Published on January 24, 2008
www.cchello.com LESSON 1 INTRODUCTION ABOUT CHINESE LANGUAGE About the Standard Chinese Language The Chinese language (Zhōngwén, Huáyǔ or Pǔtōnghuà) is the chief language of China, and also one of the most popular and developed languages in the world. China is a country consisting of 56 nationalities, and has a population of 1.3 billion. Before China opened its door to the outside world in the late 1970s, many people in the West believed (some still believe today) that Chinese is one language or Chinese language is Cantonese. In fact, Chinese is not just one language, but a family of languages and Cantonese is just one of the seven major dialects of the Chinese language. Although different dialects differ immensely in pronunciation, they share the same written form. The seven modern languages of China known as dialects are growing on the branches of the Chinese family cultural tree deeply rooted in the land of Confucius. They share as strong a family resemblance as do English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and are about as different from one another. The Standard Chinese spoken nationally is based on the pronunciation of the Northern dialect which is spoken by over 70 percent of the population. It is known as Pǔtōnghuà (普通话), which literally means Common Speech in the People’s Republic of China; Guóyǔ ( 国 语 ) or Huáyǔ ( 华 语 ), which literally means National Language in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other overseas Chinese communities, and Mandarin Chinese in English speaking countries. Many Chinese use the term to describe the Chinese language as Zhōngwén (Chinese 中文) or Hànyǔ (Hàn language 汉语 -Han is the largest of the 56 nationalities in China consisting of more than 90 percent of the population). Both Zhōngwén and Hànyǔ are literarily interchangeable and are more often used by native Chinese speakers than Pǔtōnghuà or Mandarin when they ask non-native speakers if they speak Chinese. Pǔtōnghuà, based primarily on the Beijing dialect but takes elements from other Chinese languages, is taught in schools and spoken by television and radio broadcasters throughout China, and it is the spoken language which is most understood by Chinese speakers. However, it is often spoken with some concessions to local speech and accent, particularly in Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
www.cchello.com pronunciation. Compared to the other six Chinese languages, Pǔtōnghuà has fewer tones and fewer final consonants (Cantonese has 8 tones compared to only 4 in Standard Chinese Pǔtōnghuà ). These six Chinese languages, known as six major Chinese dialects, are mainly used in regions south of the Yangtze River valley. They are, the Wú language (吴语) which includes the Shanghai dialect; Hunanese which is officially known as Xiāng language(湘语); the Gàn language (赣语) which is mainly spoken in Jiangxi Province; Cantonese/Guǎngdōng language (粤语) which is the language of Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Macau and also is widely spoken in Chinese communities in the United States, Europe and other Asian and Southeast Asian countries; Fujianese, which is officially known as Mǐn language (闽语) and is spoken by people of Fujian Province and Taiwan (in Fujian it is called Fujian dialect, in Taiwan, it is called Taiwan dialect, both from the same Mǐn dialect); and Hakka/Kèjiā, which is officially known as Kèjiā dialect and is spoken by people living in a region north and northwest of Guangdong Province as well as by a minority in Taiwan. The last three mentioned dialects, Cantonese, Mǐnnán and Kèjiā, are all widely spoken throughout Southeast Asia. Apart from these seven major Chinese languages, there are also some non-Chinese languages spoken by Chinese ethnic minorities, e.g. Tibetan, Mongolian, which do not belong to the Chinese language family and are not related to the seven Chinese languages discussed above. Chinese Grammar and Word Order The Standard Chinese grammar is relatively simple compared to the grammar of Germanic and Romance languages. Learners will find it much easier to learn Chinese upon knowing that there are no conjugations in Chinese such as are found in other languages. Chinese verbs have fewer forms than English verbs, and nowhere near as many irregularities. A simple verb form applies to anybody, singular or plural; and also applies to any time range: past, present or future. Chinese grammar relies heavily on word order which is quite fixed. The word order of a statement sentence is mostly the same as word order in English. The common patterns are Subject+Verb+Object, e.g. “I speak Chinese”, “Wǒ (I) shuō (speak) Zhōngwén (Chinese) 我说中文”. In English, when asking a question, the question word is always placed in the beginning of the question sentence and reverses the order of the predicate verb and the subject Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
