Category Archive for 'Languages'

Learning Chinese: Cantonese or Mandarin? Or…? Taishanese!

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

A few years back, I tried looking for material on Toisan (aka Taishanese). The most I found was this linguistic paper, Toisan: A Cantonese Dialect by Aaron Lee, which I thought was fairly good in terms of giving you an understanding of the pronunciation in Toisan. What I didn’t know then was that the name of the language was being changed to ‘Taishanese’ (in accordance with the town/city Toisan now being called ‘Taishan’, which is the Mandarin name) and that Toisan, which is the Cantonese name, was/is called ‘Hoisan’ by its own native speakers. I grew up with it being called ‘Toisan’ or ‘Toisan-wa’ (Toisan is also sometimes called ‘Toisan-wa’ to distinguish it from Toisan the place; ‘wa’ simply means ‘language’ used in this context). I did also find the site for Taishan itself, although I didn’t find much use for it in terms of learning Toisan/Taishanese.

Because of the lack of material for learning Toisan, I decided simply to go ahead with learning Cantonese (since it is quite similar to Toisan-wa, and since I already had exposure to Cantonese growing up, as evidenced by my use of “Toisan”). Unfortunately, whenever I speak to my mom, I automatically speak Toisan instead of Cantonese (my mom understands both although she is stronger in Toisan).

I decided recently to try looking for material on Toisan again. Searching for ‘Toisan’, I found again Toisan: A Cantonese Dialect (see above link), but also an amusing blog by Toisan Girl. In one of her recent posts, she writes:

I’m feeling rather disappointed in myself lately about how I haven’t taught much Toisanese to my children, as days and years go by ever so quickly now, and knowing sadly one day our language will die. At least in America, it likely will. Perhaps it may continue for generations in the Hoisan villages back in China. It’s been over a year since I’ve conversed with anyone in Hoisan-wah and I can feel it slipping away from me. As with anything that we value, we need to make an effort to hold onto it, it’s not easy when I have few people to speak my mother tongue with. Maybe I’ll look up the Hoisan society organizations here and check it out. I feel the need to hold on for some reason, maybe it’s simply a comfort mechanism for me to want to return to my childhood roots, to remember the contributions of our ancestry.

While I don’t have children, I can relate to her feelings that it feels like my native language may well die out. But as she points out, it may well continue to thrive back in China, specifically in Taishan where Toisan-wa originally comes from. However, in Taishan they also speak Cantonese. According to Wikipedia’s article on Taishan:

The main language of Taishan is Taishanese. While most Taishanese today use Mandarin in school or formal occasions, Taishanese is the de facto language. Taishanese is a dialect of Yue Chinese, a large group which includes, but is broader than, Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Thus Cantonese and Taishanese are related but distinct. Before the 1980s, Taishanese was the predominant Chinese language spoken throughout North America’s Chinatowns.[9] Cantonese (Guangdonghua) is also widely known in Taishan, as it serves as lingua franca of Guangdong Province.

After reading a bit of Toisan Girl’s blog, I continued searching for learning material on Toisan. I decided to search for Aaron Lee since he wrote that linguistic paper on Toisan. I was hoping that maybe he was doing more research and work on Toisan. Well, fortune favoured me! I found Aaron Lee on Twitter, and from there, I found his blog, Four Counties, where he is writing about Taishanese.

From there I found Stephen Li’s Taishanese Language Home and Hoisanva 台山話 | Seik heng m seik gong by Gene Chin. Stephen Li is also teaching Taishanese on his blog, Toisanese Chop Suey, but the really great find is the Hoisanva English Dictionary from Gene Chin. 😀

From one of Aaron Lee’s blog post, ‘Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’, I discovered that the U.S. Defense Language Institute was teaching a course in ‘Toishan’ back in the 1960s! They have since made the text material available online. (See Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’.) From that post too, I found a link to Ben’s Cantonese Practice Journal: Toishanese (台山話) Textbook Audio, where he has provided the audio material for the Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’. 😀

Finally! I have some learning materials for Toisan-wa! Okay, it is called ‘Taishanese’ now, but remember… “You can take the girl out of Toisan, but you can’t Toisan out of the girl.” 😉 For me, it will always be ‘Toisan-wa’.

