Debate: Chinese vs Japanese, which is more difficult? (part II)
Debate: Chinese vs Japanese
Which is more difficult?
How Chinese could be justified as more challenging.
1) Primarily there are two forms of written Chinese: Traditional and Simplified. So essentially, there are two ways to write the same word, and usually the Traditional form is more complicated...but considering that in some countries like China and Taiwan which still utilise the Traditional written form, while other countries don't, the opportunity for misunderstanding what exactly a given word means still stands.
-> However, the basic similarities between the two forms still remain. As long as one who is educated in SImplified Chinese is aware of the origins of the components that make up a standard chinese word, one can usually figure out its equivalent in the Traditional form. However, that is still not easy in itself, as the basic "parts" that make up a word are many, and different combinations create a different word. Not to mention the fact that some parts don't go together at all.
2) Then there is the problem of actually remembering the words. There are more than 20000 different word forms in the language, and most students are usually educated in about a quarter of that, that is, about 5000 different words in a standard education. The written word ranges from the very simple one stroke character (一) to something that can have over 15 strokes (赢). As mentioned above, the written form involves the combination of basic components to form complex words, and the changing of a component of the word can quite literally alter the meaning and pronunciation.
Example: Take the word 惜 and 错. They look very similar, save for the difference in the left-side component, which alters not only the meaning, but also the pronunciation. What's even worse, there are more "left-side components" that can be tacked on to the same right-side component to form a coherent word, and each has its own pronunciation and meaning. Good luck remembering all the variations.
-> One might argue that since Japanese has 3 alphabets, there's more to memorise. Furthermore, Kanji has a similar problem with the various possible meanings a single character can have. However, I like to point out the sheer variety in the chinese language, that the number of possible words in it are too much to count, especially all those obscure words with strange forms that rarely see real use, but still serve more specific purposes.
3) Pronunciation-wise, there are 4 different tones for each romanised chinese word, or hanyu pinyin. Something with the same hanyu pinyin, like 一 and 义 (both using the hanyu pinyin "yi"), have different tones to differentiate them, the former using the first tone, and the latter using the lowest tone. However, some words can have the exact same hanyu pinyin AND tone pronunciation, so the opportunity for misunderstanding (and wordplay) can be high, unless you take into account context, which takes a while to learn in itself.
Example: 一千 and 意迁 have the exact same tone and pronunciation, but mean different things and use different characters.
Mispronunciations, therefore, can create distortions in meaning, especially if one is unfamiliar with how exactly each tone sounds with each hanyu pinyin.
-> Apparently, Japanese has a similar issue involving the stressing of syllables. I would like to point out that even in the Chinese language, one character can have various pronunciations depending on usage and context, and sometimes the intonations change depending on the situation (the famous "liao" and "le" for the same root word "了"). It can be confusing as well to learn when and where to switch pronunciations and intonations to make a phrase or sentence work properly despite having the same characters appearing in different contexts.
4) While yes, Japanese syntax is incredibly confusing for a Native English speaker, it must be noted that English syntax does NOT translate well to Chinese on its own either. There are subtly different variations in syntax for the two, like the classic "I and my friend" for the "my friend and I" standard in English. Also, while it IS possible to shift English syntax partially into use in the Chinese language, one runs the risk of being laughed at by native speakers for using stilted Chinese, as English syntax more often than not interferes with the flow of the language, making it jarring and quite unlike the almost musical flow that Chinese possesses in the hands of a native.
5) Idioms and expressions. There are many MANY chinese idioms, all with their own backstory and meaning. While some are obvious in meaning (千金翼得,知音难求 literally translates to "gold is easy to get, but someone who understands you is difficult to find", which is pretty much its contextual meaning), some are less so, even bordering on the obscure.
Example: 破釜沉舟 literally translates to "break the kettle and sink the boat", but of course it's not used that way literally. What it means is for a person to completely cut off all means of retreat and move forward to your goal, usually implying that you are using all your effort and not giving yourself any reason to back out of your plans. A person new to the language might not be able to grasp the non-literal meanings of the various idiomatic phrases, and even then, knowing how to use them properly is also a problem, since some of the idioms don't work well in certain contexts.
6) Evolution of the language. As new things and processes are invented, the chinese language often has to adapt and adopt new terms to compensate, as all languages have to do. However, much like English has ended up being "bastardised" by regional influences after being adopted, so has Chinese with its presence in many parts of the world. For example, the word "market" is traditionally called "市场" in China, but after a regional contamination in Singapore, we refer to "market" as "巴刹" instead, thanks to the influence of the Malay language. As such, it is easy for people from different regions to completely misunderstand each other while using essentially the same language.
Furthermore, even "traditional" chinese meanings of certain words are being twisted, even in China itself, as a reflection of changing trends in lingual facilities. For example, the word 牛 translates to "cow", but a recent trend adopted in China uses the same 牛 to refer to something that is "cool". Actually its the same even in English, where the original meaning of "cool" would be "not hot", but somehow, "cool" can also mean "awesome" now after being adopted into the mainstream.
Basically, Chinese has many more complications involved. It also has had a longer history. ^__~ Besides, what is "modern, standard Chinese" now was once a hodgepodge of different variants (even in written form) that was united into a single coherent whole by the legendary Qin Emperor, who also standardised coinage and weights and measures, among other things. ^_~ Furthermore, new phrases are being added to everyday, using the complex form of meshing different forms together. But perhaps that is a universal lingual issue, and not isolated to Chinese. However, one cannot deny the sheer variety involved in 5000 years of Chinese history, with the language stretching back almost as long.
Take that, Konks.