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Classical Chinese: merely an academic persuit?


PaoYu

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I've been studying Classical Chinese now for about 5 weeks. It's hard and faced-paced, but I'm quite enjoying it. Though, we're still on the baby texts: I think it's about to get a lot harder(sh)

Anyway, to the point. Do you think there's any practical purpose for a Westerner to study Classical Chinese?

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Definitely. I haven't been learning as much Classical Chinese as I should lately, but what I've learned has helped me tremendously in understanding formal written Chinese. Besides that, it makes some chengyu/other sayings make more sense. Not to mention the huge world of literature written in Classical Chinese that is opened up to you. It's quite a feeling to be able to read things written by Koreans and Japanese hundreds of years ago that I'd have no clue how to read were they written now. Plus, you will have a higher chance of being able to read those decorations in Chinese restaurants that everyone will inevitably ask you to read!

There's skylee's thread about Classical Chinese on these forums(it's a sticky somewhere), but I also recommend these websites:

The wonderful Wengu. Pop-up definitions for characters and a variety of English and French translations. Plus, a cute way of displaying the characters that makes you feel like you're reading a string of bamboo sticks. :D

You probably already know this site, but Zhongwen also has some Classical texts. BTW, does anyone know why that link on the main page has gone uncorrected for so many years? The one where clicking on "Mao Zedong sayings" will take you to "Diary of a Madman?" Is that some running joke or is Zhongwen.com not maintained very much?

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Anyway, to the point. Do you think there's any practical purpose for a Westerner to study Classical Chinese?

sure,why not, if you are intrested in classical chinese,just go ahead, it is good for you that keep studying,:)

there are wellknown literatures of chinese philosophy are written in classical chinese, if you can read it in classical chinese it is wonderful.

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Not to mention the huge world of literature written in Classical Chinese that is opened up to you. It's quite a feeling to be able to read things written by Koreans and Japanese hundreds of years ago that I'd have no clue how to read were they written now.

On the topic of Classical Chinese being used as the literary medium in Japan and Korea, I wrote a thread about it elsewhere in this Forum: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/9426-literary-chinese-bridging-the-east-asian-nations

...what I've learned has helped me tremendously in understanding formal written Chinese.

Because I personally have a preference for Classical Chinese over the modern Mandarin vernacular, I tend to compose my Chinese e-mail correspondences in a more 'literary' style, i.e. preferring 如何 over 怎樣, 則 over 所以, 幾何 over 多少, 此 over 這個, 無 over 沒, 之 over 的, etc. As a matter of fact, I have a strange habit of beginning my e-mail greetings with the phrase 台鑒 ("For Your Kind Attention"). And to top it all off, I prefer Traditional Chinese characters. :lol:

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Great thread! I'll try to revive it when I have time later on, though I agree with a lot of your points. Incidentally, it was reading the Hunmin Jeongeum when it really clicked for me that learning Classical Chinese was not totally pointless and that I could actually read things without relying on English/baihua glosses.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Also, lots of TV shows and lectures use Classical Chinese.

BTW, does anyone know why that link on the main page has gone uncorrected for so many years? The one where clicking on "Mao Zedong sayings" will take you to "Diary of a Madman?" Is that some running joke or is Zhongwen.com not maintained very much?

I remember emailing the site owner about this years ago and getting a snide comment in reply. So its probably that way on purpose.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Mark Yong
Pravit wrote: ...I could actually read things without relying on English/baihua glosses.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Quite a number of selections in the 古文觀止 have allusions that the reader has to be familiar with. Of course, those are the mainly the 'canonical' stuff, which tend to be heavy. In general, I would imagine it is possible to compose a text in 文言文 Literary Chinese without having to throw in the allusions.

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As a huge proponent of learning classical, there is the added benefit of being able to better understand modern grammar and all those sentence patterns and vocab people use in everyday speech. plus you can read the wuxia xiaoshuo novels with greater ease.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Ancient Chinese" is a very broad concept that covers the text over a few thousand years.

To understand 詩經 helps almost nothing about modern chinese grammar. 楚辭 looks like monster code more than chinese. 紅樓夢 may help a bit but if you really use all vocab in the book, people will find it very strange.

It's always good to get some knowledge on ancient chinese, esp old proverb and idioms which is still used today. But if you want a practical reason to learn it, you must be a literature professor.

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  • 2 weeks later...
正在看牡丹

As a native Chinese and an English major, I find it extremely interesting and practical to learn ancient Chinese. The farther I go in learning English, the bigger obstacle my poor proficiency of Chinese-my mother tongue presents me with. In improving my Chinese, modern novels or textbooks don't help much.

Besides, ancient Chinese is really BEAUTIFUL language. I'm not saying modern Chiense is rubbish. Far from it actually. 余光中Yu Guangzhong is a best example. However, I think ancient Chiense is more elegant and less redundant, though perhaps farther from daily speaking. Although memorizing<<离骚>>by 屈原 was nightmare in my high school time, it's beautiful poems really, if you have the patience to look at it closer.

therefore, through my English-learning experience, my suggestions to Chinese-learner is: it's always good to learn other language's ancient form, only don't forget to learn its modern form as well. After all, you learn a language to use it, not to appreciate it only.

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The farther I go in learning English, the bigger obstacle my poor proficiency of Chinese -- my mother tongue -- presents me with. In improving my Chinese, modern novels or textbooks don't help much.
Learning classical Chinese helps you learn English?
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wushijiao

Just to play the devil's advocate, how much time does it take to become good at Classical? In my case, I would estimate that I've spent not too much time, maybe, a total of 20-30 hours studying classical, if that. And yet I couldn't do too well with most classical texts, besides the most basic, basic stuff.

