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Traditional vs Simplified characters

Do you prefer traditional or simplified characters?  

62 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you prefer traditional or simplified characters?

    • Traditional
      94
    • Simplified
      83
    • dou keyi (no preference)
      51


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atitarev
I think there are many reasons why an alphabetic writing system would not be practical. First, there are many dialects that all make use of Chinese characters, and even when speaking 普通话 there are many variations in regional accents. One of the benefits of the logographic system of Chinese characters is that speakers of many dialects and accents can communicate effectively in writing. A system based on pronunciation (presumably of the "standard" Beijing 普通话) would undo all that. So basically, for a pronunciation-based writing system to be truly effective, the entire population of China would need to speak fairly standard 普通话.

I noticed that reading pinyin texts doesn't change the dialectal pronunciation with some people, don't worry, people would still mispronounce Mandarin or speak a dialect, even if an alphabet were used (not saying it should). However, phonetic alphabets show what is the right pronunciation, even if you don't follow it.

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imron
One of the benefits of the logographic system of Chinese characters is that speakers of many dialects and accents can communicate effectively in writing. A system based on pronunciation (presumably of the "standard" Beijing 普通话) would undo all that.
You're missing the point. First of all, those people speaking dialects are already learning 普通话 as a second language (and incidentally, not Beijing 普通话, but northern 普通话). Take a fraction of the time they saved by not having to learn characters and put it towards learning standard 普通话, and the problem goes away.

Secondly, who's to say an alphabetic system has to be limited to 普通话? That's one of the great things about an alphabetic system, because it's phonetic, speakers of different dialects could adapt it, and dialects that don't currently have a written form would have a way to express themselves in writing. Just look at the way English can be adapted to represent speakers with different accents, and the richness that gives to the works that make use of it. Also, exposure to different accents increases one's ability to communicate with others, rather than diminishes it. For proof of this, look at the way people from the south can relatively easily understand people from the north (because they have plenty of exposure to a northern accent) compared to how people from the north find it relatively difficult to understand those from the south (because they have far less exposure to southern accents).

Finally, as atitarev says, different pronunciations don't necessarily have an effect on the way a word would be written and people can still understand it (ToMAHto - ToMAYto etc).

I don't think that written pinyin with tone marks will ever be easier to read than a text written in Chinese characters.

For classical Chinese you are right, and there's always that story composed entirely of characters pronounced shi, that illustrates this point. However for normal everyday usage I don't think it's really that big an issue. If you'd devoted half the time you'd spent on learning characters towards reading pinyin, I'm sure you'd find it a whole lot easier. A lot of it comes down to exposure and what you're used to.

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atitarev

Yes, what's stopping people from pronouncing 中国 / 中國 / Zhōngguó the way they used to or prefer to? "Zhōngguó" shows the standard Mandarin accent, but what if it's "jungok"? Like "missile" can be "miss-eye-l" or "missel" (AE/BE). My point is, the writing system has little to do with the pronunciation but the phonetical system, gives an unambiguous pronunciation.

...dialects that don't currently have a written form would have a way to express themselves in writing...

This is perhaps one of the reasons, why they don't think it's a good idea. It may create a linguistic separatism. Having said this, only Cantonese is the language/dialect, which is used formally, most other Chinese read (or try to read) in standard Mandarin, e.g. when they have to read aloud.

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renzhe
Secondly, who's to say an alphabetic system has to be limited to 普通话? That's one of the great things about an alphabetic system, because it's phonetic, speakers of different dialects could adapt it, and dialects that don't currently have a written form would have a way to express themselves in writing.

They could adapt, but probably wouldn't, just like they don't write dialects using Chinese characters either.

Take Germany for an example. Everyone learns written standard German in school, which is what is used for official communications. In many ways, this is exactly the same as putonghua in China.

Germany is full of dialects and separate languages (not mutually understandable), but people only ever write in standard German. Although it's completely legal and allowed, there is virtually no literature in Bavarian, Schwabian, or Plattdeutsch.

For classical Chinese you are right, and there's always that story composed entirely of characters pronounced shi, that illustrates this point. However for normal everyday usage I don't think it's really that big an issue.

