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.
Your local renaissance woman