1. Arianna
    Offline

    Arianna New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2014
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    1

    Help with Chinese language

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Arianna, Nov 11, 2014.

    My story takes place in a fictional country which is English-speaking but has a large Chinese-speaking minority -- much like the USA with its significant Spanish-speaking minority. But unlike the USA, most kids in my story's country will grow up learning both languages (they won't necessarily be equally skilled in the two). Due to geography, they will be linked more to Malaysia and Singapore than to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China.

    Wikipedia says Min is the dialect of Southeast Asia, but the entries for Malaysia and Singapore say they use Mandarin. I actually could not find exactly where in Southeast Asia that Min is used. So in my story I can't tell whether kids would be studying Min or Mandarin (or even both). I saw Min has dialects of its own, so that raises the question of which one(s) they would study.

    It appears bopomofo has fallen out of favor everywhere except Taiwan, so I thought most likely the kids would only learn pinyin. But it also seems bopomofo is so little to add that they may as well be learning both. Another Taiwan-ism is Traditional over Simplified characters. I have read that Traditional is actually easier for Chinese as a second language students. I'm fine with using the Taiwan-isms, but I need to be sure my characters would still be able to communicate with Chinese speakers in Malaysia and Singapore.

    Does anyone in the Forum have knowledge about how I ought to handle these issues?

    Finally, I can't afford a human translator, and I'm not going to trust Google Translate to get it right (especially if I need to work with Min). Would it be adequate to just write my dialog in English but state which language the characters are actually using?
     
  2. edamame
    Offline

    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2013
    Messages:
    794
    Likes Received:
    385
    There are large Chinese populations in certain cities, like New York City, Toronto and even Australia has a large Chinese population. Most children of immigrants living in the West will speak Chinese by learning from their parents but have less knowledge of the writing system (unless they go to school for it, sort of like how some Christians go to Sunday school to learn scripture).

    Mandarin is the official language of China. After the communists took over, they wanted their population to become more literate, so they simplified the writing system. So those who fled the communists or remained out of their jurisdiction (the older wave of immigrants and Taiwan) will still be using the traditional form instead of the modern, simplified form. These days, students and new learners are asked to be able to read and recognize the traditional form, but they focus on the simplified form. I've never come across bopomofo. I believe pinyin is used more to the benefit of Westerners and international learners, as pinyin is basically romanized Chinese for pronunciation.

    I'm not familiar with Min, but Chinese dialects are like American accents -- they're different if you're Northern, Southern etc. However, the "twangs" have diverged so much that people speaking different dialects often have trouble understanding each other. So, they will speak standard Mandarin (sort of like how actors are trained to use transatlantic accents) in order to understand people from different regions. Chinese shows are always subtitled, because they realize their viewers may not understand the dialect of the actors, newspersons, etc but everyone has (almost) the same writing system.

    Anyway, this is just my understanding. I'd try to get in contact with some Malaysian or Singaporian Chinese to ask them these sort of questions. English is practically a major language there and you'd be able to communicate quite easily.

    I'd stay away from going into the sub-dialects of Min. If you're going to say a character is using a dialect but not use any of the actual dialect's words, why give yourself a bigger headache? For example, there is no "shi" sound in Taiwan (they use "si" instead) and the people of Beijing love ending their words with an extraneous "er"... and they both speak Mandarin!
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2014
  3. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    I don't have any knowledge of Chinese, and little knowledge of China. One of my few experiences was when a guy from our Chinese subsidiary came over to learn how we do things, and a Chinese guy who worked in IT came to have a chat with him. One spoke Mandarin, one Classical (sorry, my ignorance), so they conversed in English.

    Why does it matter which dialect they use? If you're going to throw in a lot of a foreign language, you're going to throw out a lot of potential readers, so I think that you need to stick with English "which was spoken in Mandarin (or your dialect of choice)"

    There's another thread a couple of days ago about how to deal with a scene where not all the characters speak language A, so somebody has to translate.
     
  4. edamame
    Offline

    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2013
    Messages:
    794
    Likes Received:
    385
    I agree with avoiding foreign languages if the book is written in English, but I just want to mention Classical is not a dialect. That's like saying you met someone who spoke in ye Olde English.

