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There will be a quiz after the wedding

I have to put our Guest List into some sane order for the guest registration table. The names in English are no problem... highlight all the cells and hit the "Sort Ascending" button in Excel.

The Chinese ones will have to be done manually in traditional Chinese dictionary order. In a traditional Chinese dictionary, characters are listed by number of strokes under their radical[*]. It's like Elementary School all over again figuring out what the radical is, figuring out where it is in the dictionary, figuring out the stroke count of the harmonic.

I don't like transcribing the Chinese names into English because there are too many romanization systems depending on where people are from and what dialect they speak (Chang, Cheung and Zhang are the same surname). It will take three times as long to look for someone in the list.

[*]No, not as in "chemical species which has one unpaired electron and undergoes rapid reactions".

A radical, defined in Chinese linguistic terms is a character or partial character that contributes to the meaning of the whole character. As opposed to a harmonic which is a character or multiple characters that contribute to the pronunciation.

There are 114 radicals in the Chinese language and they form what you could call an "alphabet". Radicals are sometimes listed in an index table in the front of the dictionary. However, this is a big waste of time - it's like listing the letters of the alphabet as a table of contents at the beginning of an English dictionary. No one would ever look at it and most [reputable] dictionaries omit it.

To use a traditional Chinese dictionary, you need to memorize the order of all 114 radicals. This is actually easier than it sounds. It's only difficult to me because I don't use Chinese much in my life. If you do everything in Chinese, breathed, ate, slept and sneezed in Chinese, this wouldn't be a problem. As well, knowing the most common ones will suffice.

I'd have to figure out all the radicals (which could also be in their variant forms):

  • Is this character a radical on its own?
  • Is there only one radical?
  • Does any radical enclose the character on both sides?
  • Choose the left side radical over the right side radical.
  • Choose the top radical over the bottom radical.
  • Choose the single over the dual or multiple elements.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2002 10:08 pm (UTC)
Chinese Names
Wow, that seems like a lot of work. So will peoples place names be in Chinese characters? Or, I should say, were they since this was written awhile ago. Also, which dialect do you speak? I'm about to learn Mandarin; I've very excited.
May. 28th, 2002 10:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
Wow, that seems like a lot of work.

Actually, it wasn't too bad. Many people tend to have the same last name in Chinese, so I only had to order a handful of them. I got through it. =)

So will peoples place names be in Chinese characters?

We had table cards printed with peoples' names on them in Chinese or English depending on who they were.

Also, which dialect do you speak?

I speak Cantonese and Mandarin fluently. I can't read or write nearly as well as I should =)

I'm about to learn Mandarin; I've very excited.

My mother teaches children's and adult's Mandarin classes. It's a very metaphoric and gentle language. I think you'll find it very melodic and beautiful =)
May. 28th, 2002 10:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
So which is your first language: English, Mandarin, or Cantonese? Which of the three do you like the best and which do you think is easiest/hardest?
May. 28th, 2002 11:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
I grew up with all three. I'd say the order is approximately: Cantonese, English, Mandarin. I can't really say which is easiest or hardest, there's really no comparison.

The thing is, language is a tool that represents thought. Language is not a tool that represents another language. If you keep thinking of Mandarin or Chinese in terms of the equivalent English translation, you'll have a lot of trouble learning it.

At first, you'll have to translate things back and forth. But as soon as you know it, try not to. Try to understand it in Chinese for what it is. And it sounds corny, but try to feel what things mean and what sounds right as opposed to doing the translation. Try to figure out the meaning of a term or phrase by its context before going to the dictionary.

Believe it or not, once I understood this when I was learning French, my translation skills greatly improved as well. I was understanding French as thought. From thought to language is a MUCH faster and efficient process time than from language to language to thought.
May. 29th, 2002 02:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
And it sounds corny, but try to feel what things mean and what sounds right as opposed to doing the translation. Try to figure out the meaning of a term or phrase by its context before going to the dictionary.

Yeah, I do this with Spanish. At first I had to think real hard and go back and forth and search for the word and verb form. I'm only in first year, and I can hold convorsation with relative ease and read short selections in Spanish with out trouble.

Ok, so neither is easier, but which do you prefer: Cantonese or Mandarin? Which do most of the people in you family speak when they are just sitting around chatting? Is it an amalgumation of English and both dialects of Chinese?
May. 29th, 2002 03:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
Hmmm... I'd never thought of it by preference. It's only been "okay, what do I need to speak now?". My family speaks Cantonese. My husband's family speaks Mandarin.

I think I prefer Mandarin. It's more formal because you say things exactly the way you'd write it, so it sounds more polite. You couldn't write what you say in Cantonese (or any other dialect) without a lot of made-up/nonsensical characters.
May. 29th, 2002 03:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Chinese Names
That's a shame that the ohter dialects haven't modified the writing system more. I understand the need for a national language, because it makes things easier for public addresses and stuff. Also, when there's a standard grammar and word-order, it's easier to produce mass media. But still, it's a shame. I heard that there are about 100 HK characters that were invented there.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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