A Look at the Classical Chinese Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Classical Chinese language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Classical Chinese

Classical Chinese is still read by many Chinese people and Chinese language learners. Unless you have a very good grasp on modern Chinese, classical Chinese will be completely wasted on you. Classical Chinese is much harder to read than reading modern Chinese.

Classical Chinese covers an era extending over 3,000 years, and to attain a reading fluency in this language, you need to be familiar with all of the characters used during this period along with all of the literature of the period so you can understand all the allusions. Even with a knowledge of Classical Chinese, you need to read it in context. If you are good at Classical Chinese and someone throws you a random section of it, it will take you a good amount of time to figure it out unless you know the context.

The language is much more to the point than Modern Chinese, but this is not as good as it sounds. This simplicity leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, and as noted above, context plays an important role. A joke about some obscure historical or literary anecdote will be lost you unless you know what it refers to. For reading modern Chinese, you will need at least 5,000 characters, but even then, you will still need a dictionary. With Classical Chinese, there are no lower limits on the number of characters you need to know. The sky is the limit.

Classical Chinese gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

1 Comment

Filed under Applied, Chinese language, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan

One response to “A Look at the Classical Chinese Language

  1. Noneofmany

    I’ve been told by both Chinese and non Chinese speakers that Chinese is a poor language for conversing about technical subjects like math and science.

    According to one transfer student who knew a lot about Chinese intellectual history, said ancient Chinese scholars spent so much time and mental energy mesmerizing and fiddling with their language that they never successfully put together a common bearing for natural sciences that require precise, universal, and well defined terms and references to carry out effective discourse about mathematics, investigative analysis, and mechanical engineering.

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