www.cchello.com noun, e.g. “What do you speak ?” Whereas in Chinese, both a statement sentence and a question sentence keep the same word order. In Chinese, “What do you speak” is structured as “You speak what ?” / “Nǐ (you) shuō (speak) shénme (what)你说什么?” In English, the most important information or the topic or theme of a sentence is usually placed at the end of a sentence e.g. “It is very important to master Chinese tones.” In Chinese, however, the most important information or the topic of a sentence usually comes first, e.g. “To master Chinese tones is very important Jīngtōng Zhōngwén de shēngdiào hěn zhòngyào 精通中文的声调很重要。” In English, all adverbial phrases such as time, place, manner and purpose of doing things, with whom one does something, etc. are mostly placed at the end of a sentence, e.g. “I’ll come tomorrow”; “I’m going to study Chinese in Beijing”; “I like to speak Chinese with Chinese people”. In Chinese, these adverbial phrases are always placed after the subject and before the verb, with time phrases as an exception, which can occur either at the beginning of a sentence or after the subject and before the verb, depending on the degree of emphasis of the time phrase in the sentence, e.g. “I tomorrow come” or “Tomorrow I come”; “I in Beijing study Chinese”; “I with Chinese people speak Chinese”. These are just a few examples of differences between English and Chinese word order. In spite of these differences, many learners of Standard Chinese find that Chinese, especially standard spoken Chinese, is not as hard for a non-native speaker to learn as one might imagined. Although many people believe that Standard Chinese grammar is relatively simple compared to grammars of other languages, it is still in the process of being perfected and learners need be payig special attention to some rules that are different from English and other Germanic and Romance Families of languages. The following are a few things that learners of Standard Chinese need toknow before they start learning the language: (1) Chinese nouns always keep one form and there are neither singular nor plural forms. (2) Chinese verbs, likewise, have only one form, which is just as you say “I be Chinese”, “You be American”, “He be French”, “I speak Chinese”, “He speak Chinese”, etc. (3) Standard Chinese is not a tense language and thus Chinese verbs do not indicate past, present or future. Tenses are expressed by using additional grammar words that are called particles, time adverbial phrases or simply Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
www.cchello.com the context. The grammar word indicating a completion of an action or past event can be placed at the end of a sentence if the object in the sentence is a simple or single one without any modifiers. However, the grammar particle has to be placed right after the verb in a sentence if the object in the sentence is no long simple or single where there are one or more modifiers before it. (The grammar word le also has other functions, such as indicating a change of situation, status or condition, etc.) (4) Prepositions such as “at”, “in”, “on” are normally not used before Chinese time adverbial phrases, e.g. “My friend this weekend arrive”; “They morning 10:00 o’clock have Chinese class.” (5) The largest time or place unit always precedes the smaller one, e.g. “He 2004 March 25, Thursday afternoon 5:00 o’clock arrive”; “He in USA, Oregon, Portland, PSU, MIM study Chinese”, etc. (6) There must always be a measure word or classifier between a number and a noun (two+běn 本+dictionary; two+ge 个+student; this+ běn 本+dictionary), between a demonstrative pronoun and a noun (that+ ge 个+student; which+ běn 本+dictionary; which+ ge 个+student, etc.) Chinese Written Characters Chinese written characters are symbols which stand for the meaningful syllables of the spoken language. Most languages in the world are written with an alphabet. Although the letters can be different from those of English or Pinyin, yet the principle is all the same: one letter stands more or less for each consonant or vowel sound. Chinese, however, is written with characters (Hànzì 汉 字 )which stand for the whole syllable. There are about thirteen hundred phonetically distinct syllables in everyday use. Chinese characters are often referred to as “ideographs,” which suggests that they stand directly for ideas. This is misleading. It is better to think of the characters as standing for the meaningful syllables of the spoken language. It is widely believed that Chinese written characters, which are now in current use, are the world’s oldest written language with a history of 3,500 years. They began as pictures carved in oracle bones, widely known as pictographs. They are also known as “square characters” because they are square-formed characters Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
