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Shanghaiceltic BS: Melamine in food - global problem (34) RE: BS: Melamine in food - global problem 17 Oct 08

China has a number of different 'dialects.' Wikipedia shows lists of 7 to 14. These dislects are mutually incomprehensible. (Other countries would call them different languages.) Clearly this makes for language barriers.

>>SC: Putonghua (aka Mandarin) is the standard language used throughout China for education and business. That said the various dialects do cause problems. If you are having a business discussion the peopel you are dealing with may switch to the local dialect for a private conversation.

Chinese writing is based on pictures. A basic education calls for learning 2000 pictograms. (I'm pretty sure I recall that correctly, not that the exact number is crucial.)

>>SC: There are more than 6000 characters. The PRC uses simplified characters which were introduced in the 1960's. The idea being that it would be easier to remember these. Though you have many different dialects in China the written system links them all. They might be pronounced differently but the meaning is the same. That is why you often see Chinese subtitles on their TV programs.
The Japanese who 'borrowed' the Chinese characters reduced the number required for be learned to 2000 Toyu kanji. But they kept the older complex characters.
But yes a basic knowledge of 2000 Chinese characters is needed to be literate.
Not all characters are pictograms, in fact less than 50% are. Many are phonetically based.

Western languages use about 26 letters. We can alphatize documents, store and retrieve them.

But how do you store and retrieve info, guidelines and advice in a writing system that has at least 2000 elements?
>>SC: It can be done by using phonetics. But you have to type in using what is called Pinyin. Pinyin are the phonetics, you come up with a list of characters which then have the same or close phonetic sound. This can be improved upon by using the Pinyin phonetic and the tone value 1,2,3, or 4.

If you come across a character that in not famliar then you have to break it down into either total stroke count, the number of strokes used to make up a character, or try and identify the radical element which gives a general area of meaning, look that up and provide a stroke count for the remaining part of the character.

When I studied Japanese and Chinese I never learnt the characters in isolation. I always tried to remember the characters as they made up a word. Apart from particles of speach most Chinese words are made up of at least two characters.

Not for nothing did the Jesuits call Chinese and Japanese the language of the devil.

Sorry about the thread drift.

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