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Thoughts on the Chinese language.

edited 2018-02-16 18:47:03 in General
Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
I've been meaning to make this thread for a while, and there's no better time than the present to do it.

Where pronunciation (and sometimes vocabulary) are concerned, I'll mainly be talking about Cantonese, because that's the dialect I know. I'll also be using traditional (rather than simplified) characters preferentially, because I like them more.

But first...a toast to the new year:


It's traditional to exchange a series of four-word blessings to celebrate the new year. Here's a set of nine of them.

Respectively, these mean:
1. Happy new year (literally "new year happiness")
2. good health to you (literally "bodily health"),
3. may you feel energetic / have high spirits (literally "dragon horse spirited"),
4. may all times be peaceful (literally "age age peace")
5. may every year bring surplus (literally "year year have surplus")
6. may an atmosphere of harmony bring wealth (literally "harmonious air grow wealth")
7. may smiles be common (literally "laughing mouth commonly open")
8. may you find both fortune and longevity (literally "fortune longevity both entirely")
9. great luck in the year of the dog! (literally "dog year big luck")

You may also notice from these examples that Chinese is one of those languages in which repetition of words can be meaningful. "age age" and "year year" both basically mean "every age" and "every year". I forgot the linguistic term for this...

Also, there are nine statements, because 九 (nine) is a homophone with 狗 (dog), in Cantonese. (Mandarin speakers don't get to enjoy this as much, sorry. :P)


  • I want to learn Mandarin.

    Or at least I will if I ever recover the language-learning drive I used to have.
  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    I have so many languages I want to learn but I have this terrible habit of idealizing things in a future I don't have to work towards because the future is the future forever.
    age age peace

    peace peace age age?
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    So, does the week start on Sunday or Monday?

    Well, why decide when you don't have to.

    The names of the days of the week, in Chinese:
    * Sunday: 星期日
    * Monday: 星期一
    * Tuesday: 星期二
    * Wednesday: 星期三
    * Thursday: 星期四
    * Friday: 星期五
    * Saturday: 星期六

    So, 星期 means "week" and "一" through "六" are the numbers 1 through 6. So, for Monday through Saturday, the names are literally "week 1" through "week 6", or more meaningfully translated, "the week's [nth] day".

    However, 日 means "day". So it basically means "the week's day". It's also "星期天", in Mandarin, because 天, which literally means sky, is also often used metonymically to mean "day". So Sunday lacks a number, for some reason.

    (For what it's worth, you can also use "禮拜" in place of "星期", for an informal way of saying "week".)

    Putting aside the obvious conflict between "the week's day" and the English terms "weekend" vs. "weekday", this basically means that you can start counting from 1 or 0.

    FWIW, the Chinese names of the months are similarly "boring":
    So basically these are all literally "one month", "two month", etc. -- or, again more for a smoother translation, "the first month", "the second month", and so on.

    And again, metonymy. 月 literally means "moon".
  • edited 2018-06-01 09:11:56
    Besides Friday, the days in Arabic are basically just numbers with Sunday as one until Saturday as seven.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    It's common to have words that don't translate 1:1 between languages, with some usages being covered by one translation and others being covered by another. Throwing things, in Chinese, is such an example.

    Well, let's start in English. We use "throw" to mean cause an object to become an airborne projectile, as a general thing. If it's at high speed, we might use "shoot", but if it's at low speed, or generally low momentum, we might use "toss". "Toss", by itself, also means to relegate something to the trash (or the garbage or the wastebasket or the rubbish bin or the dump, depending on your choice of usage for receptacles of objects deemed no longer useful and fated for removal). There are also more specialized/idiomatic terms, such as "heave" for throwing heavy objects, and usually with a swing of the arms from below.

    In Cantonese, there are at least two common words, that roughly correspond to "throw" and...also "throw" but kinda some "toss", and also a third slang word that just means "toss" in the trash sense most of the time.

    For "throwing" an object, there's 掟 (deng3 in Jyutping; in American English it might be written more like "daeng" -- something between "dang" and "deng"). Like, you'd do this with a basketball, or a stone, but typically lighter objects. It also just generally implies that the object in question is being used as a projectile, even if that projectile is small or light, when an appropriate English translation might be "toss". On the other hand, there's also 抛 (paau1 in Jyutping; something like "pow" in English but with less enunciation), which is more often used when the tossing is vertical and the object is light. 掟 is rarely used to refer to discarding trash -- unless you're complimenting someone on a successful toss into the trash can, where, again, the focus is on the projectile action.