    You might be thinking about Cantonese, which is used in the province of Canton and in the city of Hong Kong. A lot of martial arts films you see from the '90s were filmed in Hong Kong and use Cantonese. Jackie Chan uses Mandarin when he's traveling in mainland China but when he's back in Hong Kong and talking to local media, he'll use his native dialect, Cantonese.

    It's important to address dialect and inform your readers about it even if it's not used, especially if you're going to set the story in a place in which the Chinese culture is a huge influence. And there are a lot of Chinese readers and Chinese readers abroad who would take offense if you didn't do your research.
     
  5. Arianna
    Offline

    Arianna New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2014
    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    1
    It's actually a big deal about the kids learning each other's languages. I think the goal (if this were a real country) would be to get everyone up to at least sixth grade proficiency in whichever is the student's second language. Of course some will try to squeak through while others would desire UN translator expertise. This country may not be quite as bilingual as Canada, but is much more so than the USA.

    There is no real land at the location I picked which is around where Southeast Asia and Micronesia come together. This country sees Micronesians as great neighbors, but see their future with the more robust economies of Malaysia and Singapore. Chinese speakers are a minority in Malaysia, but they still have considerable economic clout.

    The generation now in high school will be the ones who bring about much needed change. Their descendants will reap most of the benefit, but here is where it starts. They could go on to partnering with the established technology industries of Malaysia and Singapore. Working with mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan would make sense, but they are farther away and (at this point anyway) might not be that interested in a tiny country and economy.

    With these students being such a key part of the story, I need to accurately reflect what they would be learning. Part of this would include which Chinese dialect is used by the native Chinese speakers and studied by the native English speakers. At first I thought it would be Min, but now I am not so sure. Even if I knew for sure to use Min, I would still have to know which sub-dialect would be in use.

    I knew Cantonese would not be a natural fit for my setting. This is also why I wanted to avoid Taiwan-specific features (bopomofo and traditional characters) unless it is somehow likely they would be used if this country actually existed.
     
  6. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    I second everything that edamame said.

    If they're Chinese speakers, they're going to be using Mandarin or Cantonese.

    Pinyin and bopomofo are not dialects. They are ways to teach children or foreigners how break down the sounds of the language.I don't think you'd ever need to mention this. Mandarin or Malay might be your best bet as a secondary language, maybe even Tamil. The kind of country you are describing is actually very similar to the current day situation in Singapore and Malaysia and most people are able to converse in several languages.

    I would stay away from Min and regional dialects. It is very unlikely that these regional dialects would ever be taught in schools. I would think of them like regional accents in the UK. Just imagine if all the UK started learning cockney English. :)
     
  7. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    What on earth is bopomofo!?

    Anyway, if you were a Chinese Malaysian, you will have either Mandarin or English as your mother tongue, more likely Mandarin. And you will learn Simplified Chinese. However, it's common for people who speak Mandarin to be able to read Traditional Chinese but not write it. You will naturally also know pinyin.

    I've never even heard of Min. You might be closer with Hokkien and Hakka, two other pretty wide-spread dialects. It's not uncommon for a Chinese Malaysian to speak Mandarin and Cantonese, (or at least understand some of it) as they tend to pick up Cantonese from watching HK dramas. However, their Cantonese might not be very good.

    Taiwan and Hong Kong teach Traditional Chinese, but it is common - in HK, certainly - for folks to be able to easily read Simplified Chinese because there're many books coming in from the Mainland which are far cheaper than books published in HK itself.

    Discrimination between the Chinese people is also common - the key one I'm thinking of is of course between the Hong Kongers and the Mainland Chinese. Chinese Malaysians set themselves apart from either of those two groups also.

    Another thing to keep in mind is discrimination between the Chinese dialects/languages. It's long been a debate whether Cantonese, for example, is a language or a dialect. The Mainlanders would have you think it's a dialect and they use the term "Chinese" to mean exclusively "Mandarin", whereas in HK we consider Cantonese a language and when we say "Chinese" we actually mean "Cantonese", whereas when we say "National language" or "the Country's language" we mean "Mandarin."