Using the Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’ and the Hoisanva English Dictionary from Gene Chin, I should hopefully be able to improve my native language, Toisan, over time. At the very least, it should give me a better understanding of the language than I had when I was growing up. Will I still be studying Cantonese off and on? Sure, but I am definitely going to try out the Toisan materials I found. (I guess I might be flip-flopping between the two, checking the Toisan with the Cantonese to note the differences or to supplement Toisan with Cantonese. Oh, this is complicated!)

“What about Mandarin?” you may ask me.

Well, Mandarin is actually quite different from Toisan, and a lot of native Toisan speakers find Mandarin a bit difficult to pick up. It just doesn’t feel natural to us Toisan people. It’s like it’s ‘Chinese’, but not – this is kind of hard for me to explain. As difficult as it is for a native Toisan speaker to pick up Mandarin, it’s actually harder to go the other way around, that is, from Mandarin to Toisan or to Cantonese. I’d have a much easier time learning Mandarin if I go from Toisan to Cantonese to Mandarin (although that means I’d be in effect learning three languages, even if they are somewhat related; generally Toisan is considered to be a dialect of Cantonese although it’s possible it may have evolved separately).

One final Toisan link I found today for amusement’s sake (you’d have to be Toisan to get the humour or at least have some imagination): Toisan Lives (Check out the T-shirt designs. “Moh yoong” LOL.)

~~~C

Books, Novels, and Languages

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The past month has been a bit crazy. I’ve just been trying to finish some things and then started working on others.

Here is some fiction that I’ve read recently:
Knife of Dreams (book 11 of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton. (I had read the graphic novel first, then The Laughing Corpse novel. But I wanted to contrast the novel with the graphic novel, so I decided to read Guilty Pleasures before moving on in the series of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels.)
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) in comics is finally completed. :) I am waiting for the last Angel TPB from IDW. Then Buffy’s story and Angel’s story will continue under Dark Horse Comics. The new Angel series will be called Angel and Faith. (No, you aren’t imagining it, Faith’s last name was revealed to be ‘Lehane’ in the last issue of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) No, they never used a last name in the TV shows. Covers for the first issues of these two series are on Dark Horse Comics’ website already. See ‘Buffy Season Nine’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover and ‘Angel and Faith’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover’.

And now, my ‘to read’ list:
A Feast for Crows (book four of A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin
Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Stormqueen! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Stolen by Kelley Armstrong
Moon of 3 Rings by Andre Norton
Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

I am currently reading A Feast for Crows now that HBO’s Game of Thrones is finished. It’s a bit confusing to be reading book four of A Song of Ice and Fire while watching the events of book one on-screen. I rather liked the adaptation to screen of the book, A Game of Thrones. They are preparing for season two of Game of Thrones, which is based on the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. I seriously think HBO should rename the series, but whatever. Hopefully, they do just as good a job with book two as they did with book one. But yay! Back to A Feast for Crows. Book five, A Dance with Dragons, will be released soon, so I’m trying to catch up. At some point, I will re-watch all of Game of Thrones.

I’ve been in a bit of a studying mood. I decided to get back to studying languages.

I started studying Cantonese a few years back more out of a sense that I should know it, but tonal languages are hard if you don’t have a good ear for pitch. I am a native Taishanese speaker.  (Taishan is on the southern coast of China. Once a small town, it is now a city. Taishan was once called ‘Toisan’, so you may hear some Chinese people say they speak ‘Toisan’.) Taishanese is very similar to Cantonese which is why I decided to study Cantonese first and then Mandarin.

However, I don’t have much use for Cantonese or Mandarin right now. I can use Cantonese with my mom, but it often turns into Cantonese mixed with Toisan mixed with English – a very strange version of ‘Chinglish’. My mom does not speak Mandarin. I like the Chinese writing system though, but you really have to use that nearly every day to be even remotely good at it. So, I decided to put the Cantonese aside for a while. The written language for Cantonese is the same as they use for Mandarin, one of the reasons I like the Chinese writing system. Even if two Chinese people don’t speak the same language/dialect, the writing system would still allow them to communicate. If I ever get some more time, I think I will be more likely to get back to the Chinese writing than the Cantonese.

