Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Chinese language

I am honored to have been invited by Beijing Institute of Technology and I am visiting Beijing in a few weeks and I have no previous knowledge of Chinese language.

Human languages, as many computer languages, are based on the use of an alphabet. But what if, like APL, you are not familiar with that alphabet? That would be the case should I try to learn Persian or Urdu languages.

However, Chinese language does not use an alphabet to build words with its symbols, but each word is represented by a logogram (ideographic or a pictogram or a composition of both). Learning a different alphabet has to be difficult, but learning a language based on ideograms looks a huge endeavor to me.

Of course I'm not claiming "I am learning (mandarin) Chinese", but I'm just looking at some of the basic ideas behind the structure of the language and I get the impression the task is not something easy to achieve for the written language. The spoken word is also challenging, but with the help of Pinyin system it might be doable for westerners with tons of practice (as some features like the tones seem an extra challenge).

When I have been to other countries in Europe or America, I could read the signs and bus line names even if I did not understand their meaning. Not anymore in China. There I am going to be not only illiterated (because I can't read or write) but also kind of dumb as I cannot ask others for information (as I do not expect many Chinese citizens to speak either Spanish or English). It is going to be quite an experience.

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