Sunday, April 3, 2011

A new Chinese Etymology

The Chinese Written language is viewed as one of the most difficult languages in the world. Yet, in the Spring 2008 (from April 3 to June 17), Jason Tyler Gong openly showed the world (under public eyes, 5 Chinese newspapers and 6 Chinese TV stations) that Chinese written language can be mastered in 89 days from an initial state of knowing not a single Chinese character to a state of being able to read Chinese newspapers and passed the examinations from a dozen Chinese news reporters. This case study is available at

In this blog, I will provide the theoretical framework on a new Chinese etymology which made Jason’s accomplishment possible. And, I will discuss a few words on their etymology in each post, of why they are written as they are and with the meanings as they are, such as the following words:

1. 乎,
2. 姊, ,
3. 前, ,
4. 叔,
5. 卬,
6. 攸, 
7. 最
8. 鏡

However, we should get a proper perspective of what this new etymology is all about first.
The Chinese written language was always viewed as the most difficult language to learn, even for the Chinese people themselves. In the 1920s, it’s illogical character structure was viewed as the culprit for China’s demise at the time. The slogan at the time was "without abandoning  the Chinese characters, China as a nation will surely vanish." Qian_Xuantong (  同, ), one of the greatest Chinese philologist in 1930s, even promoted the replacement of Chinese with Esperanto.  Finally, in 1958, a major effort to simplify the Chinese word system was launched. That is, at that time, no one in China knew that Chinese written language is a 100% root word system which "is" the most logic and the easiest language to learn in the world.

Even with the above facts, one might still not get a sense of the difference between this new etymology and the old schools. Thus, an article “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard”  (by David Moser, University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies)  can be of a help to know the difference between the two. 
Moser wrote, “Someone once said that learning Chinese is "a five-year lesson in humility". I used to think this meant that at the end of five years you will have mastered Chinese and learned humility along the way. However, now having studied Chinese for over six years, I have concluded that actually the phrase means that after five years your Chinese will still be abysmal, but at least you will have thoroughly learned humility.” His article is available at

It is an excellent article to read.  Please do read that article, and you will appreciate this blog much better.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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