Foreign Languages (2)

Vietnamese and Chinese are not only non-grammatic, but they are also monosyllabic and tonal. That means that the vocal pitch applied to a syllable determines its meaning. Vietnamese employs six tones: mid-level (Thanh Ngang), low falling (Thanh Huyn), high rising (Thanh Sc), low rising (Thanh Hi), high broken (Thanh Ngã), and heavy (Thanh Nng). The syllable “ma,” for example, depending on the tone, means ghost, but, cheek, grave, effigy, or to plate with metal.

Chinese Mandarin (or National Language, gwo yu) has four tones: one flat, one rising, one that falls and then rises, and one falling. But some other dialects have more—Cantonese has nine. And Chinese dialects are not mutually intelligible.

I found learning to speak Mandarin easier than Vietnamese, but writing the language proved to be the most difficult task I ever tackled in my language studies. Writing Chinese characters is an art to which many Chinese devote their entire lives. I spent years studying characters. I got to the point that my characters were legible, but I never mastered the art of writing them. Few Chinese even reach that level.

To sum up: I found knowledge of multiple languages to be of immense help in writing in English. Different ways of thinking, expressing, and understanding led to subtle variations in my writing that I could have discovered no other way. I knew by the time I was six years old that I was born to write. That was the same age I began to study foreign languages. I don’t remember at the time seeing any connection between the two. Only now, a whole lifetime later, do I see that they were intertwined.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Languages (2)”

  1. Tom, no language is non-grammatic. They all have grammars. Some are isolating like Chinese and Vietnamese and a bunch of Southeast Asian languages and their grammar involves arrangement of words in phrases and sentences and the use of particles to mark grammatical relations. So, for example, Rhade uses a particle hĕ to mark an object while ther languages, like Latin, would use a case ending.


  2. Point well taken, Bob. I didn’t realize that “grammar” could include things like word order divorced from declensi0ns and conjugations. Instead of saying that Vietnamese lacks grammar, what words should I use to describe it? And thank you.


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