I studied French for eleven years continuously throughout school. A few years ago, I did a fairly thorough review of French grammar because there were a few things I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of yet. I was intending to increase my French vocabulary, but I’ve since decided that I don’t like the way French sounds all that much. I also don’t have much use for it, unless I visit France or somewhere else where they are speaking French. If that’s the case, it’s a bit of a review and adding some vocabulary – not too difficult to do.

There are other languages that I actually like and want to learn rather than Chinese or French. They are Korean (which I have been studying off and on for about a year or so), Spanish, Irish, and Dutch (which I did study consistently for a little bit – I need to do a review before moving on with it).

I like Korean because the language seems lively and fun without it feeling like a constant pop song as in Cantonese. I also like the writing system, called han’gul in Korean. Korean used to use the Chinese writing system, but then a new system was created to use with the language. The han’gul makes a whole lot of sense for Korean. Korean is however still a hard language to learn if English is your dominant language. (See “Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers”.)

For a while, I was switching between studying Korean and Cantonese – two very hard languages for an English speaker to pick up (although I probably have a slight edge since I grew up speaking Taishanese with my parents; note that Korean does have some words that are cognate to Cantonese, for example, “chung gwok” in Cantonese and “chunguk” in Korean for ‘China’). There are different reasons why Korean and Cantonese are difficult. Korean uses the subject-object-verb (SOV) construction which is different than the subject-verb-object (SVO) construction in English. For example, in Korean you’d say “I (subject) school-to (object) go (verb)” while in English, you’d say “I (subject) go (verb) to school (object).” Also, Korean has their own writing system. Cantonese is hard simply because it’s a tonal language. Some grammar points are different than English and some things are done in Cantonese that aren’t in English, but Cantonese is pretty much SVO. You can learn to speak and understand Cantonese without learning to write Chinese.

Since Korean is a pretty hard language to learn, I decided that I should just start studying an easier language on top of Korean. Since I’m not studying Cantonese as much, I’m really only focused on one hard language (Korean, and I’m starting to get used to the writing system and the SOV construction!), so why not just start an easier language? Sometimes, you can get your fill of one language for a bit. For me, it takes a day or two for new vocabulary to settle in before I can move on in that language. You also don’t ever ‘finish’ studying a language (I still learn new words in English sometimes), so there’s no point in waiting to learn another language. Since I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish, I decided to do a little bit of Spanish the other day. I don’t think this will be too hard to do on top of the Korean since I spent years studying French. (French and Spanish are both Romance languages.) Of course, there’s vocabulary to learn, but some words are cognate between languages.

I really want to learn Irish, but it seems much harder than Spanish or Dutch, so I will wait until I have a firmer grasp on Korean before I start Irish. As I mentioned earlier, I need to do a review of Dutch before I move on in it. Once I have a better grasp of Korean, maybe I’ll review Dutch and then start studying Irish or vice versa.

There are two languages I’d like to study from a purely academic perspective – Sanskrit and Latin. I started the Sanskrit a while back. Got past the pronunciation and learning the writing system, but I need to review those before moving on. Also since I’m only studying Sanskrit from an academic perspective regarding languages, I’m in no real rush with it.

For now, I’ll be busy enough with Korean and Spanish – and trying to catch up on my reading list above. :)

안녕히 가세요!
(‘Annyǒnghi kaseyo!’ is the English romanization. It’s “Goodbye” for when someone is leaving.)

¡Adiós, chao!

~~~C

Book Nook

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of reading again. Mostly trying to get through a stack of books that were piling up again. I really should try to avoid the used bookstore sometimes, but it’s always fun finding a good deal on something that turns out to be a gem.

Comics have really come a long way since I was younger. I hated comics when I was a kid. There were mostly the superhero comics and I was not that much a fan of those. Plus, I never cared for that artwork back then (though it is my understanding they didn’t have a good range of colours then as they do now). I am still keeping up with the Buffy and Angel comics. Not only do I like the Buffy stories, I like the art in this series. Joss Whedon has a good eye for style.

I’ve loved Star Wars since I was a kid. I am enjoying Dark Horse’s collection of Star Wars comics that they published since the 1990s. You can see a gradual change in colours being used in the art over the years. The newer stuff definitely looks better.

