A Comparison of Chinese and English Language
At the beginning of a comparative analysis, it is important to give an account of my linguistic background in order to contextualize the further discussion. My first language is Chinese since I was born and raised in China. At school, I started learning English as my second language. I acquired a basic complex of knowledge there; thus, this experience should not be regarded as a significant contribution to my knowledge of the English language. In few years, I moved to the United States and kept learning English in college. It was an important factor as I was expected to use English on a day-to-day basis. I consider living and studying in the English-speaking country as the most effective period of my acquisition of this second language. The process, however, is not finished, but certain achievements can be already observed.
Comparison of Sounds
In regard to the Chinese phonology, it is necessary to pay attention to semivowel approximants, especially the sound /?/. It is a labio-palatal sound as it requires the work of soft palate and motion of both lips. Moreover, the sound is rounded as long as lips should create a circle for pronouncing it. It is a typical feature of common vowels, but a proactive use of palate makes this sound fall into between the category of fricative consonants and rounded vowels. This sound is peculiar for the entire Chinese phonology. The English language does not have an equivalent of it; therefore, it is nearly impossible to confuse it with any familiar English sound. The only one resemblance is the turbulent air streaming, voiced phonation, and oral direction of the air stream for its production. It is also worth mentioning that this sound is centralized so that air streams passes through the center of a mouth. Overall, this sound is not typical of the English phonology and is quite peculiar for Chinese.
In terms of the English phonology, the affricate sounds should be discussed as long as they cannot be spotted in the Chinese Standard Phonology. For instance, affricate sound /?/ is a sibilant sound with palatal and alveolar characteristics. It is peculiar from the perspective of its articulation as it requires a touch of alveolar with a blade of the tongue. Such a manner of articulation is not typical of the Chinese language. It is produced by means of pulmonic air streaming, which is also not frequently utilized in the Chinese pronunciation. Still, this sound is also voiced, central, and oral. Eventually, it should be admitted that both sounds are distinctly different even though they possess certain similarities in terms of phonation and direction of air streaming. These parameters, however, are not crucial so that both sounds are difficult to confuse while speaking either native or foreign language.
Comparison of Grammar
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Chinese grammar is especially peculiar from the perspective of word formation. The majority of Chinese words are created by combining different monosyllabic morphemes. They are polysemantic as a certain morpheme can render different meanings depending on the context or other morphemes, which participate in the creation of a particular word. Thus, the Chinese language can be regarded as analytical as long as the influence of context is stronger for the word meaning than features of a morpheme. At the same time, grammatical meaning of a word, for example, gender, plurality, tense, depends heavily on morphemes, as well, since they determine these parameters. Therefore, Chinese can be considered a synthetic language as inflections and prefixes influence the word and meaning formation. Moreover, compound words are quite widespread in the Chinese language so that it is possible to admit that the lexical meaning of words is more important for the word formation rather than grammatical categorization. For instance, a word zuo is reduplicated for rendering a modified meaning so that zuo-zuo shan stands for all the mountains while a single zuo means a specific modification of exact numbers.
On the other hand, English is a fully synthetic language as its word formation and meaning depend heavily on inflections, suffixes, and prefixes. However, it is essential to note that its vocabulary is also poly-semantic. The main difference regarding this aspect is based on the fact that lexical meanings in the English language vary throughout grammatical forms while Chinese words should be perceived strictly with the reference to a given context. Moreover, the English language lacks such grammatical category as gender so that it is not reflected in the morphology of words while some markers of tense or plurality can be observed. In such a way, the word an apple means one item of an apple fruit while the plural form apples means two and more fruits. In fact, this feature simplifies learning the language as there is no need to remember inflections for every single category of gender and number. The English language is purely synthetic and, that is why, less complicated in terms of grammar and word formation.
Language and Thought
Linguistic cognition of the Chinese language is quite similar to its principles of word formation. For example, a verb to dance is translated from Chinese as to jump a dance. Hence, a willingness to express more sophisticated concepts in one word is quite typical of this language. Informal Chinese can be described in a similar way since spelling and pronunciation of the family relatives drastically changes. It is a distinct sign of sophistication of grammar even though the informal language is commonly recognized as less standardized and literally appropriate. Therefore, striving for a more complex conceptualization does not depend upon the context of a conversation. Generally speaking, the Chinese language implies a maximum of sense in a minimal lexical unit, which is still complicated.
On the contrary, English is a more direct and clear language from the perspective of word meaning. That is why, it is less flexible regarding the variety of lexical meanings per one morpheme. In other words, the English language possesses approximately one morpheme for a single grammatical category while Chinese morphemes may vary in their meaning depending on the context. Moreover, the English conceptualization relies on a context so that the same word may mean a certain concept in one context and entirely different one in another situation. For example, a word combination China plate means an item for eating made of a special material while, in the Cockney accent, the same word combination stands for an old friend. It is the most difficult aspect concerning learning English as a foreign language even though it seems to be direct, vivid, and less complicated than Chinese.
Chinese is my native language so that it is naturally acquired since birth. Therefore, the free creation of utterances and word combination, sufficient vocabulary, and appropriate grammar use can be traced in my Chinese speech. It is also worth mentioning that a proactive use of idioms and slang as the means of expressing informal language can be also observed. All these factors are a distinct evidence of a high fluency, which is quite typical of a native speaker. It can be explained by the fact that the development of native language is an instinct as it was improving during early years of childhood starting from 1 – 1.5 years old (Pinker, 2003). The surrounding is also important as every single human being acquires language by hearing and repeating words in addition to a genetic aptitude for a mother tongue.
With regard to the English language, my fluency in it is considerably lower in comparison with my native language. Still, the creation of word combinations, which are united in one utterance, is possible for me at a medium speed. However, there is some need to search for the right words in the mind before saying, but the formulation of a final utterance does not take much time. Besides, a heavy Chinese accent can be heard in my English pronunciation even though some Chinese sounds do not exist in the English language. The accent can be drastically heard in my pronunciation of the sound /?/. In addition, I still confuse pronouns us and our. There is no relation to the Chinese language, but this mistake occurs in my English speech on a regular basis so that overgeneralization of this grammatical category can be spotted (Pinker, 2003).
In conclusion, it is appropriate to make a general comment on the fact that Chinese and English are entirely different languages in spite of some minor similarities, which do not render a considerable resemblance. The Chinese language is more complicated in terms of conceptualization, morphological structuring, and phonology while English is less sophisticated and more direct. Still, English is hard to acquire because of its close attachment to the context of speech so that even simple utterances may sound unclear or imply a completely different meaning. English does not possess a category of gender so that memorizing the nouns is much easier in comparison with the pronouns. As for the Chinese language, its complexity is compensated by a developed variety of morphemes so that it is much easier to establish a distinction between two and more concepts. Eventually, it is necessary to mention that confusing the English vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation is not influenced by the Chinese language so that it is possible to admit that English is acquired in natural terms with a consideration of critical age.
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