www.cchello.com consisting of strokes, with their structures becoming systemized and simpler. Different from the alphabetic script which is spelled out in letters, Chinese characters are written in various strokes. Out of the thirty odd strokes, only eight are basic ones and all the others are their variants. The strokes in a character are written according to some fixed rules. Once the basic strokes and the rules of stroke-order are grasped, the writing of characters will become easy. Structurally, Chinese characters consist mostly of two or more basic structural components while some other character components stand by themselves. In the single-component characters, the strokes are written or arranged as a compact integral, but most of the characters are compound ones which are composed of two or more components. Some of the components are used as RADICALS in Chinese dictionaries. So it is of key importance to know the components or RADICALS before you learn how to use a Chinese dictionary. These character components, just like the 26 English letters, are limited in number and the basic strokes that form these components are relatively even more limited. A stroke can be defined as one single unbroken line drawn by the writer from the time the pen touches the paper until the pen lifts off the paper. Writing characters in the correct order is essential for the character to look correct. Minimal literacy in Chinese calls for knowing about one thousand characters. These thousand characters, in combination of phrased and grouping words, give a reading vocabulary of several thousand words. Full literacy calls for knowing some three thousand characters. In order to reduce the amount of time needed to learn Chinese characters, a group of Chinese linguists started reforming Chinese language by 1) changing the phonetic symbols into Pīnyīn Romanization; 2) reducing the average number of strokes per character by half-simplifying Chinese characters. According to a statistics, the language reform in the People’s Republic of China in late 1950s resulted in simplifying altogether 515 characters along with around 1,500 characters that share certain simplified radicals. Today, simplified Chinese characters (also known as short-formed characters) are used in the People’s Republic of China whereas the traditional characters (also known as traditional or long-formed characters) are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau and by some overseas Chinese. One reason often provided for the retention of Chinese characters is that they can be read, with the local pronunciation, by speakers of Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
www.cchello.com all the seven Chinese languages. This is because the Chinese characters help to keep alive distinctions of meaning between words, which are fading in the spoken language. Pronunciation and Pinyin Romanization Ever since China adopted its official Pīnyīn Romanization system- a standard form of pronouncing Chinese written characters and a tool to reach the correct pronunciation of speaking the standard Pǔtōnghuà – it has become one of the most popular spoken languages in the world. It is often said that Chinese language is a monosyllabic language, the notion of which contains a great deal of truth in it. On average, every other word in ordinary conversation is a single-syllable word. Although most words in dictionaries have two or even more syllables, one can almost always break them down into single-syllable units in meaning, and many can stand alone as words themselves. Standard Pǔtōnghuà is a vowel-dominated language. A syllable can be a single vowel, a compound vowel or a vowel preceded by a consonant. A traditional syllable is divided into two parts: the initial called shēngmǔ is the beginning consonant, and the final called yùnmǔ follows the initial or stands by itself. Every syllable is represented by a Chinese character. For example, in shān(山/mountain) sh is the initial and an is the final, whereas in ān (安/peace), there is no initial and the final stands by itself to constitute a single vowel syllable. The initial consists of only one consonant and the final may consist of one, two or three single vowels and a consonant (-n or –ng). Most, if not all, business Chinese learners are adults. One of the advantages an adult has over a child in learning Chinese is the ability to make good use of a written representation of it. In this textbook the students will learn the Pīnyīn Romanization system at the same time they are learning the sound system of Standard Chinese while the non-alphabetic system of written characters is provided as a separate component of the textbook. Copyright 2007~2008 cchello.com
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