Saturday, July 24, 2010

Context and Meaning

I'm not sure that the writer is drawing the right conclusions from Professor Mair's article. Yes, 622 characters make up 90% of Rickshaw Boy and, according to some, only 1500 characters make up 90% of major Chinese newspapers (even less in Chinese newspapers published outside of China), but that does not necessarily mean that memorizing those requisite characters will lead to 90% comprehension. To master a character, one has to see it in either every single context possible, or in its most common environments.

Take the character 然 for example. Students of Professor Zhou's first year Chinese program at Yale will learn 忽然 or 当然, but the former is almost never used in colloquial Chinese whereas the latter is used in virtually any conversation that demands an affirmative declaration. Stepping higher into academic papers, students may come across rhetorical questions, such as 你以为然否?Walking back in time, we come across 然 used as the modern-day 是(yes) or 对(correct/right) in Mencius's treatises. Of course, knowing the meaning of the character is important - 然 means “like this, in this manner" - but learning definitions are useless without practicing the usages.

At least based on my conversations with my friends, Chinese students don't strive to memorize every single character's usage, but feel for what characters frequently surround that character. In this sense, the 1000 or so characters that make up 10% of Rickshaw Boy are grouped and learned together with those 622 more common common characters.

Learning Chinese takes time because mastery requires the observation of each character's various contexts. Sometimes, the connections are not obvious. Learning the word "is" and "are" in English doesn't mean that you know what will accompany those verbs all the time, but at least those words link the subject and object in a specific way. In Chinese, depending on what part of China you are in (and depending on what book you are reading - Rickshaw Boy was written when Mandarin was getting standardized), characters can take on various meanings


share on: facebook

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sealed Management - what????

I had been slowly traveling through cities from Suzhou to Xiamen to Shenzhen, meeting and building relations with migrant writers. Up in Beijing, it seems that some migrant villages are experiencing what the Beijing government has called "sealed management" - in other words, curfew regulation. Quite possibly the most ridiculous piece of news on internal migrants I've read so far. I had to use a VPN Client to open these webpages - I have not seen an article on this "feng1 bi4 shi4 guan3 li3" published on Xinhua, China Daily, or any other domestic media.

share on: facebook

blogger templates 3 columns |