14 September 2013

Chinese introduction

Chinese is the official language of China and Taiwan, and it is also spoken in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries. It is the most widely-spoken language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is considered the standard Chinese language, it is based on the pronunciation of Beijing.




Chinese uses a character system based on pictographs with more than two thousand years of history. It is a very complex writng system, problably the more difficult part of the Chinese learning. There are thousand of characters (40-50,000) and the only way to write Chinese is to memorize them. Normally it is needed around 5,000 characters to dominate the language. Each character is composed by a group of strokes, writen in a established stroke order. There are very simple and other much more complex characters. The number of strokes required to draw a Chinese character can be as high as 36.


Character
Meaning
one person I/me


To facilitate the learning, some decades ago Chinese introduced the Romanization to represent the sounds of spoken Chinese. With the use of the Western alphabet, it is much more easy for a non-native Chinese speaker to learn the language. The most popular Romanization system is the Pinyin.


Character
Meaning
one
person
I/me
Pinyin
yi
ren
wo


But Chinese is even more complicated. Chinese is a tonal language, the difference of the intonations distinguish words that are pronounced identically. There are four tones plus an additional neutral tone. Each one (except the neutral) is represented with a symbol over the vowel of the pinyin or with a number.


Character
Meaning
one person I/me to live of/'s
Pinyin
yī rén wǒ zhù de
Tone
1 2 3 4 5



All the pronunciations has different meaning for each intonation. Let's see how the tones works. The pronunciation "ma" has five different meanings, one for each tone:

Pinyin
mā má mǎ mà ma
Tone
1 2 3 4 5
Character
Meaning
mom hemp horse grasshopper question


Even with this tonal system, there are different words with the same pinyin and tone, so it is imposible to know the meaning of them without the context.