For classical Chinese, this is absolutely impossible.

For modern standard Chinese, it's not impossible, but it is ridiculously cumbersome, IMHO.

The thought of having to read 100 pages written in pinyin and tone marks makes me cringe :wink:

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imron
just like they don't write dialects using Chinese characters either.
Because often they can't. Obviously some dialects can more than others, but even those are far from complete.
but people only ever write in standard German.
So in a novel where one of the characters is from Bavaria and one of the characters from Berlin, the author would never alter the way a word is written when these two characters are having dialogue with each other (similar to how an author in English might write "how ya doin' " or something similar to reflect the accent of the speaker)?
The thought of having to read 100 pages written in pinyin and tone marks makes me cringe
I understand your point, but imagine a world where Chinese characters didn't exist and all you'd ever learnt was an alphabetic system. You probably wouldn't find it that daunting a task at all, it's mostly about what you've been exposed to. It's similar to me when reading a text written in Traditional characters. I can read it, but it takes about twice as long as it would take me to read the equivalent text in Simplified. It's not because Traditional is more difficult or cumbersome, it's just that I've had less exposure to it and so I have to stop more often to figure out what certain characters might be.

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atitarev
So in a novel where one of the characters is from Bavaria and one of the characters from Berlin, the author would never alter the way a word is written when these two characters are having dialogue with each other (similar to how an author in English might write "how ya doin' " or something similar to reflect the accent of the speaker)?

They do it and quite often, just to show the regional, funny or uneducated accents.

Ich weiß das auch nicht. (standard Hochdeutsch) -> Ich weeß das ooch nee. (Sächsisch - Saxonian)

(meaning: I don't know it either).

The colloquial or dialectal words can be added as well - e.g. "Mädel" or "Dirndl" (girl) instead of "Mädchen", careful with Dirndl (colloquial), in standard German (properly: Dirne) it's "whore" or "slut"!

I still remember seeing in Berlin a sign on a van in Berlin speech:

"Ick gloob, ick spinne" (Berlin dialect) - "Ich glaube, ich spinne" (Hochdeutsch)

I think, I am crazy (sounds something like "Methink, me crazy")

(Sorry for the offtopic)

The thought of having to read 100 pages written in pinyin and tone marks makes me cringe

The Vietnamese don't cringe any more...:mrgreen:

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renzhe
So in a novel where one of the characters is from Bavaria and one of the characters from Berlin, the author would never alter the way a word is written when these two characters are having dialogue with each other (similar to how an author in English might write "how ya doin' " or something similar to reflect the accent of the speaker)?

For comedic purposes, and only to make fun of the people's accent. It's like using 鬼佬 in Mandarin, though it is obviously a Cantonese word.

There is a big difference between "how ya doin'" and writing a dialogue in Plattdeutsch, which is a separate language closer to English than it is to German. Yet there is virtually no literature in Plattdeutsch, despite the attempt to create a revival, and millions of speakers.

It's similar with Bavarian or Swiss German. It's not just the accent and a few different words, the dialects are basically incomprehensible to the majority of German speakers. And even in Switzerland, where the majority of native German speakers actually speak the Swiss-German dialect, the vast majority of all publications is in standard German. They don't what they say, they write what a German from Hanover would say.

Anyway, my point is that writing phonetically doesn't mean that dialects will necessarily develop their own writing system. A perhaps much better example is modern Arabic.

I understand your point, but imagine a world where Chinese characters didn't exist and all you'd ever learnt was an alphabetic system. You probably wouldn't find it that daunting a task at all, it's mostly about what you've been exposed to.

I understand your point too, but I think that there is more to it than being used to it.

I feel that the modern spoken Mandarin (I can't speak for other dialects) has far too many similar-sounding phonemes that form mostly two-syllable words. I don't think that the number of VISUAL combinations this forms when written phonetically offers anywhere near the visual variety you get when writing European languages phonetically, because European languages offer a bigger range of allowed sound combinations. I think that European languages will result in a much more varied visual representation, which eases reading. Of course, I have no proof for this assertion.

