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Chinese-2004-08-28 | ... in the spirit of service


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[CHN] An "Africanist" encounters Putonghua

Don Osborn <d_z_o@xxxxxx>
To: chinese@xxxxxx
Aug 28, 2004 at 11:44 AM

This is not my first time to study Chinese, but in order to improve my woeful level I taking tutoring. Here are a few observations and questions from one who has studied Africa and lived and worked in West Africa. By rights they should go on a personal blog, but as with trying to set up class blogs this is not as easy as I thought. I thought they might be of interest to this list:

1. Zanmen, the inclusive we
2. "Near-synonym" reduplication/compounding
3. Chinese terminology for other peoples / regions

1. Zanmen (zan2-men) in Chinese and e'den in Fulfulde. I was interested to encounter the "inclusive we" in Chinese - zanmen - since I had for several years gotten used to the inclusive and exclusive (of the listener) we's in Fulfulde. In that language both are regularly used and it is pretty much necessary to be aware of and able to use both forms.

Apparently the inclusive we in Chinese is used more frequently in the northern part of the country than here in the southwest. Is zanmen in general being used less? It's interesting to me that learning materials on Chinese that I've seen give little or no attention to this word - because it is little used? or because it is not expected that Westerners would have an easy time grasping it?

2. "Near-synonym" reduplication. Without a good term for it, this is one of my big realizations in resuming study of Chinese (didn't find it in a book). It seems like a great many bisyllabic "words" are in fact composed of two parts with similar meanings (even if those parts are rarely used individually except to form other compounds). Pengyou, renmin, guniang... This would certainly seem to disambiguate communication in ways that context and tone alone could not in what was apparently a long time ago a mainly monosyllabic vocabulary.

3. Chinese terminology for certain other peoples & parts of the world. Recently I learned that Middle East in Chinese is, well, Middle East (zhong-dong), This seemed funny given the genesis of the term in Europe. I was not able to find out if this is simply a convenient translation of the Western term or actually a Chinese term that by odd coincidence matches the Western one. One wonders whether there was an older term dating say back to the Tang dynasty when folks from all over Asia came to Xi'an, though perhaps the need for regional terminologies is more recent than that.

Another terminology question relates to how in Chinese one refers to various African ethnic groups. I noted for instance that the terms for Fulani (po-er, from the French "Peul" [itself derived from the Wolof term]) and Bambara (ban-ba-ra, from the word in French and English) are not surprisingly transliterations from European terms, presumably from African studies literature. In the West, however, it is now the fashion to use the terms in the languages of the peoples described - hence Ful'be and Bamana. So it will be interesting to see how such terminology develops in the Chinese language as African studies and China's relations with Africa in general evolve.

Hope this is of interest. Any comments or info are most welcome.

Don Osborn

(PS- A note on the word "Africanist." It is fairly common still in the field of African studies, though I have to say that I've never been too comfortable with it.)

Item retrieved from personal email archives.

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