Friday, December 12, 2008

So complex, yet so interesting


Right now in my grammar class we are studying a piece of text that is from the 'old' China, meaning that a lot of characters and words from the text are not used today anymore. It is both frustrating and fascinating I have to say, especially since a lot of words are not used anymore, and also, some characters have been replaced by others. Just like the character 'dao' 道. I had no idea that 道 used to mean 'speak'...(actually, it still does, of course. But today u don't use the word by itself when u talk about 'speaking) then it became 说道 'shuo dao', and then it changed and became 说 'shuo'... When our teacher started talking about the language's development yesterday I felt that there are so many things to learn when it comes to Chinese, that studying it on a part time really isn't enough. Next year I am hoping to find time to take some history course of Chinese language. Maybe that would help increase my understanding. And raise my level.

One of my friends studied Chinese in Taiwan some years ago, and he learned the traditional characters (as well as the simplified). Although the traditional characters look like a pain in the a** to write it would still be nice to know a few. Or, what do u guys think -is it a waste of time? I am not planning to go and live in Taiwan for the future (where the traditional characters are still used), I just thought it might be able to help when it comes to understanding the language?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it is nice to know a little bit about traditional character, not so much formally, but for the sake of seeing how the language has evolved and/or to be able to read books written in traditional in the future. I mean this from a practical standpoint, in that the Chinese language is actually quite visual. The character for door - for example - actually looks like a door in traditional. Words come from shapes and combinations of shapes, and drawing that connection to simplified characters could perhaps help to see characters as something containing inherent meaning, as opposed to just a strange shape (well for me, anyways). I guess it's like knowing roots or prefix/suffix of words in English, but that's getting off the point about traditional characters :)

yuyang said...

Believe me or not, I only study for simplified version and i can read all those 3 type of writing :)

I don’t think it's necessary to study the "old" writing style, except u really want to read those "old" books :/. Some of those books have high influence on today's Chinese philosophy but they are written in a way it's very hard to understand even by a native Chinese if they don’t have any knowledge about it.( the text are all the same ,but the grammar and every word's meaning has a lot different). It's like im waste my time on it; they already translated those "old book" in today's writing style.

Pretty hard to read my writing huh? :X

matthewmayer said...

they use traditional characters in HK too.

WoAi said...

Definitely no harm to learn a bit of traditional Chinese, it's also used in HK, Macau, Singapore, Canada and England, (you won't see simplified in China town in London). In fact, mainland China is the ONLY place they use simplified.

And of course, Japan shares some characters with China but only traditional not simplified.

Also it then gives you an understanding of where the simplified comes from, since you are interested in the history - go for it!

Jono said...

Learning traditional Chinese characters is a must-have if you want to try to approach native level Chinese - most Chinese people can read the characters so it makes sense that us foreigners learn them too! Many of the textbooks on my course are in traditional characters (I study along with Chinese students in Beijing) and if you ever make a trip to Hong Kong or Macao, knowing traditional characters is certainly useful - even if you can't speak Cantonese at least you can read the street signs!

Learning traditional characters is actually not as hard as you might think. My electronic dictionary has a traditional character mode - which means when I look up any English word I am given the traditional characters rather than the simplified ones. Another good approach to learning is watching downloaded films or buying pirate DVDs - you will find that the majority of these have subtitles in traditional Chinese rather than simplified. I've only really been learning the traditional characters for a year now and already I know some that my girlfriend (who is Chinese) can't recognise.

Writing the characters is of course another matter and probably not worth the trouble. In this new era where everything is done on computers, you can just type the pinyin and the traditional characters appear magically on the screen!

Just my point of view on things anyway :-)

Jono said...

Just another thing (sorry for spamming your comments). Traditional characters can help you remember the pronunciation of a character or its meaning.

For example:

The simplified character 广 (guang3)
Should actually be written as 廣
The 黃(huang2) inside explains where the 'uang' sound comes from.

The character 夸 (kua1) which means to compliment was originally written as 誇. The 言 part of the character tells you that it has something to do with speech.

There are many more cases where the above applies and I have found that learning traditional characters helps me to better understand and remember written chinese - both the meaning and the pronunciation.

Harry said...

Most Chinese with a secondary school education can read traditional characters. Traditional characters are widely used in the mainland, often for aesthetic reasons.