Recommended comics:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Predators and Prey (Season 8, volume 5)
Angel: Aftermath (Angel volume 5)
Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi (volumes 1 and 2)

Here’s a list of novels I read recently:

Winter’s Heart (book nine of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan
The Heritage of Hastur (published in the omnibus, Heritage and Exile) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Rogue Squadron (book one of Star Wars: X-wing) by Michael A. Stackpole
The Burrowers Beneath (published in Brian Lumley’s Mythos Omnibus) by Brian Lumley
Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
Ralestone Luck by Andre Norton

Finally, onto book ten of The Wheel of Time. Book twelve, called The Gathering Storm, is finally in print. It will be a while before it is in paperback, but that’s okay as I have two books to read to catch up. Meanwhile, I am making my way through Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. While I really like Jordan’s epic, I find Martin’s epic more mature and I rather enjoy his writing more. Martin is technically a much better writer than Jordan, but I do like both stories for different reasons.

Heritage of Hastur was a good read. I can see why many consider it to be Bradley’s best Darkover novel. The next Darkover novel on my list is Sharra’s Exile, Bradley’s re-write of her earlier Sword of Aldones.

Rogue Squadron is part of the Star Wars: X-Wing series of novels. It has been said by some readers to be the best Star Wars series in novel form after the Thrawn stories written by Timothy Zahn. Rogue Squadron introduces a new Star Wars character, Corran Horn… er, correct that, Horn was introduced in the Rogue Squadron comics by Dark Horse. But if you didn’t read those, then this will introduce you to Corran Horn. Corran Horn and Wedge Antilles (along with Tycho Celchu from the comics) seem to be the primary characters of this novel and series. Star Wars fans will remember Wedge Antilles from the first Star Wars movie. Since Return of the Jedi, Antilles becomes the leader of Rogue Squadron and is considered to be a living legend among pilots. I did enjoy this novel (probably because I would love to be a space pilot). For it’s medium length (under 400 pages), it introduces a complicated background story and is filled with interesting new characters. Book two of this series is called Wedge’s Gamble and I am wanting to read that sometime. Before that though, I will be reading the second book in the Thrawn trilogy, Dark Force Rising.

Brian Lumley’s Mythos Omnibus has been sitting around home for a while. Nathan read that a while back and it seemed interesting to me. Out of a desire to read some fantasy horror, I started to read the first book in the omnibus. Lumley has taken the Cthulhu mythos from Lovecraft and created a wonderful Holmesian atmosphere to go with the horror elements of Cthulhu. The main character of the story is Titus Crow, who maintains an interest in occult subjects and begins investigating evidences of Cthulhu. His sidekick, Henri-Laurent de Marigny, is very much like Conan Doyle’s, Dr. Watson. I found I really enjoyed Lumley’s writing and this story. I’ve been interested in the Cthulhu story for awhile so I thought this might be amusing. Having read Lovecraft’s short story, The Call of Cthulhu, I felt that Lumley’s take on the Cthulhu myth is in line with Lovecraft’s original ideas. The added Holmesian atmosphere is a plus for me since I did enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was younger.

What can I say about Douglas Adams that hasn’t been said? Hilarious. I particularly like “bistromathics”! Brilliantly funny.

Ralestone Luck is Andre Norton’s second published novel, published in 1938. I found a used copy of it, but you can read this novel online at The Project Gutenberg EBook of Ralestone Luck, by Andre Norton. It is an amusing little adventure/mystery story. Norton is a good writer and will get you absorbed in the story quickly.

Here is my current reading list:

Gormenghast (the sequel to Titus Groan) by Mervyn Peake
A Clash of Kings (book two of A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I am on part three of book two, page 443)

As mentioned, I am trying to make my way through Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I haven’t gone back to War and Peace yet, since I rather enjoy my fantasy novels more. Along with Martin’s novel, I am making my way through Gormenghast, which is set on a fantasy world of its own. I think I am still wrapping my head around the gothic eeriness of Mervyn Peake’s story. It is also morbidly humourous. Don’t read it unless you like dark comedies, but the writing is brilliant and you would be sorely missing out if you don’t read it. Gormenghast, as I mentioned before, is the sequel to Titus Groan. This novel should be an interesting read if you are curious as to what happens to Titus as he grows up.