    For "throwing" an object, possibly into the trash, there's 抌 (dam2 in Jyutping, but it sounds more like "dum", or more accurately "dum?" given the upward inflection of tone 2). This is a slightly odd usage since it also means to beat something, such as with a hammer or mallet -- and I suspect it got its pronunciation from onomatopoeia of this noise. Still, though, it's also used for throwing things, generally objects somewhat more weighty than you'd use 掟 for. Like, you'd 掟 a pebble, but you'd 抌 a boulder. 抌 by itself can also mean throwing something into the trash, or just the general action of trashing something even if it's not actually literally thrown, a usage that 掟 doesn't have.

    A slang word that pretty much only means to trash something is a word that's roughly pronounced "dehw6". It might be an alternate pronunciation of 掉 (which is listed as having Jyutping pronunciations diu6, deu6, and zaau6, and roughly has this meaning). But anyway, this is pretty much just non-formal Cantonese, considered somewhat crude, and pretty much solely means "toss into the trash", whether or not you add the "into the trash" part explicitly.

    If you're wondering what word is used for a high-velocity projectile, that's the word for "shoot", 射 (Jyutping se6, which sounds like "seh"). It also means to "emit", as in a beam or ray of light. Generally speaking, this implies horizontal, or at least near-linear, movement -- not a projectile arc you'd expect from something described using the other words mentioned here.
  • "you duck spawn, refined creature, you try to be cynical, yokel, but all that comes out of it is that you're a dunce!!!!! you duck plug!"
    hey guys

    today i learned a new chinese word

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    lrdgck wrote: »
    hey guys

    today i learned a new chinese word

    unfortunately I am unable to parse this because (1) it sounds like Mandarin and I don't know Mandarin, and (2) the tones could give me more clues (and maybe let me look it up) but i don't have them

    what is it supposed to mean?
  • "you duck spawn, refined creature, you try to be cynical, yokel, but all that comes out of it is that you're a dunce!!!!! you duck plug!"
    bēishāng wā

    simpl. 悲伤蛙

    trad. 悲傷蛙/悲傷鼃
  • Perpetually Peckish
    late but sadness frog? i'm pretty sure that's what that translates to.
  • edited 2024-04-15 01:22:30
    Perpetually Peckish
    lrdgck wrote: »
    hey guys

    today i learned a new chinese word


    tbh, putting it this way basically means nothing in chinese. 北上娃 (Kitakami Doll) fits that pinyin/transliteration just as well.

    Edit: Yeah, kinda double-posting here, lol.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    holy crap i forgot this whole conversation
  • Perpetually Peckish
    Yeah, I saw a chinese language thread and went weee~, lol. The dates barely registered, lol.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    it's more embarrassing to me since i actually responded in the first place
  • edited 2024-04-16 06:37:32
    Perpetually Peckish
    I want to learn Mandarin.

    Or at least I will if I ever recover the language-learning drive I used to have.

    Since this is from 6 years ago, you probably learnt already but just in case, for any newcomers.

    Lesson 1:

    The tonal system.

    First thing you will need to know about Mandarin, like all the Chinese dialects/languages (as far as I know), is that it's a tonal language. What's a tonal language? It's a language that differs meaning by how you pronounce them. Like, for example. 马 (mǎ, horse)is not the same as 妈 (mā, mother) even if you would transliterate both as ma because English does not have tonal symbols.

    What's a tonal symbol? It's these: the flat or level tone ( mā [妈, mother]), the rising tone (má [麻, numb]), the falling then rising tone (mǎ 【马, horse】), the falling tone (mà [骂, scold]), and the neutral tone (ma [吗, question mark particle because Mandarin is weird that way]). If you are not careful with your tones, you will end up calling your mother a horse and that's not good, lol.

    As an aside, I'm pretty sure Cantonese has its own tonal system but I don't know Cantonese so I'll leave that to someone else.