Learning Chinese history is also necessary. Almost every four character idiom is a story in ancient Chinese. To understand and use them you must be familiar with Chinese history.

You also need to learn Chinese classics, at least poetry from Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties. These poems are frequently quoted in modern Chinese writing.

Anyone who wants to be more than a simple peasant has to learn all the above.

尼克 said...

I must disagree with Jono, in my experience most Chinese (outside of the Macao, Hong Kong or Taiwan regions) can NOT read traditional characters. But it is interesting to learn for history's sake. But I do not think it will help your Chinese for use on a day-to-day level at all.

Jonna Wibelius said...

wow -I never expect this post to get so many comments but there u go. It is really interesting to hear about everyone's opinions and views about learning the traditional characters as well as the simplified. Some of u say 'no need' while others say it is almost necessary... I will just continue reading everyone's arguments and then eventually I'll make up my mind.

Anonymous said...

Most of the Chinese people will not write traditional Chinese characters, but can read. They also do not have any intention to learn

Anonymous said...

Jonna, I have enjoyed your blog. Topics like this one are so refreshing and educational.

Anonymous said...

sorry but one or two mistakes in WoAi's comment must be corrected. In fact, in Singapore the simplified character is the official one (see, for instance, the website zaobao.com of Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean newspaper), and thus the mainland China is not the only place using simplified.
For another, the Japanese tried to simplify Chinese characters even before the mainland China, and indeed they share some simplified Chinese characters, such as the character 国.

zhou said...

As a native chinese, i'd say it is not necessary at all for an foreignor to learn traditional chinese!Reasons are:

1, the differences between the two characters are not so huge as it seems to be, a great number of characters are the same in the two systems.

2, it won't be a problem at all if you go travelling to Hongkong or Macau without a knowledge of traditonal chinese character, since there's huge similarities between the characters and you can read/guess most of the street signs easily.

3, most college educated mainlanders can read traditional chinese but cannot write them by hand, such as me. This is because most chinese characters are used in phrases other than a single character, and the phrases are the same in both simplifed and traditional chinese. Another reason is that the chinese read their characters by its shape other than its spell(contrary to the westerners), for example when we read the traditional character 學 we can quickly relate it to the character with the most similar shape, which is 学. So if you can really master either simplified or traditional chinese, it won't take you long to be able to read the other charater systems, all you need then is several hours of adaption. Just like most mainlanders, we probably can't identify a single traditional character but we can read a whole essay in traditonal characters, although a bit slower.

4,it'll take you a long time to study traditonal characters, and study the two characters at the same time will definitely frustrate you..

Also, Jonna, i think you have made a mistake in this entry. You mixed the concepts of Classic chinese and Traditonal chinese characters.

The Classic chinese refers to the grammar and vocabulary we used to use in written language before 1920s.It is dead now, in both mainland and Taiwan, no one will write like that anymore, although the morden chinese are evovled from it and chinese students have to learn lots of great works in classic chinese. I myself, as most natives, have difficulties in reading classic chinese.

The traditional chinese characters are the original chinese characters used in mainland and Taiwan before the CCP adopted simplified characters (and pinyin system)in 1950s. Nowadays, the tradional characters are used in Hongkong, Macau, Taiwan, and most oversea chinese communities. Simplified are used in mainland and Singapore.

As for the history..hmmm, we have 25 major dynasties..

flyingfish said...

I agree with Jono, learning traditional characters is not nearly as hard as you might imagine, and it does also really help organize the phonophoric element of the writing system in your head.

You might also like to consider learning Classical Chinese. Though some classical texts are ferociously difficult, others are really quite easy and fun.

Many people learn only the older forms of the language and do not ever really master modern Chinese, or at least never learn to speak it well. This is not so true now, but it was definitely true a generation and a half ago, when China scholars in the West often had a hard time getting to China, and fluency in the modern language was just not seen as terribly important.

Good luck with your studies!

Tamara said...

if you can learn to read/write traditional, all the simplified characters are a breeze to read/write as well. it's essential, anyway, if you want to communicate in chinese "like a native"... my first foreign language was japanese: it uses lots of traditional chinese characters. when i finally moved onto chinese for study, knowing traditional characters helped me out a LOT in the beginning. and now i try to get ten words from the dictionary a day to reinforce my memory and writing skills :) if you don't use it, you lose it!

btw, i live in suzhou (and have for more than four years), so i like reading what you have to say about the city...