To some degree, I think one's time is better spent studying today's Chinese. Of course, I hope to one day have a good understanding of classical, so I'm not trying to deny its greatness or inherent value. I also think that people should study what they love, and if one has a deep affection for classical and ancient Chinese, then go for it. But it would seem to me that if a Chinese program (at a university) were to have people study classical without being fairly fluent in modern Chinese, well, that's just a bit insane.

(Of course, I realize that the two are not mutually exclusive. Studying modern and classical both helps with the other).

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正在看牡丹

I don't know how much it will help me to improve my English through learning Classical Chinese, but as I said in my last post, my poor proficiency of my mother tongue has been a great obstacle in my learning of English.

After all, learning languages is actually learning cultures. Although there're so many cross-cultural differences, we are all human. If I don't know enough about my own culture, I think in later stage, it will inevitably become an impedement.

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heifeng

I basically agree with this..

As a huge proponent of learning classical, there is the added benefit of being able to better understand modern grammar and all those sentence patterns and vocab people use in everyday speech. plus you can read the wuxia xiaoshuo novels with greater ease.

Back in my time (or before my uni decided some students actually wanted to major in Chinese to learn the language instead of doing research hehe) I had to go through a full year of classical Chinese after our 2nd year of Chinese (and THEN the department changed the major since I think most students really hated studying classical Chinese 哼, anyway who knows, at the time x number of years ago I was also a lil' irritated my classical chinese was probably better than my spoken chinese :twisted: ). Then at BNU I also took another semester in their literature dept because I did enjoy studying it to a certain extent and realized I had only covered the tip of the iceburg before. Did it help me in learning modern Chinese? In terms of spoken communication, not really. However, in other situations I guess I don't get freaked out too much if I see some classical Chinese. If you really do seriously study classical Chinese I think you have to do it because you enjoy it and perhaps for research because the amount of time you spend studying Classical Chinese isn't gonna really reward itself with that many practical applications. The most I use my Chinese classic 'training' in is watching soap operas about the different dynasties and when I'm reading maybe I don't get thrown off by classical stuff as much, plus there are some phrases from classsical Chinese that are nice to throw into your own writing....In terms of studying with other foreign students who never learned it before I think I have noticed I have a small advantage~~ at least with my (minimal)classical background I could have gone without the lecture on what this 'classical' phrase or grammar point, or less commonly used vocabulary, means everytime some 'classical' Chinese popped up in modern text....

Overall, practical or not after studying some classical Chinese I at least feel I had a fairly "well-rounded" education in Chinese, which is nice when you generally(:twisted: ) enjoy studying the language...

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I don't know how much it will help me to improve my English through learning Classical Chinese, but as I said in my last post, my poor proficiency of my mother tongue has been a great obstacle in my learning of English.

Can you give some examples? How much schooling did you have in China and how much in the West?

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正在看牡丹

Ah, sorry for the ambiguity of my explanation.

I'm an English major and has been learning English since my junior school, that is, nearly ten years ago. As for my Chinese, I'm no worse than most Chinese natives, and better than many of them, although I'm surely far below the scholars.

The biggest problem my poor Chinese presents me with is when I'm doing translation or interpretation work. I can fully understand both languages, yet I find it very hard to well express the meaning, especially in Chinese. I can stammer out the meaning and contonations to soem extent, but the target language is... AWFUL.

It doesn't have much to do with eloquence really. I can write down my own ideas and thinkings in fairly good Chinese or English, but when it comes to translation? My mother tongue is what lets me down.

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studentyoung
I can fully understand both languages, yet I find it very hard to well express the meaning, especially in Chinese. I can stammer out the meaning and contonations to soem extent, but the target language is... AWFUL.

It doesn't have much to do with eloquence really. I can write down my own ideas and thinkings in fairly good Chinese or English, but when it comes to translation? My mother tongue is what lets me down.

Don’t worry, don’t worry, 正在看牡丹. The case you express is something so common among green-handed translators and interpreters. The key here is that you haven’t got used to use your mother tongue to express the meaning in foreign language contexts at once, and vice versa. As you major in English, you might understand that translation is not a simple word-to-word job. You have to first grasp the meaning of the context, and then choose the right words to express. For some people, they can do it at once because of their familiarity to the contexts & terms and their skills on languages and cultures.

Take it easy and take it slow, 正在看牡丹. I am sure you are on you way to be a good translator and interpreter. :)

Thanks!

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I see what you mean, 正在看牡丹. Because your English is so good, I had thought that you lived in the West. I see many new Chinese translators have problems translating English into Chinese as well. The logical structure of English sentences tend to much more complicated than English. A lot of novice translators end up with Chinese translations that are very hard to read and don't sound like Chinese at all.

I would recommend that you regularly read the Financial Times's Chinese site. Many of the articles online have both the English original and a Chinese translation. I think the translators they use are very good. You might want to try translating some of the articles yourself first and then compare your translation with theirs.

See http://www.ftchinese.com/

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正在看牡丹

Thank you for your encouragement and help, Studentyoung and Gato! I'll try my best not to be so lazy as I am:oops: that's my biggest problem in my learning: not persistent enough.

Gato, thank you for your recommendation! I like FT too, although I haven't got much chance to read it and I didn't know it has both English and Chinese versions. I'll take your suggestions about translation learning and practice when I have my own computer here in Shanghai.:) That's great idea! Thank you!

Thank you both!

正在看牡丹

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