6 facts about the Chinese language you’ve always wondered about
Few languages are as enticing and captivating as Chinese. With over a billion speakers around the world, this ancient language influences the world’s cultural, economic and political landscape. Regardless of its increased popularity, however, much of its history and characteristics remain a mystery to the world.
Today we would like to change that.
Here, we have compiled some of the most fascinating facts about the Chinese language that will help you better understand its origins and nature:
To be considered a native speaker, you need to study at least 3000 symbols
Learning Chinese is definitely not an easy job. Considered as one of the most complex languages, it is challenging for foreigners to achieve native-like proficiency. For instance, in order to denote the quantity of a noun, you would need to use one of the 240 measure words that exist within the language. One of the most difficult parts of learning Chinese is mastering the art of writing its tens of thousands of characters. It’s no surprise that, in order to be able to read the newspaper, you’d need to memorise at least 3000 of them!
That being said, the Chinese grammar is pretty straightforward- unlike most European languages, there are no verb conjugations or tenses. Instead, speakers use phrases such as ‘tomorrow’, ‘yesterday’, ‘today’ etc. as time signifiers. An additional plus is that there are no gender-specific nouns or a distinction between singular and plural nouns.
Chinese is a tonal language
In Chinese, the meaning of words can change depending on their tone. Mandarin Chinese consists of a flat, rising, falling then rising and falling tones, in addition to a fifth, neutral tone. The fact that the whole meaning of a word can change based on the way it’s pronounced can be really confusing for non-native speakers.
For instance, if you say ‘ma’ as if you were asking a question, then it would mean ‘rough’. However, the same ‘ma’, pronounced in a neutral, flat way, would mean something completely different- ‘scold’. This fascinating language system is definitely challenging to learn, but it is one of the things that makes Chinese so unique.
Chinese is the fastest growing language
The Chinese economy overtook the U.S. one in 2015 and, ever since, the country has been gaining momentum both in cultural and economic terms. It’s no surprise that the Chinese language is now seen as a gateway to new business opportunities. China’s enormous markets across various industries such as trade, finance, consulting etc., are enough of an incentive for the Western world to adopt the difficult language. What you will find is that, despite its complexity and somewhat limited practice, Chinese is the fastest growing second language in the West.
Learning Chinese can actually change your brain
It has been discovered that Mandarin Chinese speakers need both sides of their brain in order to distinguish between the different intonation and meaning of words. English speakers rely more heavily on phonological information rather than on the tones of the languages, which is why they only need to use the left side of the brain when communicating. What is interesting about the brain activity of Chinese speakers is the bilateral network connecting the two brain hemispheres, which allows them to attribute meaning to sound.
Mandarin is only one of the several Chinese dialects
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely-spoken Chinese dialect, accounting for 70% of all Chinese speakers. While there are more native Mandarin speakers in the world than speakers of any other language, it is not the only existing Chinese dialect. There are other versions of the language- Wu, Xiang, Yue, Min, Hakka, to name a few. Many of the hundreds of local language varieties have nothing in common, differing in phonology, vocabulary and syntax.
There are multiple different Calligraphy Styles
Chinese traditional calligraphy includes seven main categories: Xing (semi-cursive), Cao (cursive), Zhuan (seal), Li (clerical) and Kai (regular). Kai is the official, most commonly used style of calligraphy, while Cao is the oldest one, developed during the Han Dynasty. There are many parameters that influence the final look of calligraphy. It is important for the calligrapher to use the appropriate size, stretch and type of brush and the right quantity of ink and water, to achieve the desired result in the chosen calligraphic genre.
By studying Chinese language, people can better understand its culture and tradition and feel closer to the natives and their way of life. Its unique and complex nature make the Chinese language a mystery worth unravelling- and there is nothing more rewarding than building up the knowledge to do so on your own. However, if you have not reached the point where you can venture out on your own and practice the language, we can help! At 1Stop-Asia, our translators, specialising in a variety of Asian languages, can ensure your project’s success across cultures and geographic lengths.