What’s next on my reading list:
Sharra’s Exile (published in the omnibus, Heritage and Exile) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Crossroads of Twilight (book ten of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan
The Transition of Titus Crow (published in Brian Lumley’s Mythos Omnibus) by Brian Lumley (or possibly Necroscope seeing as I enjoyed Lumley’s writing, I am curious if I might like his other series as well)
Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

Aside from reading novels, I’ve gone back to studying Korean. I started it a while back, but didn’t get too far. I decided that to help me study, it would help to be able to type Korean since I like to make notes on the computer. I installed scim onto my Debian laptop and it works wonderfully. I even have Chinese and Japanese language inputting available if I ever need. When I get a chance sometime I will check out which Chinese inputting layouts work best for learning how to write Chinese characters, but it’s Korean studying for now.

안녕히 가세요!
(“Annyǒnghi kaseyo” which means “goodbye” and is spoken by the person who is staying to someone who is leaving)
~~~C

French, Dutch, Cantonese, other languages (oh my!)

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Yes, I know it has been awhile since I wrote on this blog. I have been in study mode for a while now.

Last month, I mentioned that I was studying Dutch. While studying Dutch, I decided that it might help me to review French and compare French grammar to English and Dutch. I don’t have an English grammar textbook, but I have a French textbook from university. I spent 11 years studying French and decided long ago that I would probably pick it up again as it would be a tragedy to completely forget something I spent so long learning. So, I spent a good month reviewing French, everything from articles to the subjunctive mood. Suffice it to say I have a better understanding and appreciation of French grammar now. It has also improved my understanding of English grammar.

Now that I understand French grammar in comparison to English grammar, I can begin to understand Dutch grammar in comparison. So far, articles in Dutch are slightly easier than in French. There are no masculine or feminine nouns in Dutch but some Dutch words use a different article – het rather than de. Conjugating verbs in the present tense is so far much easier than in French, though, of course, Dutch has some irregular verbs. Zijn (meaning “to be”) and hebben (meaning “to have”) are both irregular verbs in the present tense as in French.

I have recently continued with studying Cantonese. Last month, I mentioned studying Chinese writing and that the writing system is different than the system of oral communication. Cantonese is not my native language. In fact, there are many dialects of Chinese. In south China where my family originates, the dialect there is Toisan. It is also called it Hoisan, and nowadays it is properly called Taishan. The name of the language is the same as the name of the village where it originates. Taishan is now a small city, and I suppose overtime the language will be called Taishan instead or as English speakers might prefer “Taishanese” (though I don’t know why English has this propensity to put “ese” at the end of it). In any case, Cantonese is not my native language although it is very close to Toisan. One of the main differences is the use of the “voiceless alveolar lateral fricative” in Toisan. In English you can probably equate it to a “thl” but not quite. In layman’s terms, I would say put your tongue on the top of your mouth, hold it there and blow air through your mouth and make an “l” sound.

This is amusingly enough the same sound for the double l’s in Welsh, such as in “Llew” (for the Celtic god Lugh). Although Welsh would be quite difficult to pronounce for English speakers, because I speak Toisan I actually can pronounce “Llew” properly in Welsh. 😀 (So much for Welsh being a difficult language.) Also, the Welsh “rh” is pronounced the same way as the “ll”, but of course with the “r” sound instead of the “l” sounds. (So, um… yes, at some point I might learn some Welsh, just because it’s an interesting language to me. I always thought it sounded like Chinese to me, now I know why, but it seems much softer spoken.)

