O.T. On learning English



#2

The recent thread on "Hidden functions ..." included some discussion of learning other languages. The article "Crazy English" in the April 28 issue of The New Yorker says:

Quote:
... Linguists estimate the number of Chinese now studying or speaking English at between two hundred million and three hundred fifty million, a figure that's on the order of the population of the United States. ..."

The article also offers a discussion of why the Chinese are studying English:
Quote:
... "One sixth of the world's population speaks Chinese. Why are we studyig English?" he asked. He turned and gestured to a row of foreign teachers seated behind him and said "Because we pity them for not being able to speak Chinese." ...


#3

I think it's more that >90% of Chinese would rather live in the U.S.

On the other hand <0.9% of Americans would rather live in China ;-)

Bob

#4

Hello,

Nowadays English is the lingua franca of the world. True, there are more than one billion Chinese speakers and over five hundred Spanish speakers, to mention just a couple languages, but chances are English will be the language of choice to communicate with them.

It is often argued that the sheer number of speakers is proof of a language's importance, but this argument overlooks the distribution of that language. English Speakers can be found from Scandinavia to Tierra del Fuego, whereas Chinese or Spanish speakers are harder to find. There is a good chance that English will help you communicate anywhere on Earth, and a good chance that other languages will not.

On the other hand, each language is a unique mixture of different sources, which makes it interesting. From Russian's declensions that minimize the need for articles to English's irregular verbs to Chinese's rules for writing characters and counting, there is a lot of features that make it interesting to learn a given language.


#5

English and Spanish were spread the same way by conquests and trade overseas. English as the simpler language was more successful (or did you ever hear of "Pidgin Spanish"?).

On the other hand, Chinese was always confined to East Asia, mainly China (so without Tibet and Xinjiang), some important harbours, and some trading posts along the Silk Road. China did not have a comparable navy for most of its history.

No wonder you get better around with English: you find "English"-speaking people all over the world, while 99.999% of the Chinese flock together in one region.


#6

Quote:
China did not have a comparable navy for most of its history.

Have you heard about the book by Gavin Menzies that was published in the United States as 1421 - The Year China Discovered America. Wikpedia says it was published elsewhere as 1421 - The Year China Discovered the World.

One premise of the book is that in those days the Chinese had massive fleets of junks exploring the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and even the Atlantic Ocean. The book mentions such things as

The remains of a junk which has been found far up the Sacramento River may be from that time.

The "Viking Tower" in Newport, Rhode Island is structurally very similar to the navigation towers the Chinese built elsewhere. It is claimed that proof could be had if only the curators in Newport would let someoneanalyze the mortar from the tower.

The Chinese may even have circumnavigated Greenland.

I purchased the book because I have been interested in marine navigation ever since a stint in the U.S. Navy. So help me, though, I was never sure that it wasn't some giant put-on.


#7

Hello,

Old China's Navy may have followed the fate of the Spanish, French, German and Soviet Navies. All failed the seapower test against the other navies around. Both the Spansh Armada Invencible and the French Navy fell to the Royal Navy, the German Navy fell to the Allies and the Soviet Navy could not keep up with both the US Bavy and its own mistakes.

It is not only a matter of becoming a blue water navy, but also of being able to use it to project power around the world. The fact that English a lot to do with the British being successful in conquering the seas and remaining in that position to build up an empire. The Chinese may have travelled around the world, but failed to achieve and preserve superiority as the British did.

No flames intended, just my two cents


#8

Quote:
Old China's Navy may have followed the fate of the Spanish, French, German and Soviet Navies. All failed the seapower test against the other navies around.

My copy of the book is out on loan so this may not be exactly correct. My recollection is that the book claims that an internal struggle in China resulted in a unilateral decision to not only recall the fleet but also to destroy it and most of the documentation of it.
#9

But "Chinese" isn't one language. That further complicates it.

There is a written Chinese language which is essentially universal across China and even shared substantially by tha Japaneze "kanji" characters.

On the other hand that single written language is spoken many different ways or rather, there are many "dialects" of spoken Chinese--"Mandarin" "Cantonese" etc.