I also have a feeling that, if you gave me a Croatian book, and gave a similarly educated Vietnamese the same book in Vietnamese, that I'd read mine faster. I also know that my girlfriend can read Chinese texts in ways (and at speeds) I consider mind-numbing, although I am a very fast reader. Again, I can't quantify this, but I feel that the visual variety offered by written symbols (whether they are phonetic words or logographs) aids reading speed and ease.

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atitarev
I also have a feeling that, if you gave me a Croatian book, and gave a similarly educated Vietnamese the same book in Vietnamese, that I'd read mine faster.

Both Vietnamese and Korean are now differently from the time they were written mostly in Chinese characters, avoiding ambiguously sounding words and coining new words and borrowing words from other languages. Of course, the older abbreviations can't work either, they won't make sense.

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foodtarget
You're missing the point. First of all, those people speaking dialects are already learning 普通话 as a second language

I think I understand the point just fine, thank you. An alphabetic system would be practical and beneficial IF most of the population spoke standard putonghua, but unfortunately this is not the case. Presumably an alphabetic writing system for Chinese would be based on the pronunciation of "standard" putonghua, like pinyin. And I've encountered plenty of people who are pretty bad at pinyin because they speak putonghua with a regional accent. And then for people who don't speak putonghua at all, reading phonetic transcriptions of putonghua would just be impossible.

More than half of Chinese can speak mandarin (People's Daily)

Half of all Chinese people can't speak Mandarin (Taipei Times)

I guess some people just see the glass half full... And also, a few months ago I found a very interesting article (that I can't seem to find now) talking about the percentage of citizens in various cities that could pass certain levels of the 普通话水平测试 which is used to measure the putonghua abilities of Chinese people. The passage rates were surprisingly low. I remember something like 90% of Beijing citizens could pass a certain level, but only around 1% of Guangzhou citizens could pass that level. So obviously there are still people with pretty crappy putonghua.

Secondly, who's to say an alphabetic system has to be limited to 普通话? That's one of the great things about an alphabetic system, because it's phonetic, speakers of different dialects could adapt it

Yes, and then only speakers of that dialect would be able to read the writing. Whereas now, if you understand the characters, you can understand writing regardless of your native dialect. Assuming that all of China doesn't magically become proficient in putonghua overnight, developing alphabetic writing systems for each dialect and promoting (or allowing) writing in said dialects would only impede interregional communication.

I feel that the modern spoken Mandarin (I can't speak for other dialects) has far too many similar-sounding phonemes that form mostly two-syllable words. I don't think that the number of VISUAL combinations this forms when written phonetically offers anywhere near the visual variety you get when writing European languages phonetically, because European languages offer a bigger range of allowed sound combinations. I think that European languages will result in a much more varied visual representation, which eases reading. Of course, I have no proof for this assertion.

I agree with this, but I also have no concrete proof

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renzhe
Both Vietnamese and Korean are now differently from the time they were written mostly in Chinese characters, avoiding ambiguously sounding words and coining new words and borrowing words from other languages.

It is my understanding that languages evolve orally, not in written form. So these new phrases and words will make the SOUND easier to understand, when spoken. It won't necessarily make the written word easier to discern visually.

I'll take pinyin as an example again. You have a number of initials (which only occur at the start of a syllable) and only two final stops (-n and -ng, although you can also count -r here).

Everything in between is made of vowels, which all occupy the same amount of vertical space: aeiouü. So all the syllables written in pinyin will have an initial which has many different shapes, a middle which is rather compact vertically, and possibly an ending that ends with a "g", which has a low hooking shape going down.

So, purely visually, the following all have a similar shape at a quick glance, you have to have a closer look to distinguish them:

- lang, tang, dang, bang, hang, long, hong, dong, tong, tang, lang, long....

- xiu, niu, xia, nia, xie, nie, mie...

You can use these on their own, or combine them with another syllable, which also has only a limited number of similar shapes. That's because the INTERESTING parts of the words, which help us visually pick them apart don't occur often, and only appear in a small number of visual shapes.

