Fallows spent three years living in China with her husband and the result is this fascinating book. Because she has a Ph.D. in linguistics, her approach to understanding a country is naturally orientated to first learning the language. She observes, "Language teachers and linguists generally agree that Chinese is one of the world's most difficult languages for English speakers to learn..." She also found out first hand how hard Chinese was to use as she traveled around the county trying to communicate. Chinese is a tonal language. There are about 400 syllables in Mandarin as opposed to 4000 in English. So hearing tones and using them in speech is essential for communication. One example she gives is the clever story of the Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den which consist of 92 repetitions of the syllable shi using different tones to tell a grammatically correct story in Chinese.
« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.
« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »
In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter. (Poem source in full: Wikipedia.)
The author covers many other interesting complexities of Chinese too numerous to list here, but the reader comes away with the impression that all non-native speakers must make an extraordinary effort to master this language. Check catalog for availability.
Submitted by Dan @ Washington Park Library