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Is it useful to learn Classical Chinese?


xuechengfeng

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It is very helpful! People will think highly of you if you can utter a few phrases in Classical Chinese. But I find this less and less appreciated in modern days. It helps you in the way Classical Latin or Classical Greek helps an English speaker. Lastly, I just find it such fun to learn. It explains many questions you might have about Modern Chinese. Like why does one say 国 for "our country". :)

-Shibo :mrgreen:

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xuechengfeng

I guess I'd like to take it but I'm stuck because after 3rd/4th year Chinese, you have elective choice to either continue 4th year studies, or a sequence of classical. If I'm not fluent by 4th year, or close to, then I probably will not do classical. :(

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I have only studied Chinese on my own, outside of a classroom setting, but here are my two cents. First, I would agree with Shibo, studying Classical Chinese grammar does explain a lot of anomolies in Modern Chinese that never seem to be explained in most grammar books. Here are some puzzles I can add to what Shibo described.

Why does 可愛 kěài mean "loveable"/"cute," rather than "able to love"?

What does the 以 yǐ mean in 可以 kěyǐ or in 以上 yǐshàng?

How about the origin of 以為 yǐwéi? Why can its components be separated by other words?

How can 所有 suǒyǒu possibly mean "all"?

What does the 然 rán in 然後 and 自然 zìrán mean?

How about the 而 in 我們為我國而鬥爭 wǒmen wèi wǒ guó ér dòuzhēng?

Why does 於是 yúshì mean "as a result"?

All of these are expressions used in Modern Chinese, but which come from Classical Chinese. For people who are allergic to grammatical explanations, it is easier to learn these expressions without asking too many questions. For people like me, who need explanations in order to learn, these usages are very difficult to understand with a basis only in modern Chinese. All of these expressions have fairly simple explanations from the point of view of classical grammar.

One thing I should say, even though I have not taken any Chinese courses, is that I get the impression that such courses are much more oriented to introducing students to literature selections, rather than to teaching grammar. This is quite different from the way Latin, Classical Greek, and Sanskrit are taught. I even get the impression that basic linguistic analysis of Classical Chinese is still rather unfinished. Some authorities in the past even denied that such analysis was necessary or possible, because Classical Chinese was "special" and had no grammar. Such a viewpoint was also more in agreement with the traditional Chinese methods of approaching the classics, i.e., rote memorization, study of commentaries, and personal guidance with a teacher.

I have three books on Classical Chinese. Only one comes close to the thoroughness that the best of my modern Chinese grammars have. In the past, I think it was assumed that students would simply begin learning characters and then tackle selections with the aid of a dictionary and the occasional comment of a teacher. By reading pages and pages, a student would then gradually "get the hang of it" and graduate towards making his or her own independent interpretations of texts.

I personally would stick with fourth-year modern Chinese if you are making steady progress. If you are reaching a point of diminishing returns in your current learning environment, I would also advise a switch to classical to keep improving. Classical is also worthwhile if you want to understand more about the stylistic considerations that form the various modes of written Chinese expression.

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skylee

Yes, it is useful.

Try to read some poems. Start with the famous collection of 300 Tang Poems -> http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/chinese/frame.htm (with English translation)

Learn one of the easiest and most famous (it hardly needs explanation), and you are already learning Classical Chinese ->

夜思 (李白)

床前明月光, 疑是地上霜。

舉頭望明月, 低頭思故鄉。

Confucius said, "不學詩,無以言".

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Consider the history of chinese literature, classical texts have evolved and the difference among the texts in various dynasties are very obvious, so are the difficulties.

Before china was united, Confucius and Laozi always treasured every word they used, and the texts were extremely short and limited, made it very difficult to understand.

In han, people insisted the parallel in the literature, the grammer were also foreign to us.

In Soong, there's a movement for "the rebirth of classical texts", and all popular texts were written in a relatively reader-friendly structure and avoided using too much difficult words.

The simple rule is that the latter the dynasty, the easier their literature. if you don't want to get too frustrated, be careful in choosing what to read.

If you're in china, you can simply go to a bookshop and ask for a chinese textbook for junior student.

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高可文

I've just finished my first year of Chinese, but my teacher has already begun to give my class a bit of the classics. While I can still barely understand them on my own, they do provide an excellent help for even first year grammar. I would encourage everyone to try their hand at the classics.

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高可文

I've just finished my first year of Chinese, but my teacher has already begun to give my class a bit of the classics. While I can still barely understand them on my own, they do provide an excellent help for even first year grammar. I would encourage everyone to try their hand at the classics.

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高可文, I just noticed your Confucius quote: shouldn't that be 学而习之,不以悦乎?

Jo

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  • 6 months later...

I can think of one practical reason to study Classical Chinese, there are several ancient medical books (Nei Jing for example) which are still used as regular textbooks for TCM students in China.

They are also available translated into modern Chinese but it is possible that the originals could be required.

Is there anybody on the forum who studied TCM in China?

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  • 5 years later...
Kenny同志
Is there anybody on the forum who studied TCM in China?

I had learned TCM on my own more than two years.

Another reason to study Classical Chinese, I think, is that good written Chinese skills entails you know enough of it.

You may have noticed there's lots of bad written Chinese on the internet, fair thing, because many read too much Anglicised Chinese without paying due attention to 古文, especially ancient vernacular Chinese. Wenyanwen has a history of more than two thousand years over which it had formed its rules. Texts in wenyanwen tend to be more succinct, and more effective than those in modern Chinese. Of course, they can be hard for most learners but in my humble opinion, they’re more preferable than Anglicised Chinese and I personally would waste no time leaping for wenyan text if I were given an option between the two versions.

So far, I haven’t seen any good reason why wenyanwen shall not treated equally with Xiandaiwen. It is good stuff and I know many love it and there are people who can even write it.

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