Compare this with a European language, where a word can have many syllables (so the length of the word is a visual clue), clusters of consonants (a very important visual clue), almost arbitrary combination of letters reaching up or down, etc.

Take some words from Finnish as an example:

Elämä on epävarmaa, syö jälkiruoka ensin. Ei niin huonoa lasta ettei vanhemmalle kelpaa. Vanha ei kuule eikä näe mutta kaikki ne kuitenkin tietää

There is a huge number of visual clues there which simply cannot occur in Chinese, like the 'mm', double 'll', long words like jälkiruoka, which are long and have a number of interesting points for your brain to notice and classify quickly.

Perhaps an alphabet can be devised that suits this purpose better than Pinyin, but I have my doubts, simply because the bisyllabic nature of the language, combined with many similar-sounding phonemes doesn't suggest that there will be a rich number of visual clusters that facilitates fast reading.

Perhaps one should look into Korean to see how they've managed it. Korean has many Chinese loanwords, which sound reasonably Chinese still.

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imron
I think I understand the point just fine, thank you.
Sorry, you're still missing the point. Think of the amount of time that gets devoted to the study of characters during an average Chinese person's schooling. Do you really think these people would still have a problem with pinyin if there was no such thing as Chinese characters, and they had spent event half the amount of time they would have spent learning characters towards learning pinyin?
And then for people who don't speak putonghua at all, reading phonetic transcriptions of putonghua would just be impossible.
Correct, and for people who don't speak German, reading phonetic transcriptions of German would just be impossible (although depending on what your native language was, you might have varying different degrees of success). I don't see this as a problem.
Yes, and then only speakers of that dialect would be able to read the writing.
I still don't see the problem. Do the Spanish complain that the Italians only write in Italian? No, what happens is that those who are interested in what the Italians have to say will learn Italian.
developing alphabetic writing systems for each dialect and promoting (or allowing) writing in said dialects would only impede interregional communication.
Europe seems to be doing quite well last time I checked, and they also have a large amount of linguistic diversity, over a similar sized geographic region.

Why try to pretend that everyone in China speaks the same language, when obviously they don't. Also, there are several countries that exist reasonably happily with multiple national languages. Switzerland, Canada and Belgium are a few that spring to mind off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.

I don't think that the number of VISUAL combinations this forms when written phonetically offers anywhere near the visual variety you get when writing European languages phonetically,
If you were writing Mandarin using a latin based alphabet this is correct, however if you look back to what I was saying earlier, I wasn't limiting an alphabetic system to the latin alphabet. I'm sure it would be possible to create an alphabet for Mandarin that had a reasonable amount of visual variety.

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renzhe
If you were writing Mandarin using a latin based alphabet this is correct, however if you look back to what I was saying earlier, I wasn't limiting an alphabetic system to the latin alphabet. I'm sure it would be possible to create an alphabet for Mandarin that had a reasonable amount of visual variety.

I understood you as implying that if you concentrated on reading pinyin as much as you do on learning characters, you'd be just as good at reading pinyin as you are at reading characters, and I have my doubts about that, at least when it comes to pinyin.

But even if you took a different type of alphabet (something like hiragana or zhuyin or hangul), ji would still be ji, and could still mean a million things.

A syllable like that in a European language can occur in a number of positions in a number of words, from monosyllabic, to words made of 5 or more syllables, in all imaginable combinations.

In Chinese, it basically the first half of the word or the second half of the word in the majority of cases. CEDICT lists 1500 words containing "ji", and the vast majority of them are either XX-ji or ji-XX, where XX is some other syllable. Such a thing simply doesn't occur in European languages.

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foodtarget
Sorry, you're still missing the point.

Well if I am missing your point then I guess that means you are also missing my point. Yes, it would be significantly easier for someone to learn a phonetic alphabet for the language THEY SPEAK. But considering that a very large number of Chinese people don't speak the same language and those who do speak Putonghua do so with a wide variety of accents, the ease of a phonetic alphabet would not outweigh the benefits conveyed by the characters (mainly, readability regardless of native dialect).

