Hng Z's Chinese Primer

Some day this page shall contain a full fledged gentle introduction to the Chinese language. At this moment it is in a very alpha stage (to put it mildly).

The Chinese script is based on an idea which is different from that of western languages. Each symbol is semantically meaningful. Thus, the top two symbols of this page are pronounced something like "chong-wen". The first means "half, center" and the second "language". It means Chinese language. How does it come? For the Chinese, their country is at the middle of the Earth (as for everybody else, I should say).

Transcription of Chinese words

Chinese official transcription into latin alphabet is called pinyin. Each Chinese word has a given "musical tone", which must be specified in the transcription. There are four such tones:

  1. Continuous high pitch. Denoted with a horizontal bar over the vowel in the word. In this tutorial, it shall be denoted with an "umlaut" symbol: "zhng".

  2. Raising, denoted with an acute accent: "wn".

  3. Valley tone, first decreasing and afterwards increasing again. It is denoted in pinyin with an Hungarian umlaut, but we shall denote it here as a circumflex accent: "hn".

  4. Decreasing tone, denoted with a grave accent: "sh".

The First Chinese Sentences

Many a reader shall agree: "I am not a Chinese". Transcripted as "w b sh zhng gu rn". Word by word: "I - not - to be - middle - country - person". As it was stated before, "middle country" is, of course, China.

This time the sentence shall be more cryptic: "Elder brother also speaks". Transcripted: "g g y shu hu". Word by word: "elder brother - elder brother - also - speaks - word". Names of relatives are often required to be repeated, that's the reason of the "g g". As for the "speak word", in Chinese all transitive verbs must take an object. If there is not one, you put in the "defective" one. For speaking, of course, it is "word".

Regarding the meaning of this sentence, it is the words that Arlene wrote for Dick Feynman and he sent to his sister Joan. If the name "Feynman" does not fill you with awe, then you are not a physicist. If you have heard of Feynman but don't know what is all this about, I seriously advise you to read immediately You're surely joking, Mr Feynman.