So to say "Chinese" is spoken by 1 billion or whatever is really like saying "European" is spoken by 400 million. Which we would chuckle at:)


#10

:D

Before you chuckle, please note the double quotes in my message #4 above, last sentence. By observation, there are many dialects as well, and sometimes they sound you doubt it's English. Your confusion may rise looking at the grammar and spelling.

BTW, IIRC this thread started about people understanding a particular language, and being able to communicate using it. Within China, Mandarin (putonghua) is the lingua franca. Not everybody will understand it, though - please compare with 1st paragraph :)


#11

Hi Walter :)

I agree.

Funny story:

My history professor studied Chinese as an undergraduate and he was so excited when he thought he had learned it, that he went down to Chinatown to try out his new skills. Of course in U.S. Chinatown in the 1970s (and maybe today too?) the common dialect was Cantonese...but of course my professor had learned Mandarin. He was so crestfallen-he might as well have spoken Vietnamese or Tagalog; it wouldn't have made a difference!


Edited: 3 May 2008, 8:03 p.m.


#12

Heh heh heh.

I barely speak Cantonese and Mandarin might as well be Martian to me. Fortunately, today's Chinatowns' (yes, plural, even or especially here in NYC) shopkeepers, employees, and restaurant folk are familar enough with various dialects that I don't have to embarrass myself by resorting to English. Funny though, no matter what dialect they speak, they all seem to use 4-bangers... especially the kind with the roll of tape on top.

#13

Please don't consider the following as flame. Just noticing what happens here and there.

Quote:
..., but chances are English will be the language of choice to communicate with them.
Maybe you didn't notice but just give it a try: turn upside down any object you bought during the last 7 days. You'll hardly find any one of them that doesn't come from China, not Philipinnes, Malaysia or Singapore. Just China.

They will decide what language WE speak when THEY want... We've run after financial performance by giving away business and mostly manufacturing to these guys. Now it's time to run after our beefsteak.

Quote:
English Speakers can be found from Scandinavia to Tierra del Fuego, whereas Chinese or Spanish speakers are harder to find.
As far as I know South America isn't that hard to find on a map and all of its countries are speaking Spanish. Right?
The reason why the whole world doesn't speak Spanish? They don't have oil under the surface (except Venezuela) and the rest of the world don't pay with their money or buy their products.

But apart from paying in USD, I don't think our economy systems are that strong (subprimes, Societe Generale, and certainely many more to come...) so that we can avoid forever speaking Chinese.

And honestly, all my relatives would agree that I usually am some sort of humanist but right now, I see no need to learn Chinese except than to be able to talk to my next boss.
[end of flame.. if any]


#14

Quote:
... As far as I know South America isn't that hard to find on a map and all of its countries are speaking Spanish. Right? ...

Wrong. ;)

The population of Brazil is about 182500000 and the offical language there is portuguese. The whole population of South America is about 347400000.

This means 53 % of the whole population of South America is speaking portuguese, not spanish.


#15

Quote:
The population of Brazil is about 182500000 and the offical language there is portuguese. The whole population of South America is about 347400000.

Wow, I would not have guessed Brazileans having the majority in South America. Latin America, however, is a bit larger. But you must be a salesman. ;) For our other readers: 182.5E6 vs. 347.4E6

#16

Quote:
... But you must be a salesman. ;) For our other readers: 182.5E6 vs. 347.4E6
No, I'm a programmer, but I wanted to write it down a little more readable than AE0BAA0 vs. 14B4E740 ;)
#17

OK Winfried,

I think you got the point...

#18

CIA Director Michael Hayden said China is growing in power but is not the "inevitable" enemy of the U.S. -
CNN

I hope that's just him being PC, because IMHO, >95% of Chinese believe ours is the superior race, and destined to rule the world.

#19

British papers are not quite as PC:

Chinese nuclear submarine base

"China has secretly built a major underground nuclear submarine base that could threaten Asian countries and challenge American power in the region, it can be disclosed."

We KNOW China is just going to use them to expedite shipping toys to the West Coast ;-)


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