    Now, how do we transliterate these? Well, Mandarin has a syllable system - pinyin. There's usually a huge chart of initial consonants and later vowels but I really don't want to describe them so I'll handily steal them from somewhere. e7h51orqtfcg.jpg

    Yeah, there's a lot, isn't there? Only thing you will need to know is to put one consonant at front with one vowel at back and stick a tone as you need. Like, b + ao + flat tone = bāo 包 (bag). Sometimes, you don't even need a consonant (e.g 啊 ā, the screaming sound). That is basically how Mandarin pronunciation is put together. Of course, English doesn't have a tonal system so to transliterate it, we throw away the tone so 包 comes out as bao in English, which could, of course, have been 爆 (bào, explode).

    I'll end this with the standard addition to tonal posts. That Lion-Eating Poet poem:

    石室诗士施氏,嗜狮,誓食十狮。- In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict and had resolved to eat ten lions.

    氏时时适市视狮。- He often went to the market to look for lions.

    十时,适十狮适市。- At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.

    是时,适施氏适市。- At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.

    氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。- He saw those ten lions and, using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.

    氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。- He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.

    石室湿,氏使侍拭石室。- The stone den was damp. So he asked his servants to wipe it.

    石室拭,氏始试食是十狮。- After wiping the stone den, he tried to eat those ten lions.

    食时,始识是十狮尸,实十石狮尸。- When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were, in fact, ten stone lion corpses.

    试释是事。- Try to explain this matter.

    The entire poem is made up of tonal variants of the shi sound. Isn't tones fun, everyone?
  • if I ever recover the language-learning drive I used to have.
    This never happened.
    Ahh, thanks for the info.
    I actually started learning it back then (without intending to keep going) so I was already aware of them, although of course knowing about tones and being able to handle them are two very different things, heh.
    I never got around learning pinyin (besides knowing what "啊啊啊啊啊" means), in hindsight if one is to learn one single thing about Chinese languages pinyin would be among the most useful.
  • edited 2024-04-16 06:26:22
    Perpetually Peckish
    I think, as a whole, it's extremely difficult for English speakers to get the hang of tones without, at minimum, audio being involved because this is not a thing that translates into text very well.

    I recommend Grace Mandarin Chinese up on YouTube as a great resource if you want to learn Mandarin well. Like, take this tonal challenge for an example.

  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    I like how Chinese use of kanji* actually makes sense whereas I'm stuck with the 3 waves model in Japanese.

    *I don't know what it's called otherwise.
  • edited 2024-04-17 00:58:32
    Perpetually Peckish
    Please. It's like calling English American. It's called hanzi 汉字 (literally, Han [people's] characters). We came up with it first. The Japanese just wholesale stole it when they were doing one of their waves of 'Let's be totally not-China'. Of course, by this point, they've divulged so much I'm not even anywhere close to willing to call them remotely the same thing. Like, the Japanese character for dragon, 竜, so far as I know, does not exist in any writing form of Chinese, traditional or simplified.
  • edited 2024-04-16 23:58:34
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    Yeah, one of the weirdest things is how simplified Chinese simplified some characters in different ways than how Japanese simplified those same characters.

    Also, in retrospect it's rather interesting how Japanese uses kanji at all. The languages are surprisingly different.

    A few years ago or so I watched a video explained the linguistic differences between Japanese an Chinese, which are...pretty big. One very fundamental difference is that Chinese (including all the various varieties, as far as I know) is a subject-verb-object language while Japanese is apparently a subject-object-verb language. Another is that Chinese is a tonal languages (I'm pretty sure the various varieties are either all or mostly tonal; Cantonese and Mandarin definitely are), while Japanese is non-tonal.

    As a kid I used to wonder whether Japanese was basically derived from Chinese, but knowing what I now know, neither this nor the reverse seems likely.
  • edited 2024-04-17 02:58:58
    Perpetually Peckish
    I think a big part of why the Japanese adopted kanji at all is due to exactly how exactly how big a role China played in East Asia. Like, in the West, you have everyone wanting to be Rome. Well, in East Asia, you have everyone wanting to be China due to how China ended up becoming everyone's big brother.

    Like, language-wise, it's not just kanji in Japanese, it's hanja in Korean, Chu Han in Vietnamese and even when you look at extinct languages like Khitan and Jurchen, you can definitely find writings that are very recognizably hanzi.
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