    I'm afraid I speak Cantonese and not Mandarin, so my help would be limited. Also immigrated when I was pretty young. However, I could always ask my parents if you have a question :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2014
  8. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    PS. Don't make the mistake of making them all "Chinese". For example, I only use the term "Chinese" to make things easier for westerners. When I speak Cantonese, I always refer to myself as a Hong Konger (香港人) and only sometimes as "Chinese" (中國人). Depending on who you talk to within Hong Kong, some might be happy to be referred to as 中國人 (Chinese) because nowadays Hong Kong's obviously part of China, but we're definitely never 內陸人 (Mainlander, or "People from inside the land"). Whereas in the past, we used to call them 大陸人 (also Mainlander, or "People from the big land") but this is now seen as a derogatory term. In general, Mainlanders are seen as uneducated, backwards, rude, and uncultured by those in Hong Kong.

    Anyway, so, basically, when you refer to the Chinese, make sure you know where they're from. What kind of "Chinese" they are. A Chinese Malaysian would always say they're Chinese Malaysian and only occasionally say they're Chinese, usually to simplify things. (in fact, they might be actually more inclined to say they're Malaysian and not Chinese. Not sure. My Chinese Malaysian friends usually bypass this dilemma by simply saying "I'm from Malaysia", which says nothing about whether they are Malaysian or Chinese. I could ask them if you'd like.) The Taiwanese (台灣人) don't consider themselves Chinese at all - they are Taiwanese, like I am Hong Konger.

    Not sure if any of this would help you lol but if you're hoping to make it realistic, the "Chinese" shouldn't be simply "Chinese".

    In general, most Chinese would know Mandarin, although Hong Kong is unique in that they're actually more fluent in English than Mandarin. So Mandarin and English would both be legitimate methods for communication, and then if you wanna say something the other person doesn't understand, you'd switch into your local language :p (Chinese languages are not really mutually intelligible - or at least not Mandarin and Cantonese, and I certainly don't understand Hokkien either. Only the writing system is shared)

    I've been staring at this thinking if there's any point posting this, considering I've mostly talked about China and HK and you've said specifically you're leaning more towards Singapore and Malaysia. But what the heck I'm just gonna post it. More information can't hurt.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2014
  9. paperweasel
    Offline

    paperweasel New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2014
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    2
    I'm Chinese-Malaysian, but I grew up in Brunei, which is a neighbouring country of Malaysia and Singapore. My Mandarin is unfortunately quite awful, so I can't really help you with the actual language part.

    Mandarin is used as a lingua franca between the various Chinese dialects, and is what you would learn in school. I'd say Hokkien would be one of the most prominent dialects in the two countries. My father is Hokkien and my mother Fuzhou. They speak in their respective dialects with their siblings, but they speak in Mandarin to each other.

    If you're going to be writing about Malaysia, you need to think about Malay as well. It's the national language of the country and the educational syllabus is taught in Malay.

    Most of my friends are multilingual, and our conversations can held in two or more languages and dialects. You can have people starting the conversation in English, and finishing in Malay with a few Chinese words thrown in. People also tend to speak in a creole (look up Singlish and Manglish) in informal situations. English is the base, but the creoles contain words from Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien.
     
  10. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    To add to the above, don't forget to add a nicely thrown in "la" at the end of dialogue from time to time :D There's some informal rule governing this, however, and I'm not personally aware of what that might be lol.

    Something like, "You coming?" - "Yes, yes, coming la!" (@paperweasel you can tell me if this is roughly when la would pop in lol, as my English tends to be clean of Chinese-isms. The reverse can't be said for my Cantonese though!)
     
  11. paperweasel
    Offline

    paperweasel New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2014
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    2
    Can be. In that context, I'm reading an irritated tone. :p

    [​IMG]
     
    Mckk likes this.
  12. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    What's the "Can"? Lol

    Btw do you speak Cantonese then? I'm looking for people to practice with...
     
  13. paperweasel
    Offline

    paperweasel New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2014
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    2
    "Can" is just can in English. E.g. convo:

    "Can you do this?"
    "Sure can la."

    No, I don't speak Cantonese. I can speak some Mandarin and understand some Fuzhou, but that's about it.
     
    Mckk likes this.

Share This Page