Comparing the characteristics of Greek, English and Chinese

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Michael Christensen
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Joined: June 18th, 2011, 9:56 am

Re: Comparing the characteristics of Greek, English and Chin

Post by Michael Christensen » August 4th, 2011, 7:23 pm

Fortigurn wrote: This turned out to be untrue. It doesn't have verb conjugations or noun declensions, but it does have tenses
Does it? I mean, except for stating a certain time frame (such as "last year" or "yesterday"), or saying that something happened earlier 曾 or is past 過,completed 了 or using want/will 要 or can 會 to indicate something in the future, there isn't really any "tense" I know of. This actually has a number of consequences that are more serious than one would think, e.g. I've observed that Chinese-speakers will sometimes, when speaking a European language, such as English or German, start speaking about something five years ago and then suddenly return to the present tense and continue talking, even though they are stll speaking about the past incident five years ago. That's because it's the way they are accustomed to speaking in their language -- they tell a history long past as if it were just happening now.
Fortigurn wrote: but you can still say everything in Chinese that you can say in Greek; you just do it a different way (and in some cases with an inevitable shift of concept). What does this show us? It shows us that effective communication doesn't require two or three dozen prepositions, a half dozen or more cases, endless lists of conjugations and declensions, and a couple of handfuls of moods. All that stuff is redundant; you can say it all another way, using a far simpler and more efficient grammatical system.
I'm not qualified to say too much here, but I doubt that things are that simple. Ever compare some Chinese Bible translations? Do you think it is easy to find ways to even approximately translate the original language into Chinese? Do you think they communicate exactly the same thing the supposedly redundant original language(s) do? If so, why should Chinese speaking theologians bother to learn the original languages and use them for their exegesis -- if they could do equally well without "bothering" themselves with all the so-called "unneccessary" and "inefficient" grammar?

Why, then, doesn't someone publish a "simplified" Κοινή New Testament that eliminates all the conjugations, declensions and moods and reduces the number of prepositions? (I'm not suggesting that someone should actually do this -- it is only a rhetorical question) If the grammar really was "unneccessary", then such a thing could be done with no loss to the meanings and nuances expressed in the New Testament writings, right? (Note that I'm saying this because I hope there are people that will protest and argue against such an idea)
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Michael Christensen
Posts: 24
Joined: June 18th, 2011, 9:56 am

Re: Comparing the characteristics of Greek, English and Chin

Post by Michael Christensen » August 4th, 2011, 8:58 pm

Fortigurn wrote: I don't believe anyone said it was primitive. I did refer to the writing system as archaic. Which part of the following definition of 'archaic' do you think doesn't apply here?
archaic /ɑːˈkeɪɪk/
■ adjective very old or old-fashioned.
▶ (of language) used to give an old-fashioned flavour.
▶ belonging to an early period of art or culture.
– DERIVATIVES archaically adverb
– ORIGIN 19th century: from French archaïque, from Greek arkhaikos, from arkhaios (see ARCHAISM).

Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (2004). Concise Oxford English dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Such a definition is fine, of course -- and it underlines one of the strengths of Chinese: that there basically is a continuity between the language the way it was 2000 years ago and now. You can't say that about very many languages. Hebrew comes to mind first of all, of course -- that's one of the things I like about Hebrew. Now I'm not saying that people speak and write the same now as Moses and 孔子 did, but they still can basically (with some effort) be read and understood by people speaking the language today.