Correct, and for people who don't speak German, reading phonetic transcriptions of German would just be impossible (although depending on what your native language was, you might have varying different degrees of success). I don't see this as a problem.

The difference is that for most people who don't speak/read German, there is no need to read German. They have literature, news etc. in their own language they can read. But in China, the main language for all such literature and media is putonghua, so there is a need to read it regardless of whether it is your native dialect. And as of now, this is possible with characters, but would be made impossible (for those not fluent in putonghua) through a switch to an alphabet.

I still don't see the problem. Do the Spanish complain that the Italians only write in Italian? No, what happens is that those who are interested in what the Italians have to say will learn Italian.

developing alphabetic writing systems for each dialect and promoting (or allowing) writing in said dialects would only impede interregional communication.

Europe seems to be doing quite well last time I checked, and they also have a large amount of linguistic diversity, over a similar sized geographic region.

Why try to pretend that everyone in China speaks the same language, when obviously they don't. Also, there are several countries that exist reasonably happily with multiple national languages. Switzerland, Canada and Belgium are a few that spring to mind off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.

Ok, China is not Europe. It is one big country with not two, not three, but dozens of mutually unintelligible dialects as well as a handful of unrelated minority languages. In each European country, there is one main language that virtually all of the citizens can speak proficiently and there is media, literature, movies etc. available in that language. This is not the case in China.

Also, there is a high degree of multilingualism in Europe. Virtually all of the Europeans I've met (except maybe Brits) can speak a second language (usually English) quite proficiently, and the ones from Denmark or Scandinavian countries seem to have some command of German, but I don't know about this. Also, I have been told that there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility (especially in written form) between the romance languages, which must make communication between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy much easier.

So while there are some superficial similarities between Europe and China in terms of language situations, I think the similarities don't run very deep, and it is very misleading to say "look at Europe, they're doing okay." There's a lot of factors that play into Europe's situation that aren't present in China.

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Hofmann

You can't take Germany as a good analogue to China. The whole of Europe would be a better analogue.

So, if Europe was one country, there would be a whole bunch of different languages, just like China. You're saying that it would be more practical if they all wrote in English? Of course, many Europeans can speak English as a second language, but one can't expect this to go smoothly. But say that you successfully get all Europeans to speak and write in English exclusively. They'll hate you forever for all the literature, songs, and other such material that you have rendered inaccessible.

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foodtarget
You can't take Germany as a good analogue to China. The whole of Europe would be a better analogue.

So, if Europe was one country, there would be a whole bunch of different languages, just like China. You're saying that it would be more practical if they all wrote in English? Of course, many Europeans can speak English as a second language, but one can't expect this to go smoothly. But say that you successfully get all Europeans to speak and write in English exclusively. They'll hate you forever for all the literature, songs, and other such material that you have rendered inaccessible.

Is this in response to my post? I never advocated making Europe into one big country and forcing them all to adopt English to the exclusion of their native languages. What I said was, since many (most?) Europeans are proficient in a second or even third language (which usually includes English), international communication is not much of a problem. Also, within European countries, it seems like nearly all citizens can speak/read a common language (or at least between any two randomly selected citizens, there will be at least one language in which they can communicate). For these reasons, the language situation in China is not like that of any single European country, NOR is it like Europe as a whole.

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Hofmann

Sorry. That was directed to imron. I should have clarified.

In Germany, most Germans can speak Standard German. However, in China, half of the population can't speak Standard Mandarin. Many who can have an accent. I was just saying that the whole of Europe would be more similar to China than one country such as Germany.

I know that the language situation in Europe is not like that of China. However, if it were the case that Europe would promulgate one standard written language, China would be better off, as every literate person can read what every other literate person writes. It is so already. Something like that is difficult in Europe; the Germans would be reluctant to spell /kuxən/ "C-A-K-E."

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Rincewind
In Chinese, it basically the first half of the word or the second half of the word in the majority of cases. CEDICT lists 1500 words containing "ji", and the vast majority of them are either XX-ji or ji-XX, where XX is some other syllable. Such a thing simply doesn't occur in European languages.