Oh, I digress. Yes, I am studying Cantonese and even for me it’s a difficult language. This is because of its use of tones to distinguish between words. This means there are a lot of homophones, words that sounds the same but aren’t the same in meaning. In English, we have “there”, “their”, and “they’re” as examples of homophones, and you understand which is meant by the context of what is spoken. In Cantonese, Toisan, and Mandarin (they are all tonal languages – so are Vietnamese and Thai, in case you were interested), almost every word is a homophone. There are seven different tones in Cantonese (Mandarin is slightly easier with five tones instead, one which is considered “neutral”). The tones in Cantonese are high level, high falling (to middle level), high or mid rising (rising to high level), mid level, low rising (to middle level), low level, and low falling. Of course, the tones are relative to the pitch of your voice. You should be able to reach a high level without straining too much and your low tone should be comfortably low. Thus, as you can see, this takes practice. Practice is good because you don’t want to mix up your homophones and accidentally insult someone like, for example, your mother. “Ma” with low rising tone means horse and “ma” with a high level tone means “Mom”. You might do better by calling her “Mama” with a low falling tone followed by a high level tone on the second syllable. 😉

I’ve also managed to sneak in learning the Russian alphabet. Here it is, all 33 letters, in both upper and lower case except for three that do not have upper case because they are never needed:

Аа, Бб, Вв, Гг, Дд, Ее, Ёё, Жж, Зз, Ии, Йй, Кк, Лл, Мм, Нн, Оо, Пп, Рр, Сс, Тт, Уу, Фф, Хх, Цц, Чч, Шш, Щщ, ъ, ы, ь, Ээ, Юю, Яя

The letters are callled (in the same order as above):
a, be, ve, ge, de, ye, yo, zhe, ze, i, i kratkoye (short i), ka, el, em, en, o, pe, er, es, te, u, ef, kha, tse, che, sha, shcha, tvyordiy znak (hard sign), yeri, myagkiy znak (soft sign), e oborotnoye (reversed e), yu, ya

If you already know the Greek alphabet, the Russian alphabet shouldn’t be too difficult. “A” is the same as alpha (and “a” in English), “ka” is the same as kappa (and “k” in English), “o” is the same as omicron (and “o” in English), and “te” is the same as tau (and “t” in English). Some of the upper case letters are the same. “Ve” (В) is the same as beta, “ge” (Г) is the same as gamma, “em” (М) is the same as mu, “pe” (П) is the same as pi, “er” (Р) is the same as rho, “u” (У) is the same as upsilon, “ef” (Ф) is the same as phi, and “kha” (Х) is the same as chi. “De” (Д) is similar to delta, “el” (Л) is similar to lambda. The order ka, el, em, en, o, pe, er, es, te, u, is similar to Greek (and English).

Other languages I would like to learn are Irish, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Welsh (already mentioned), German, and maybe Italian. Many languages have similarities to each other and learning one may make it easier to learn another. Dutch is supposedly easy for English speakers. Spanish and Italian should be easy after learning French. German should be easy for English and Dutch speakers. Irish and Welsh are Celtic languages. Japanese writing is essentially Chinese writing except that Japanese has another system that they use in conjunction with the Chinese characters. Korean has its own “alphabet” and should be interesting.

For now, I’m making my way through Cantonese and Chinese writing (which needs to be practiced regularly), improving my French, and learning Dutch.

In case you are curious and want to learn a language too, I’ve been using the “Teach Yourself” language series. These books provide a good basis for whatever language you’re learning and you can look for additional material. You may have problems finding Cantonese and Chinese writing material. My approach is to learn Cantonese purely as a spoken language and just use the Mandarin writing materials. Once you know Cantonese, you can then associate the proper Cantonese word with the meaning of the Chinese character. Chinese University Press has two dictionaries that are for Cantonese, an English-Cantonese one and a Chinese-English one that provides both Cantonese and Mandarin pronunciations. The English-Cantonese dictionary is strictly for learning to speak Cantonese (lots of English words and phrases are listed). The Chinese-English one provides the characters with the pronunciations and the English translations. For Cantonese grammar books, I have ordered one published by Routledge – Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Reading and Writing Chinese: Traditional Character Edition by William McNaughton and Li Ying contains a total of 2306 characters and lists the basic characters which a student should know first. There is also a Simplified Character Edition.

For Dutch, there are grammar books from Routledge. There is Dutch: An Essential Grammar and Dutch: A Comprehensive Grammar which is to be reprinted this year.

