How do the Chinese see their languages

The Chinese language

The written language is generalized and understood everywhere, but the pronunciations, individual words and idioms vary greatly between north and south. A cantonese can understand a northern Chinese as little as the other way around without special training.

Chinese grammar

For Europeans, the sheer number of signs - there are around 50,000 - is a barrier. The fact that pronunciation rules, multiple meanings and spellings make understanding more difficult, especially for beginners, frightens many. But if you look closely, you will see that German, for example, is no less complex - just different.

The tenses of verbs, gender and declension of nouns and attributes, syntax and the myriad "exceptions to the rule" in grammar and spelling do not seem any less daunting to the Chinese.

Chinese knows neither the present nor the past; the unchangeable verb is simply followed by a corresponding particle. This also applies to nouns: "wo" (I) and "ni" (you) simply become "women" (we) and "nimen" (you).

And children learn the language, just like everywhere else in the world, through body language connections, repeating and playing - that is, automatically. When you speak later, you think about rules as little as we do.

Nevertheless, when learning the at least 3,000 to 4,000 characters that are important for everyday life, schoolchildren in China cannot do without kettles either.

Characters as decorative elements

What is unique about Chinese is that writing has maintained itself as an art form in its own right to this day. Calligraphy is valued in China and originals by real masters are expensive. Characters as decorative elements in fashion and interior design have long since spread around the world, and their aesthetics also affect those who do not understand them.

The fact that language, and especially writing, developed in such a special way was due to the fact that over millennia they helped determine the structure of society, the distribution of power and prestige. Advancement into the civil service career - and that was the only form of social advancement - led through exams, the difficulty of which grew with language skills.

Only during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to the mid-1970s did the language deteriorate: intellectuals were disqualified and expelled from schools and universities with ideological phrases, books were burned, entire philosophical schools such as that of Kong Fuzi (Confucius) were ostracized.

Since the 1980s, the international use of Chinese has been facilitated by a Latin phonetic transcription, which replaced earlier systems - such as that of the British Wade and Giles from the 19th century: the so-called pinyin. But older forms are still in use and cause confusion: for example Mao Zedong (Pinyin) and Mao Tse-Tung or Beijing (Pinyin) and Peking.

Even the German Duden does not consistently adhere to a transcription system. Those who learn Chinese will understand certain pronunciation rules better with pinyin. He will not be able to avoid the effort and adventure of learning at least 3000 characters.

He doesn't have to become a calligrapher. Many computers are now proficient in Chinese word processing. The characters are inserted from Pinyin using a process similar to that used in the dictionaries in cell phones.