Chinese is an Elegant Language

A month ago, I would have said that the Chinese language sounds harsh and choppy.  Today, however, as a beginner, I am beginning to appreciate the beauty of the language, both in its written forms and spoken sounds.  Chinese is an elegant language rich with history and meaning.

The five tones of the language (there is a neutral tone with no tonal markings) create a type of melody in the sentence structure.  The longer the phrasing, the longer the melody.  When the phrasing is short (five or less words), then the sentence can sound choppy.  A grammatical rules dictates that the first word of two words using the third tone change to second tone when sequential.  This means the first word is spoken using second tone, then the second word is spoken using the third tone.  In effect, the melody is always changing.  It does not remain stagnate.

Each Chinese written character has a rich history of development, both in the writing of the character (e.g., simplified Chinese) and its formation.  Many words are based upon compound characters, some of which no longer exist as single words in the language.  A good example of this is mou (please forgive the lack of PinYin), which meant eye, and is part of several existing words, but now the word for eye is something else.

Most characters were based on ancient pictographs that tell a story.  Once you know the ancient pictographs and can see how they evolved to present form, they make sense.  For example, the ancient pictograph for the word “I/me” depicts a person holding a sword in his hand.  The ancient pictograph for the word “you” depicts a person hiding in the house.   The storyline is something like: “I have a sword.  I am powerful.  You should be afraid of me.  You should hide in your home.”  Present form, simplified Chinese, vaguely depicts the characters for hand and sword (I/me) and roof/small (you).

When I was growing up, China was essentially closed to Americans.  There was little or no reason to study Chinese.  This changed with President Nixon visited China and the two countries opened trade relations with each other.  Suddenly, there was an opportunity motivated by commerce (not military intelligence) to learn Chinese.  There were few Chinese instructors in America and the perception was that Chinese was very difficult to learn.

The Chinese language is challenging, but not overwhelming difficult that learning it is impossible.  We just lacked both opportunity and motivation.   I have always appreciated Chinese culture, but now with opportunity thanks to the new VISA law revisions in both American and China, we can now appreciate each other’s cultures in new ways — like learning to speak each other’s languages.

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