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January 30, 2017


The question is, Mandarin or Cantonese!

I feel I wasted time learning what little Cantonese I know.

FWIW, these days the computer game industry caters to a Chinese centric vision of Asia as much or more than it does to the US. The typical DLC or Cosmetics funded game will have a Korea and China themed New Years event that's as big or bigger than what they do for Christmas.

In some cases American companies arguably put out a better version of their product in Asia- more and better art assets reach there first, and occasionally drift back to the US. And Chinese investors have controlling stakes in a few of them.

The shift to China isn't always great. Computer cafe gaming culture is cheater gaming culture, because chest detection, IP bans, and account bans are less effective on communal computers and the cafés have a financial incentive not to enforce anti cheating rules on their own customers. Fortunately, internet speeds across the Pacific aren't fast enough yet, and most games still maintain separate US and Asian servers.

LJ, I really hope you are wrong. I figure I could manage the written language. I coped with basic Japanese back in the day -- this would just be more (and more complex) characters to memorize. A major pain, but doable.

But I have severe doubts about coping with the spoken language. I don't know about others, but mastering a tonal language, when I didn't grow up with one, feels like a bridge too far.

I have an idea why Trump may be behaving as he is in foreign relations.

After 9/11, NATO (for the first and only time in its history) invoked the clause that says that an attack on one is an attack on all. And NATO countries sent troops into Afghanistan with us. Even countries like Estonia, which al Qaeda probably couldn't identify on a map, sent men to fight and die with us. Because that's what friends do.

But Trump can't see that for one simple reason: the man has no friends. Sycophants, yes. Enemies, absolutely. But a friend? No sign of one anywhere. So he has no clue about, and apparently no interest in, the US having any countries which are friends. Which means that alliances, no matter how longstanding, are irrelevant. (Besides, he doubtless still thinks that he can browbeat the rest of the world the way he has conducted his business dealings.)

ni hao ma!

It's important to know more about China, if Trump decides to go a little further in picking fights with them over Taiwan.

We should have been learning Arabic back in the decades ago. Been all geared up, languagewise, for all the fun and exciting and wildly successful policies we were about to embark on.

salaam aleikum!

When we were living in Hong Kong my wife - who is an excellent linguist and actually likes learning languages - studied Cantonese for a while. She gave it up in part because of the numerous tones (anywhere from 7 to 11 or more, depending on who you ask) and because it's not useful much outside of South China (including HK). Mandarin (Putonghua) is far easier and of more general use, FWIW, but it's not something most Westerners can pick up "on the side," as they might a cognate European language.

(FWIW she also gave up because of lousy teaching, so that's not a definitive "no." But the only Westerners in HK who learned Cantonese seemed to be those who had to work in the "community" at large e.g., social workers, police, missionaries, or those who developed a personal relationship [often romantic] with some local(s). For business or for dealings with the professional and academic classes, Cantonese was not necessary - you would have to study many many years before your competence in that language was equal to your counterpart's command of English.)

Allahu akbar!

Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I took a semester of Mandarin because my buddy Larry's little sister was cute and really smart and was into Asian studies.

I thought I would impress her, but she had much bigger fish to fry.

And that was that.

C'est l'amour.

wj, He is not without friends:

“Loyalty is important to me, and he has been a wonderful friend,” Kraft said. “I think one of the great problems in the country today is the working poor, the middle class, that there hasn’t been growth in income on an equal basis, and I really think the policies he’s going to bring to bear are going to be great for the economic side of America.”

In another article I read Kraft talk about how Trump supported him for the year after his wife passed. It is dangerous to assume that someone is not capable of human relationships even when you disagree with them so adamantly. Or, more to the point, some of your assumptions don't seem to be based on a complete appraisal of Trump. His faults are many and mostly obvious, but he is not the caricature.

He is not without friends

The fact that Trump has a personal social circle is noted.

To follow up on wj's point, it could even be that some folks in his personal social circle might persuade him that antagonizing most of the rest of the world is counter-productive.

That would be great.

Were that to happen, it would be somewhat unfortunate that it happened because one of his buddies suggested it to him. As opposed to, for instance, him figuring that out on his own. Or, perhaps, having it brought to his attention by an advisor or counsel who didn't achieve their position based on their personal fealty to DJT.

But, we'll take what we can get.

Personally, I would be surprised if Trump's personal friendship with Kraft (or whoever) were to translate into an understanding that friendship between nations - above and beyond pure transactional scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours - was something either desirable or worthwhile.

But, I guess we'll see. Early indicators are not encouraging. But anything is possible.

How can I pass up this opportunity?

You too may be a big hero
Once you've learned to count backwards to zero
"In German or English I know how to count down
Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun

-- Tom Lehrer

Learn mainland mandarin. If you've studied other Asian languages, it isn't that hard. Forget about fussing with handwriting characters and use a smartphone like all the Chinese do. I taught myself when I arrived in Beijing, albeit I spoke a few other languages so I knew how to start. Don't start with a textbook or class, just try to copy what people say. If you start by reading pinyin, it'll screw up your pronunciation permanently. Oh, and don't blend vowels...each vowel gets its own sound. Good luck!

I think I've written this before, but one of the reasons Chinese is so difficult for me is that I've studied Japanese, so any characters have to go thru me processing them in Japanese and then figuring them out in Chinese. I also belatedly realized that I am really really tied to Roman letter orthography. When I finished my first stint in Japan, my Japanese was pretty good and I went to grad school and studied Thai. Worked on Thai for 3 years but ended up taking a job in Japan. After three years, I moved to another position and was packing all my stuff and found my thai study notebooks and when I opened them, I couldn't read a thing I wrote. It was like The Shining, I could remember where I wrote them, but as for semantic content, I could have been writing redrum, redrum, redrum.