Fortigurn wrote:Value terms such as 'better' or 'worse' are certainly meaningless in terms of evaluating languages. However, objective terms such as 'complex', 'simple', 'efficient', 'redundant', 'unnecessary', and 'functional' are extremely relevant.
Which is basically saying the same thing, since it seems to me that you are automatically equating the terms 'complex' with 'worse' and 'simple' or 'efficient' with 'better'. Is everything that is simpler necessarily better?
Fortigurn wrote:More than one Chinese and foreign linguist has noted for example that the laborious rote learning pedagogy necessary for learning Chinese actually had and has a significant impact on pedagogy, and a resulting impact on socio-cultural attitudes and thought processes. The Chinese writing system requires countless hours of brute force rote learning, reflected in a pedagogy heavily reliant on endless repetition, drilling, and copying. The pedagogy of other subjects was inevitably effected, and endless repetition, drilling, and copying of set pieces of information has been the absolute staple of the Chinese pedagogy for thousands of years.
I find this exaggerated as well. While Chinese writing might require more "rote"-learning in the initial stages of learning, the "rote" element gets less and less as one progesses. Even after learning to write just a few dozen characters, one will inevitably discover that there are certain patterns and that the same components reappear very often in different characters. This is what is called "information chunking": the more one becomes aware of patterns and how different parts are grouped together, the less "rote" memory has to be used. So -- if anything -- it would be best to improve the teaching methods to make more use of information chunking.

On the other hand, many Asian students appear to be very diligent and good at learning, so there is a positive side to the whole thing also, ...

Through an idiosyncrasy in history, having adopted a different logic in constructing their writing, China has trodden down a different path from that of Europe. This quirk of fate has led to an inescapable acceptance of the Confucian dogma. The teaching of Confucius cannot be falsified. The historical inevitability why Isaac Newton was not a Chinese seems to have been rooted in an idiosyncrasy of a linguistic development.
Sometimes things seem spring to spring from supposedly random "quirks of fate". Even if that is true (which I don't think, actually), it still doesn't change whether I like it.
Fortigurn wrote:No one is crying today that we can't rhyme like Chaucer could.
Actually, I do think it's a pity.
Fortigurn wrote:Nope, it hasn't happened. The Chinese script has been gradually simplified to increasingly an ever increasingly more radical extent over the last couple of thousand years,
Has it? To my knowledge, the writing system has not changed much at all (at least not in its essentials) since the 楷體 characters started to be used somewhere around the 2nd and 3rd century. Which "radical extent" are you talking about?

Fortigurn wrote:Remember, kindergartners are able to read and write Chinese using a phonetic alphabet, and that's how they learn to speak it as well, so the idea of it being impractically difficult is demonstrably untrue.
Actually they learn (except perhaps in the very very beginning) by using a dual system of characters and phonetics. At kindergarten level, using an only phonetic alphabet might not run into too many difficulties at first, but the more advanced the reading material gets, the more and more ambiguities would start cropping up, as I've attempted to explain previously.

Fortigurn wrote:But changing to a phonetic alphabet preserves that advantage whilst gaining several more.
I don't think you can have a cake and eat it too. Somewhere along the line, you would lose something good and create disadvantages in the process -- whether in one area or another.

Fortigurn wrote:Even simplifying the characters has the same effect, which is why the Chinese themselves have consistently and repeatedly simplified their own characters for a good 2,000 years now, and continue to do so.
Simplifying a character is not nearly as big of a change as getting rid of it entirely, so I don't think such a comparison is really valid. Besides, as I mentioned before, I don't see that much change in the characters the way they are now (traditional) and the way they were written 1500 years ago.
Fortigurn wrote:What advantage? The phoneticization 'graph' is arbitrary anyway, and 'graf' sounds exactly the same. The vast majority of people wouldn't have a clue about the etymology, and they still manage to use the word ok.

Why is it arbitrary? I thought the Greek φ was usually transliterated 'ph' -- because it resembles something like a "softer" or "smoother" π sound, like the Hebrew פ and פּ
-- therefore a 'p' and then an 'h' for the "softening".

And besides, we should consider the fact that the Japanese still use Chinese characters today, even though they also use a phonetic alphabet. Apparently, they have decided to use both, which is also an interesting idea. If it were so "unnecessary" and "clumsy" to use Chinese characters, then why do the Japanese still use them? Besides, it is also interesting that -- because of this -- I can understand Japanese writing at least to some degree, even though I don't know any Japanese!
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