Many people think the Chinese language is very complex and difficult to learn. As a native born in Southern China, I speak Cantonese and Mandarin. I know English and Russian, and have taught American high school students for 11 years in the U.S. As I learned more about the Chinese language, I began to change my notions about it.
Recently, I read an article by Professor Zou Jinshang (邹进上), 88, from China’s Nanjing University. He predicted that by the end of this century, Chinese will become an International language. What’s your opinion? Do you agree with him? I do! Why?
The Chinese language is unique
Chinese is very unique and very different from English and all other kinds of alphabet languages. While English words are composed of 26 Letters, the written form of Chinese is composed of “strokes,” and the number of basic strokes is eight: horizontal (横), vertical (竖), left – falling (撇), right – falling (捺), dot (点), angle (折), hook (勾), and rising (提), plus some variations on these forms.
The written form is closely related to its meaning
For example, mouth (口) is made up of 3 strokes, female (女) of 3 strokes, horse (馬) of 10 strokes, etc. These are pictographic words and can give the learner clues to understand the meaning of the words.
Using radicals and independent characters to form new words
Using the radical 草 grass, you can get 苗, 花, 茶, 荷, 蓮, etc.
With 雨 rain as the radical, you can get 雪, 霜, 雹, etc.
With the radical 女 female, you can get 媽, 好, 她, 妞, etc.
Moreover, using an independent character, i.e., sea (海), you can have many new 2-character words: 海岸 (seashore), 海豹 (seal), 海鷗 (sea gull), 海綿 (sponge), 海參 (sea cucumber), 海帶(kelp), 海員 (seaman), 海軍 (navy), etc.
You can even get 3-character words, 4-character words, and so on:
海王星 (Neptune), 海外華僑 (overseas Chinese), 海軍基地 (naval base), etc.
With the rise of high technology, new Chinese words appear accordingly. For example: 飛機 (airplane), 飛船 (aircraft), 計算機 (computer), 高科技 (high tech), 機器人 (robot), 內燃機 (internal combustion engine), etc. These kinds of Chinese words appear to be simple and easy to understand and learn.
Once, one of my students asked me: “Is the composition of Chinese words like playing with children’s ‘Lego’?” I said: “Probably, very likely!”
Hanyu gives the simplest and clearest form of expression
Among many international documents, treaties, agreements, contracts, deeds, and lawful documents, the Chinese versions are the simplest and clearest ones, while other texts of alphabetic language appear longer, heavier, and more complicated.
Chinese characters are also a form of art
Besides being a means of communication, writing Chinese characters is also the Art of Lines – calligraphy (書法). The Chinese monosyllabic characters’ simplest sounds formulate a great volume of fantastic poems, verses, and couplets written in rhyme to convey inner meanings, leaving great space for the reader to imagine and enjoy.
The Chinese language is the carrier of China’s 5,000-year-old traditional civilization. It’s said the Chinese language was passed down from Heaven by Cangji. This unique language was widely used in Chinese society 400 years before the Bible was written. Unfortunately, in 1950, Mao Zedong, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, endorsed a basic reform to transit from Chinese characters to alphabetic writing. Though he didn’t succeed in doing so, the reform of “simplification” (简化) has really done great damage to Chinese traditional culture.
Fortunately, no one can turn the tide of the progressive process of mankind. Chinese traditional culture will certainly have a bright and magnificent future.