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Sunday, March 4, 2012

100 Posts!! And Language As A Living Thing

Just a quick post. Thought you might like it and/or agree with it.

So I've been learning Chinese steadily and fairly hardcore for more or less one year, and sort of as a side-gig for maybe a year and a half/two year. After all that I've learned and all the mistakes/successes I've had, I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed with a lot of language-learning programs out there in one regard.

They do not treat language as a living thing - they do not allow the possibility of lingual adjustments that come with the adjustments of society as well as teaching multiple words for the same thing. They teach one word for "good" instead of "good/great/alright/so-so/not bad/awesome/super" etc. and all the words people use in daily conversation. I understand the difficulty, though.

And just for the record, I'm not hating on language-learning programs!! I understand that it's nearly impossible to keep updating and updating and updating language programs with new slang, vernacular, etc. I understand that you need to form a base of common-knowledge "phrases" in order to get a fix on how to adjust yourself within the 'real' language. I get it.  

I guess that what I'm really trying to get at is that language changes as society changes. A great example of this appears in Chinese greetings.

你好,你好吗?"Hello, how are you?" seems to me to be rarely used except when maybe meeting someone for the first time. It's incredibly formal and a little stiff-sounding.

It became 你吃了吗?"Have you eaten?", which is still pretty popular today. It doesn't literally mean "Have you eaten?"......well, yes it does, but it's used as a kind of greeting. Kind of like "What's up?" in America. You don't really want them to say "the sky is up" or "the sun is up"....they just say "Not much, how about you?" and then move on.

It's got a base in the history of China, where, in many places in the past, and even today sometimes, it's hard to get food due to rising costs, famine, drought, etc. It was a legitimate question then, and it's still used today, although it's shifted into a greeting.

Now, things have shifted again - "Have you eaten?" and "How are you?" are being replaced with "你忙吗?" - "Are you busy?" or “干什么呢? -What are you doing?" or 你去哪儿? - Where are you going?" 

These seem to more personify the modern Chinese city-going zeitgeist - all work, no play.

It's just one of those intangible things about language - these weird little shifts that happen that no one really takes notice of until years later. They, all of a sudden, realize that people don't talk the way that they used to. It's a weird thing and is something I'd like to brood on for a while and think about. Maybe I'll do a full post about it later.

It's neat to see how little things have changed as time goes on, and it'll be interesting to look back on this post in 20 years (if I'm even still around - you never know, people) and see what's replaced these.


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