirely different languages. This is rather easy to test, as I suggested: Could a Mandarin only reading person understand - much or little - a newspaper published in Hong Kong (which is considered as THE home of Good Cantonese)? I suppose there are several newspapers published online, so it wouldn't require much work.
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Mon 01.12.2009 3:29 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:You don't know what you are talking about. I've tried to be polite and repeatedly write lengthy explanations of the way Chinese and classical Chinese work, but at this point I'm going to give up. Believe what you want.

I am not at all interested in "believing" this or that. I try to get the facts straight as far as I am able to. I just don't find that facts, as delivered by EXPERTS, support your suggestions. Neither you or I are EXPERTS, so the only method to get to the bottom of the matter is to consult EXPERTS, isn't it?
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby KanjiHanzi » Mon 01.12.2009 3:30 am

AJBryant wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:That quote from Wikipedia you posted *supports* what I'm saying.

Which is my favorite part of all this. :)
Tony

I bet it was! I also suspect that you didn't READ the WikiPedia quote before jumping in here, did you?
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Re: Is Japanese THE MOST DIFFICULT LANGUAGE?

Postby JaySee » Mon 01.12.2009 7:17 am

KanjiHanzi wrote:You are free to stop "discussing" at any point. This is anyhow kind of off-topic. You didn't seem to be very interested in discussing the on-topic focus here: Is Japanese the most difficult language to learn (for English speaking individuals)? The thickness of a Japanese grammar book vs. the thickness of a Chinese grammar book might be interesting, but it isn't really the END of any discussion.


This question really is impossible to answer because it would involve comparing all, or at least a substantial amount of the world's languages over a large amount of linguistic areas (morphology, syntax, phonology, sociolinguistic aspects etc.) And even if you do find an answer this way, it is likely to be different for each person as the difficulty of a language I think also heavily depends on personal factors (like how interested you are in learning it etc.)
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