Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Damn Hard task becomes easy!

Many of my American students commented, “I think that David Moser's experience is the almost universal experience of people whose mother tongue Indo-European when they try to learn Chinese and I think he has identified the main reasons why Chinese feels so discouragingly difficult.”

It takes over 20 years for Moser to become a respected Sinologist on the Chinese written language.  It will take 10 to 20 years for anyone who follows Moser’s footstep. That is, 10 years of life pluses a lot of tuition, in tens or hundreds thousand dollars.

Moser wrote, “For most people, the first title to acquire is probably "The Chinese Language: Fact and fantasy," by John DeFrancis. This book has done more than any other to dispel misunderstandings about Chinese, especially those concerning Chinese characters, including the Ideographic Myth, .... I very much hope many of this site's visitors will seek out and read this work.”

John DeFrancis   ( ) was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In the 1960s, he wrote a 12-volume series of Mandarin Chinese textbooks and readers  published by Yale University Press (popularly known as the "DeFrancis series"), which were  widely used in Chinese as a foreign language classes for decades, and his textbooks are  said to have had a "tremendous impact" on Chinese teaching in the West. He served   Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Oriental Society from 1950 to 1955 and the Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association from 1966 to 1978.

One sample chapter of DeFrancis’ book  is available at   His key point is that Chinese words (characters) are ad hoc, that is,  without any connection among words, and “each word has its own hieroglyphic character, that there are no fewer symbols than words, and that the great number of characters is in accord with the great number of things,  though thanks to combining them the characters  which do not exceed seventy to eighty  thousand."

Thus, for learning Chinese written language, one must memorize all those ad hoc words with brutal effort. Then, taking 10 to 20 years becomes reasonable. As DeFrancis was the most respected Sinologist in the West, thousands of his students have wasted their youthful life and thousands more are still learning via his way. This week, I will show four more examples to show that the meanings of Chinese words can be read out from their faces. That is, there is no reason to memorize those words as they are not ad hoc symbols but are composed of roots and radicals. In fact, by learning 220 roots and 300 sound modules, we can memorize all other Chinese words with ease.

1.  盲 (blind) is 亡 (lost or dead) 目 (eyes)
2.  瞎 (blind) is 目 (eyes)  +  害 (harmful or harmed)
3.  見  (see or seeing) is 目 (eyes) over 儿 (child), Child sees without intention.
4. 看 (looking) is 手 (hand) over 目 (eyes),  putting a hand over the eye is seeing with intention.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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