Sandy's Ramblings

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chinese Language Insanity

Let me teach you some Chinese - this won't take long. Bear with me... I'm only going to teach you 2 'words'.

The first word for today is 'Ji'.

激 Verb: surge, dash, Adjective: strong, fierce, violent
跻 Verb: ascend, mount
积 Verb: amass, store up, accumulate, Adjective: long-standing, age-old
击 Verb: beat, hit, strike
基 Noun: base, foundation, Adjective: basic, key, primary
奇 Noun: odd number
几 Noun: small table, Adverb: almost, nearly (for numbers), Question: How many?
讥 Verb: laugh at, ridicule
机 Noun: machine, engine
叽 Radical: to chirp, to make a soft sound
肌 Noun: muscle, flesh
饥 Adjective: hungry, starving, Noun: famine, crop failure
鸡 Noun: chicken

Okay, there are still another 5 or 6 pages left of my dictionary for 'Ji'.

The second and last 'word' for today is 'shi'.

湿 Adjective: wet, damp, humid
诗 Noun: poetry, verse, poem
师 Noun: teacher, master
狮 Noun: lion
失 Verb: lose, get lost, break a promise
施 Verb: put into practice, implement
尸 Noun: corpse
虱 Noun: louse
实 Adjective: solid, true, real, honest, Noun: reality, fact, fruit, seed
识 Verb: know, Noun: knowledge
十 The number 10
什 Adjective: assorted, varied, miscellaneous
石 Noun: stone, rock
拾 Verb: pick up (from ground), collect
时 Noun: time, times, days
市 Noun: market
式 Verb: try, test
是 'to be' when predicate is a noun, emphasis when predicate isn't a noun, indicates existence ('there is', 'there are'), indicates concession, before a noun indicates fitness and suitability, before a noun indicates each and every one of the kind, pronounced emphatically indicates certainty, affirmative response to certain questions ('Yes')

As with 'Ji', there are still several pages left for 'Shi'.

There's one thing I haven't mentioned yet and that is that each syllable has a tone attached to it. There are 4 tones: high, rising, falling-rising, and falling. To the untrained ear and when the Chinese speak it is almost impossible to distinguish between them - so all the words above that are pronounced 'Ji' sound the same, likewise for 'Shi'.

Notice how a given character has a certain pronunciation (usually one syllable thank god), but of course one character can have many pronunciations and many characters can have the same pronunciation as I've tried to illustrate.

The strange thing for me is that the Chinese language is not short of a variety of sounds - they have a fully fledged set of phonemes at their disposal (roughly the same number as English, which has a lot by general standards) yet they tend to reuse the same sounds over and over again. I could easily have produced more lists like the ones above for the words 'yuan', 'jian', 'qi' etc.

Crazy language.


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