~~~C

Timeout – Novels, Human Rights, Languages

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Parable of the Sower last month sometime. Both are excellent reads depending on your mood. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is light-hearted while Parable of the Sower is fairly dark, though probably not as dark as Titus Groan. The ending of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell might surprise a few readers, but if you understand the characters well, you’ll understand the ending.

I’ve been reading about human rights like I mentioned. Primarily I’ve been borrowing books from the library. I finished reading International Human Rights by Jack Donnelly. It is nominally an introductory to human rights (though the author writes to an American audience). Still it was a good introductory, I suppose. It was published in 2007, written just at the time when the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights was being replaced by the more prominent Human Rights Council. The change is probably a good thing as the UN Human Rights Council reports directly to the General Assembly of the UN (that is, all the members of the UN) rather than just the UN Economic and Social Council (which is composed of only 54 members of the UN, albeit elected by the General Assembly). Aside from this change, the book is fairly up-to-date. The cases in the book are older cases that are of historical note. For more recent news on human rights issues, you can read reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Right now, I’m waiting for a book to become available at the library. I have it on hold.

In the meantime, I finished reading a little introductory book on hieroglyphs. It is mostly about Egyptian hieroglyphs and includes a few chapters on Mayan hieroglyphs. These systems of writing are fairly logical. Aside from learning the meaning of different Egyptian hieroglyphs, it would be useful to actually speak the language because the Egyptian hieroglyphs also consist of phonograms (that is, images that represent sounds not the actual picture). The problem of course is that ancient Egyptian isn’t the same as modern Egyptian. Thus, the problem with translation of ancient Egyptian is that even if you can determine the sound of a word, it’s in ancient Egyptian and the word may have slightly changed meaning over the years. Of course, there are many hieroglyphs that have meanings associated with them and not just sounds making it quite an interesting writing system.

I also started learning how to write Chinese. Well, I knew a bit of the mechanics of how to write Chinese characters. What I’m learning now is mostly understanding Chinese characters and trying to recognize them. In some ways similar to how hieroglyphs work though the pictures over time changed to characters. For example, the character meaning “sun or day” originated from our standard sun circle with a dot or line in the center to a square with a line in the middle. Imagine drawing a vertical line down on the left side, then the top line and right line, then the line in the middle connecting the left and right, and finally the bottom line connecting the left and right lines. Remembering what some Chinese characters mean stems from understanding how it came that way. Other characters can be made from standard characters (called “radicals”). In this way, a meaning may be derived from two or more characters joined together. For example, the character for woman is one radical. The character for child is another. Now, to the Chinese long ago, a woman with a child was considered a good thing. Thus, the characters for woman and child joined together (written close to each other from left to right) means “good”. There are, of course, radicals that have no meaning and serve simply to help group Chinese characters together for ease of organization. Characters may also represent sounds only. Two Chinese words that sound similar except for the tone can be written differently by using a different radical that indicates which meaning to give to the sound. In this way, some radicals act like determinatives in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Interesting, huh? Characters represent syllables, which means that every syllable in Chinese has a character. This means that a word spoken in Chinese may be written with more than one character. Now, there’s this little problem of learning something like 3000 characters to actually be able to read a Chinese newspaper (basic literacy). A well-educated person should know about 4000 to 5000 Chinese characters. In any case, this is something I’ve been meaning to get around to because I really should be able to read and write Chinese. Never mind that Chinese brush writing is artistic in its own way. It gives an added style dimension to writing. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, speaking Chinese is a separate system. The characters represent syllables of a word, but do not necessarily indicate the sounds you are to say. Thus, you have to learn how to say something in Chinese and associate it with the characters. Otherwise, the characters don’t necessarily tell you what sound to say – not like in English, when you see “t” you say the “tee” sound.)