You are confusing individual hanzi with words. Single syllables like in your example, ji may be a word in their own right but more often they are combined with other syllables to produce a multisyllabic word. Your XX-ji or ji-XX is no different form the use of sufixes and prefixes in western language. If you were to reverse the situation to put English into Chinese styled characters with one character for each syllable then suffixes like -tion, -ed, -ian, -eous, -ing, -er would make individual characters. People learning English do not get confused by the tens of thousands of words that contain -ing and nor would people get confused by the many words in Chinese that contain ji or similar.

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imron
Sorry. That was directed to imron. I should have clarified.
Did you read the rest of my post at all? Specifically where I said:
Europe seems to be doing quite well last time I checked, and they also have a large amount of linguistic diversity, over a similar sized geographic region.
I used German in that first example, because it was the first language that popped into my head. My point was - for people who don't speak language-X, reading phonetic transcriptions of language-X would just be impossible. This is not an unusual situation, and no-one says everyone needs to speak the same language.

Also, in my posts, I have been saying that an alphabetised system would allow different regions to write in their own languages, as opposed to being forced to use a single languge like they are now.

Ok, China is not Europe. It is one big country with not two, not three, but dozens of mutually unintelligible dialects as well as a handful of unrelated minority languages.
I think you're downplaying the number of languages in Europe, and playing up the diversity in China's languages. As has been noted by other posters, Germany alone has several mutually unitelligible dialects. In the UK you've got English, Welsh, Scots and Gaelic, not to mention the huge variety of accents (compare northern English with southern English, with Cockney etc), Spain has 5 largish language groups (Castillian, Catalan, Basque, Galician, Aranese) not to mention a handful of other dialects, and that's just for 3 western European nations. When including all countries within a similar geographic size to China then you can throw the rest of the Western European languages (French, Dutch, Portugese, Greek, Italian etc) plus all the various regional dialects of those languages, all the Scandanavian languages, a bunch of eastern european languages, plus more again from the balkan states. So it's not really accurate to suggest that Europe only has a handful of languages compared to China, because it's simply not the case. See here for a further breakdown. This language diversity does not seem to be a great inhibitor to inter-regional communication and if anything, Europe is moving closer and closer together.
Yes, it would be significantly easier for someone to learn a phonetic alphabet for the language THEY SPEAK. But considering that a very large number of Chinese people don't speak the same language and those who do speak Putonghua do so with a wide variety of accents,
I don't think this is as big an issue as you think. As other posters have pointed out, you can have the same written alphabet-based language, and different people will pronounce the same word in different (sometimes mutually unintelligible) ways based on their own local pronunciation. They can all understand it however when it's written down.

Also, when learning to write characters, at least for those speakers of the larger "dialects" (e.g. Cantonese and I'm sure for others too) Chinese people are already learning a different language, with different grammar and different vocabulary. If it's not a problem for them to do this with characters, why do you think it will be an especially large problem for an alphabet system, especially considering all the time they will have saved from not needing to learn characters in the first place?

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renzhe
If you were to reverse the situation to put English into Chinese styled characters with one character for each syllable then suffixes like -tion, -ed, -ian, -eous, -ing, -er would make individual characters. People learning English do not get confused by the tens of thousands of words that contain -ing and nor would people get confused by the many words in Chinese that contain ji or similar.

Yes, but the -ing suffix ALWAYS means the same thing. And it comes at the end of 2, 3, 4 and 5 syllable words.

A pre- prefix almost always means the same thing.

a ji- prefix can mean about 50 things, and the -ji suffix the same. Maybe not 50, but at least 20. And it's almost always 2 syllable words.

You have to rely on the shape of the whole word to figure out the word, and pinyin doesn't offer much variety there.

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muyongshi

I know this has been said but I just have to reemphasize the fruitlessness of the argument based on the pronunciation of most Chinese words. Yes European languages and Chinese are all a language so they are both apples but you still can't compare a granny smith to a washington red. Sorry...there are awesome points and rebuttals on every side but this is really a fruitless (pun not intended) discussion.

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