Archive for April, 2008

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

Myers-Briggs Yet Again

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Its been over a year since I did the Myers-Briggs personality testing, out of curiosity I did it again.

Here’s what I got from the Okcupid version:

The LONG Scientific Personality Test
Your Score: INTJ -The Mastermind
You scored 9% I to E, 42% N to S, 71% F to T, and 47% J to P!

You are more introverted than extroverted. You are more intuitive than observant, you are more thinking based than feeling based, and you prefer to have a plan rather than leaving things to chance. Your type is best described by the word “mastermind”, which belongs to the larger group called rationals. Only 1% of the population shares your type. You are very strong willed and self-confident. You can hardly rest until you have things settled. You will only adopt ideas and rules if they make sense. You are a great brainstormer and often come up with creative solutions to difficult problems. You are open to new concepts, and often actively seek them out.
As a romantic partner, you can be both fascinating yet demanding. You are not apt to express your emotions, leaving your partner wondering where they are with you. You strongly dislike repeating yourself or listening to the disorganized process of sorting through emotional conflicts. You see your own commitments as self-evident and don’t see why you need to repeat something already expressed. You have the most difficulty in admitting your vulnerabilities. You feel the most appreciated when your partner admires the quality of your innovations and when they listen respectfully to your ideas and advice. You need plenty of quiet to explore your interests to the depth that gives you satisfaction.
Your group summary: rationals (NT)
Your type summary: INTJ

According to HumanMetrics I am an INFJ. I scored 44% introverted, 25% intuitive, 38% feeling, and 22% judging. According to Keirsey.com, I’m a “Counsellor Idealist”.

The Portait of the Counselor (INFJ)

The Counselor Idealists are abstract in thought and speech, cooperative in reaching their goals, and enterprising and attentive in their interpersonal roles. Counselors focus on human potentials, think in terms of ethical values, and come easily to decisions. The small number of this type (little more than 2 percent) is regrettable, since Counselors have an unusually strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others and genuinely enjoy helping their companions. Although Counsleors tend to be private, sensitive people, and are not generally visible leaders, they nevertheless work quite intensely with those close to them, quietly exerting their influence behind the scenes with their families, friends, and colleagues. This type has great depth of personality; they are themselves complicated, and can understand and deal with complex issues and people.

Counselors can be hard to get to know. They have an unusually rich inner life, but they are reserved and tend not to share their reactions except with those they trust. With their loved ones, certainly, Counselors are not reluctant to express their feelings, their face lighting up with the positive emotions, but darkening like a thunderhead with the negative. Indeed, because of their strong ability to take into themselves the feelings of others, Counselors can be hurt rather easily by those around them, which, perhaps, is one reason why they tend to be private people, mutely withdrawing from human contact. At the same time, friends who have known a Counselor for years may find sides emerging which come as a surprise. Not that they are inconsistent; Counselors value their integrity a great deal, but they have intricately woven, mysterious personalities which sometimes puzzle even them… (For more, see Keirsey.com – Four Temperaments.)

Huh? Interesting. This implies that I am more feeling than thinking now. Wonder if some of the life changes this past year have affected my personality? Interesting… quite interesting.

~~~C