Thursday, October 13, 2011

A TINY Bit Tricky

by Ruth

Chinese is a high context culture and definitely a high context language. When I was going through flashcards from our oral lesson, I came across a nice little example (one of about 50,000 good examples, no doubt):

The definition on the flashcard for this character says,
“to support  / to sustain / to erect / to raise / branch / division / to draw money / classifier for rods such as pens and guns, for army divisions and for songs or compositions.”

What? How can this one word mean all those very different, unrelated things? A measure word for pens, guns, army divisions, and songs? Among its other meanings?

This would be confusing enough, but when I looked up the pronunciation “zhi” (pronounced like 'jer') in the not comprehensive dictionary on the phone, I found 25 different words and characters all pronounced exactly the same way – zhi1 – or “zhi” with a first tone. There are also 23 characters for “zhi” with a rising tone, 22 characters for zhi with a falling-rising tone, and 65 for “zhi” with a falling tone. That makes 135 different characters that are pronounced “zhi.” Among these 135 characters you could find words like...

...pheasant – to leap – to squat – character – delicate – hemorrhoid – ancient sacrifice – mad dog – wisdom – enraged – ambition – unicorn – flag – to store – wait for – embroidery – toe – to stop – location – but – duty – straighten – to grow – value – nephew – respectful – sick – gardenia – goblet...

For this, I just have one word:
哎呀 Ai-ya!!!!

1 comment:

Candy said...

Wow! No wonder Chinese is so confusing. But, you'll get it!