Ting Tong Pang
Hi this is Uncle Jeebers and I've been a professional translator of Chinese since 2001.
The sounds in Chinese don't
really matter. That's not the important part of the Chinese language.
Western languages tend to be aurally arranged, i.e., they use very
simple visual parts to describe complex sound combinations. Chinese is
the opposite in that they use very simple audio parts to describe
complex visual phenomenon. This is because the Chinese personality is
Concerning beauty, I think we can come up with a very easy
generalization. Italian is the most beautiful/culturally powerful
language to listen to, but it is ugly as forms on paper. Chinese is the
most beautiful/culturally powerful language to read, but it is ugly as
sounds to listen to.
Italian is designed to sound good. Classical Latin does not sound as
good as Italian. Italian eliminates different hard sounds being used
together, like the /ks/ in express turns to /ss/ in espresso and in
general reduces consonant mixing like fluid is fiume (river) and flame
is fiamme (flame), glacial is giaccia (ice) and even etcetera is
eccetera (pronounced ech-et-er-a). Another point is that italian
maintains the pure five vowels and there is no "shortening" or lazy
vowels allowed. I think lazy vowels in Hindi, English and German are
ugly and generally lazy, like uh eh ih. But in italian you have long
strings of fluid consonants with pure vowels. And thirdly, italian
maintains longer words. The longer a word to pronounce, the easier it is
for the speaker to find a beautiful, round way to say it. Length is
your friend when you're trying to do something.
So in the end, Italian is recognized in music as the most beautiful
language. Italian is the most popular language used for opera. Italian
is the standard language used for musical manuscripts - allegro non
troppo, adagio, etc.
Other latin languages come close to this standard. Portuguese and
Spanish are also very beautiful and heavily used in lyrics and music.
And we notice that latin societies are obsessed with music, song,
If you take everything I said about italian and reverse it, you're
talking about Chinese. Chinese is visually beautiful because there are a
lot of strokes given to you to draw your beautiful picture in the
little box. This is one aspect of it. There are also grammatical rules
to drawing pictures, how one picture element changes if it is used in
another character, but is fuller if it is on its own, like water 水 turns
to three dots (impossible to draw in a letter here, but, something like
the character for three 三), so the character for flow is 流 and you see
the three dots on the left there indicating it deals with water, and you
see another three lines flowing vertically out the bottom of the
character to describe river etc.
The power in Chinese language on paper then translates into it being the
preferred language for any major cultural Asian event. For karate
uniforms, no director seeking to impress his students with his Asian
culture would smatter latin letters across the uniforms or across the
sign above his door. Westerners crave Chinese tattoos, even though they
have no idea what they mean, because they apparently look better than
long, visually incoherent strings of latin script. Even Koreans,
Japanese and other asians feel compelled to study them and use them in
cultural contexts. Traditional Chinese characters simply have the most
powerful visual force in language in the world today.
However you notice that even with the disgusting play and film Madamme
Butterfly, Chinese opera has not caught on in the west AT ALL. The sound
of it is horrid, piercing and nasal, like animals crying out for their
lives. Visually the masks, costumes and acrobatics that it includes are
popular. Again, Chinese have mastered something visual, but cannot make
something aural work.
We can't have a language that works on all levels at once. You can't put
grammar everywhere. Italians can use grammar to make words match (or
not, depending on meaning) and flow better, but they can't ALSO make the
latin letters make a better composition on paper AS WELL. This
fundamental contradiction means a language can only be visually or
aurally based, but not both at the same time.
Finally, the idea that Chinese sounds like silverware clanging is a sort
of joke that doesn't make sense to Chinese or myself. It makes sense in
that clanging is a short sound. But most of the Chinese language is
composed of words that are not like ting tong kang pang etc. The most
often used syllables are: Zhi (like the -ger in badger) shi (like "sure"
or the sure in "composure") and Yi (like the letter E). There are
literally thousands of words pronounced with this sounds, and they make
up most of the language. As you might guess, actually ping pang etc. are
ottomotopeia words. Ping-pong is simply describing the sound of the
balls going back and forth, and the characters visually show that: 乒乓.
(these are two syllables and pronounced exactly like the English
borrowed word ping pong). I would more describe the Chinese language on
an audio level as being "digital". It sounds like a very short, logical
code not too far from morse code.
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