I’m also learning Dutch. It seems fairly easy so far. It has some similarities to English and hm… I’m wanting to say French and German. I’m starting to remember some words like, “Dank je” (Thank you), “Goedemorgen” (Good morning) and “Doei” (informal “Bye!”), which is reminding me that I should say “Doei!” for now. I have some more reading and studying to do.

~~~CJ

What I Am Studying

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

MM,

Aside from reiki, Wicca, and martial arts, what else am I studying you may be wondering.

It’s funny how following a spiritual path leads you in all sorts of directions. For one thing, I seem to have gone full circle and I’m studying more about my heritage and genetic roots. Thus, I’ve been studying a bit of China’s history and culture as well as Cantonese.

Cantonese is the dialect of Chinese most similar to my own (there are reportedly hundreds of dialects, but they are probably dying out as the Chinese government made Mandarin the official language, which is taught in school), and is the one most commonly spoken amongst North American Chinese people. Mandarin is being spoken more often by the next generation in China since it is forced on them in school. Basically, Cantonese was the most common language in China before the rise of communism there. With the upheaval in China in the mid-twentieth century, many Cantonese speaking Chinese left the country and went to North America. Thus, Cantonese is what you are likely to hear amongst the older generation North American Chinese – those who immigrated here as well as the first generation North American Chinese like myself. However, there are also many Chinese who left who spoke one of the hundreds of different dialects, like my family. My mother speaks Cantonese but in the home she speaks what I just call Toi San, after the name of our hometown in China (the town is now a small city called Taishan, which I hope to visit one day). Because the town of Toi San was fairly large, there are quite a few speakers of Toi San as well. Cantonese is very similar to Toi San, the major differences being the consonant sounds at the beginning of a word or syllable. Since I do hope to visit China one day, I thought I should learn to speak the more common dialects, plus you really can’t learn any other dialect of Chinese unless you grew up with it. Since Cantonese is closer to my dialect, I decided to learn that first and then Mandarin later. This is just the spoken language. The written language for Chinese is the same. The written language for Chinese (composed of characters) is unique in that each syllable is written not as it sounds like, but as the idea. Thus, the characters do not inform you as to what word needs to be sounded. You read Chinese as if you were looking at multiple pictures. Because the written language for Chinese is the same regardless of the dialect spoken and nowadays you can only learn to read and write using Mandarin, I will have to learn Mandarin just to make the learning to read and write Chinese easier.

Cantonese is both difficult and easy to learn. The easy part is that there are few actual sounds in Cantonese. There are only six consonants that may be used at the end of a word/syllable, and there are many homophones (words that sound the same). However, because of the many homophones there needs to be a way to distinguish between them. This is done by using tones, though you might be able to determine the correct word by the context. This is where the difficulty lies. The ear needs to be trained to hear the difference in tones. Those who are tone-deaf will definitely find Chinese challenging, and I’m not sure if there is sign language for Chinese – I imagine that would be difficult.

However, it is said that is easier to learn Mandarin once you know Cantonese, but it’s harder the other way around.

Writing Chinese is fairly easy. There are rules for how to write the characters. Each character is comprised of a “stroke”, and each stroke must be written in a specific order. These rules for stroke order are fairly straightforward. Once you have that writing Chinese is easy. It’s the reading that is difficult. Because each word/syllable is represented by a different character and the character does not give you any idea of how the word sounds, you have to be able to see the idea the character represents. It is said that to read a standard Chinese newspaper, you need at least 1000 characters. About 3500 characters are probably used. A well learned individual should know about 5000 characters. A good Chinese dictionary consists of about 50,000 characters. For someone new to reading Chinese (and I am despite being Chinese, I grew up in an English society so I never had any need to read in Chinese), it’s quite a feat to learn just 1000 characters. The neat thing though is that the characters were based on images of what the characters represented. Thus, if one studies how the character for a word came about, it’d be easier to remember. Yay for me, loads of studying to do still.

I’ve also picked up a book on hieroglyphics, which is about reading and writing in Egyptian and Mayan. Hieroglyphics is commonly associated with Egyptian, but since hieroglyphs just mean “carved writing” it applies to Mayan as well. Egyptian hieroglyphs are like Chinese characters in that they depict the idea. However, Egyptian hieroglyphs also represented a sound. But they represented the sound that was part of the Egyptian word that is depicted in the hieroglyph. Ah… interesting. Because some hieroglyphs represent both sounds and an idea, there is a hieroglyph that indicates which it is – sound or idea. This is called a determinative. There are quite a few hieroglyphs, but surprisingly it’s fairly easy to read Egyptian hieroglyphs once you get used to it. You just have to get used to the different hieroglyphs and you can just use a reference book to look up the ones you don’t know.

Languages are interesting. They tell you much about the culture you are studying, and part of the reason I’m studying the different languages is because of this. I also find written language can be artistic, especially Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese. The other language I would like to learn is Irish Gaelic. It would give a more authentic and personal feel for Celtic rituals to be able to read the Irish texts without translating.

Speaking of art, I’ve decided to study up a bit more on drawing and painting techniques since I’d like to experiment a bit more with my watercolour pencils and crayons. Art takes a lot of patience and time because it takes a while to get used to a technique. Plus, there’s also the fun of experimenting and seeing what you can personally make up. I can spend a good night just playing around with the colours – mixing and blending just to see what comes out.

This is just what I’ve been studying lately – and I still haven’t gone through my reading list and work load yet.

Okay, back to reading… oh, um… yes, the Spartans and King Leonidas.

BB,
Cassandrah
Your local renaissance woman
Brigid’s Flame