On the other hand, I did a 1 week research trip in Vietnam and then did nothing for 4 years and had a sudden chance to go back, and I would remember words and phrases because I had learned them in a roman orthography. I could kick myself when I think I could have studied Vietnamese for three years and had something that would have stuck with me.

All work and no play makes lj a dull boy.

Hairshirt, I think that outcome is overdetermined...

Trump et al are murderers. Republicans are murderers. Conservatives are murderers. Rod Dreher is a murderer, for all of his pious, both-sides-do-it bleating:


Savage vengeance, door-to-door. Fuck off.

Guess it's time for me to take another break for speaking da English.



Good, we need more fake news like this, much more. If it's good enough for Bannon Republicans, then its good enough for their victims.

In the alternative factual world created by the Republican Party, the man's mother can be alive and well, and murdered by trump at the same time. Maybe he doesn't have a mother at all and that can be a fact too.

The republican party made this world and now they live in it.

I regret that the individual confessed his counterfactual. But that makes him, a Muslim, a better human being than any single piece of filth now dirtying up the slipcovers in the White House.

Not that it matters one single f*ck.

I stick by my 1:28 AM yesterday.

Learning Mandarin will only be important when dealing with the politics of our global Chinese overlords. It will be the language of the court, so to speak. But just as Latin long outlasted Rome, English will long outlast the UK/US political hegemony. It's already doing that as what they call "English as Lingua Franca" on the linguistic research side of things.

Of course we should all probably be working to learn Global English at that point, and not get wrapped up in our local dialects and idioms.

With regard to Trump and Kraft, this may be of interest.

Who you choose as friends reflects on you.

Of course we should all probably be working to learn Global English at that point, and not get wrapped up in our local dialects and idioms.

Damn. I read that hoping it would mean I would have to start speaking like one of the droogs from A Clockwork Orange. Pretty much the opposite.

I suspect that America will give you plenty of opportunities to get all milked up and engage in a bit of the old ultra-violence in the near future.

It's easy, as an American, to get spoiled. Not only does most of the world learn English initially from Hollywood -- that is American English. But most of the folks we (or at least I) meet professionally have spent years living here, either working or at least as students. So they aren't displaying the issues Nous mentions.

The flip side of this is that I think I get higher higher evaluations than many of my teaching colleagues precisely because I speak more slowly and either simplify or explain my vocabulary. It makes a huge difference with international students.

A slight difference in subjective things like that can lead to a trend pretty quickly.

I think this trend will be helped along by Netflix and the like, who are doing a lot of combined production of media intended for a global audience that uses actors who are non-native English speakers. The larger a role the international markets play, the more Global English will seep into usage even in American regional dialects.

I've read that regional dialects in the US are actually becoming more pronounced rather than less, as one might expect given mass communications. And they're changing, sometimes within specific demographics within specific regions.

For example, in the Philadelphia area, young males, specifically, have started pronouncing words like the name "Mike" as something approaching "Moyk" (for whatever friggin' reason).

As the national culture gets spread more widely, using a regional dialect (or making one up!) can be a way of marking yourself out as special. You do it deliberately, just to show your colors.

It would be interesting to know whether those dialect features are constant or are more or less pronounced in different social contexts. Likewise it would be interesting to see if those trends affect a broad cross-section of the region or if they are being used as an in-group marker.

All the So Cal brahs I see in public get much more brah-like when surrounded by their brahs.

Being a little old and living on the East Coast, all I can picture now is Pauly Shore.

Yeah, but nobody wants to be his brah anymore.

everybody got their own jawn

I'm old. I studied German because I thought that we'd end up going Round #3 with Der Vaterland.

For those of you who speak different languages, what is your impression of language efficiencies?

Viennese is an efficient language, conveying the most information for the number of spoken syllables.

Japanese is supposedly rather inefficient requiring quite a few syllables to convey a given amount of information.

Mandarin lies somewhere between the two.

Spanish is less efficient than English. But Spanish grammar tends to put important words near the beginning of sentences. This allows some Spanish speakers to make up for the inefficiency by speaking in incomplete sentences.

The rate at which information is conveyed in different languages tends to be about the same as speakers of inefficient languages tend to speak faster.

Whether a language is efficient isn't just a matter of how many syllables it uses for a word. After all, Morse code will encode a word in many, many fewer impulses over a wire than a telephone will use for speech. Is it more efficient? Not in any real-world measure that I would recognize.

Of course, part of the way you can use fewer syllables is to have lots more different phonemes. For example, having not just different sounds but differences in whether the tone is rising, falling, warbling, etc. gives you a lot more information density. And requires anyone who didn't grow up with all those nuances to go very slowly to have any prayer of understanding.

All those different kinds of syllables also make the language difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. Spanish is easy precisely because it has a very limited number of sounds that you have to distinguish. Cantonese is hard for the opposite reason.

Note that this isn't about orthography (writing). It's just about being able to speak and listen and understand. And how efficient is it, really, when you can't get the message successfully and reliably?

CharlesWT, I was not aware that Vienna has its own language ;-)
The guys have an way of talking that I personally dislike but it still counts as some kind of German.
Did you mean the langauge they speak in Vietnam instead?

Yes, I blame the spell checker... :}

Auto-correct may be the worst thing to hit communication in my lifetime. Even auto-translate functions are more reliable in getting meaning across.

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