Thursday, October 15, 2009

Off-topic: Quote of a message about atheism

Very interesting remark by a guy named Russianbear at

Atheism is not the same as religious intolerance. I am an atheist, and I think religions are stupid, but I am quite tolerant of people's stupidity and ignorance in general, and of religion-related stupidity and ignorance in particular.

Most atheists don't prejudge. (Some, like me) judge. And that happens AFTER the fact, so PREjudice is not the right word.
In my experience, atheists are relatively quiet; it is religious people who tend to try to ram their beliefs down other people's throats. It is also a fact that atheists tend to be better educated than religious people. And atheists tend to be more tolerant. I am yet to see atheists fly planes into skyscrapers or blow themselves (and many other people) up for their atheist beliefs. Those things are done by folks who believe in god(s).

And of course, "fundamentalism" kinda implies religiousness :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grammatical error: "Even if ... but"

> even if today is sunday,but we have to work.

That's a common mistake Chinese make in learning English. If you have "even if", you don't need "but". Drop one of the two. The same is true for "although".

As always, capitalize the first letter of the sentence. It makes people feel you're not writing English too casual.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Attitude thing

Educative comments from an online forum. Not just for Japanese.

Are Japanese natives generally exclusive?

"but I've met the people (some from Japan, some from China, although I'm sure it's global) that strike up a conversation with you in English but totally lose interest when you transition to their native language. That attitute would be language rape."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Off-topic: Message to My Neighbors

We're going to have a neighborhood night-out gathering and emails are sent to everybody. Neighbor's dogs used to bother me at night. So I took this opportunity to post the following message to the email list:

"I want to borrow this thread to send a friendly reminder to this wonderful neighborhood, that dog owners need to keep their best friends quiet late at night. While I need to train myself to tune out, the dogs need to be trained to only bark outdoors perhaps before 10pm or after 7am, or indoors to their happy owners' hearts' content at any time. This is a friendly neighborhood so I hope this message is taken with a friendly smile!"

As a result of this, I haven't heard any dog barking at night since then. One neighbor's email to me said "we don't have a dog...your lovely message would have been taken with all due respect and kindness. It's almost as if you were writing poetry!"

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How could some old time Chinese scholars learn foreign languages?

> 一开始就学中等或高级学习者的教材或看适合他们的难度的
> 文章,这样欲速则不达。(If from the beginning you
> study the textbooks suitable for an intermediate
> or advanced student or read articles whose difficulty
> matches their level, it's Haste makes waste.)

I agree. But one thing that has always bugged me is that some well known scholars in the 民国 times (about 100 years ago) learned foreign languages by directly reading classic literary works. For example,
他曾仅靠一部词典,一本凯撒的《高卢战纪》,就学会了非常复杂的拉丁文。(He (Jin Kemu) learned the complicated Latin language solely with a dictionary and a copy of Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War.)
到了英国,在布朗的指导下,辜鸿铭从西方最经典的文学名著入手,以最朴拙的死记硬背办法很快掌握了英文、德文、法文、拉丁文、希腊文 (Upon arrival in England, Ku Hung-ming, under the guidance of Brown (Forbes Scott Brown?), started from the classic literary works in the western world, and quickly mastered English, German, French, Latin, Greek by the most simplistic rote learning.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Off-topic: 罗家伦"新人生观"

Luo Jialun's "A New Point of View of Human Life" is full of interesting little stories and quotes of historical figures. Other than that, his own words are sometimes thought-provoking, such as the following, when he talked about the role of Belgium in World War One and the recognition of its contribution:


pp.116-7, "从完成责任到实现权利","新人生观"

That's new to me because nobody, either from the mainland side or from Taiwan, talked about lack of participation or involvement of the then Chinese government or army when talking about the humiliation of China at the Paris Peace Conference.

Other points in the book are also worth reading. He said Japan became so aggressive and atrocious because China spoiled Japan, not limiting their mischief at the early stage.

Off-topic: 读章太炎“国学概论“有感


Thursday, July 23, 2009


Others have excellent suggestions. Let me add that for now, you can imagine you're giving a presentation in your native language, Chinese, and on the fly, translating that into English. Many language teachers oppose this way of learning (you do translation in your brain). But I disagree. Once you're fluent in English, the explicit translation in your brain silently yields to "natively" thinking in English.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Off-topic: Language education to solve Chinese ethnic conflict

The ethnic conflict, or riot, in Xinjiang of northwestern China, caused more than 150 deaths. To be politically correct, the central government will probably not reveal the ratio of Uyghur to Han ethnic death tolls, and I won't comment on that, even though pretty much every Chinese having lived there or having friends or relatives living there have a very well educated guess. But even mention of that guess causes sadness. A more interesting and constructive discussion, though, should be about the way the Chinese government improves its strategy to ease the ethnic tension. We all agree that so far the preferential treatment of, or affirmative action toward, the ethnic minority in China causes grief to the Han ethnicity yet at the same time does not adequately meet the request of the minority. This lose-lose situation will not go anywhere in the future. While the government provides financial and other support, the love is largely unrequited. The Uyghur think their culture is violated, even though the government encourages them and spends money for them to promote their own language.

Human language is the key to human gathering. Why is there natural, spontaneous separation between Han and Uyghur, or between any two ethnic groups for that matter? Because they have difficulty communicating. No doubt the Uyghur people are forced to learn the Chinese language, not by law, not at all, but by the economic opportunities. But there's not much assimilation in the other direction, i.e., the Han learning Uyghur. If the Han have no basic skills in the language of the previously dominating residents in this region, they don't feel their culture is respected (enough). The government should have a mandate that all the Han Chinese living in that area, perhaps younger than say 50 years old, learn the Uyghur language for 3 months, and review once every 3 years for 10 or so years. Once this done, the Han and Uyghur will mingle much more easily, in the neighborhood as neighbors, in the work place as coworkers, and in public areas as citizens. Separation is rooted in lack of communication, which starts from nowhere else than everyday life.

Interesting References:

I. Wang Lixiong, My West Region, Your Eastern Land
王力雄, 《我的西域,你的东土》, p.187, "一九五六年新疆的汉族有十五万... 他们在这里学会了维语。毛泽东让他们首先要学维语,要学当地的语言... 一九五三年他从上海到新疆来的时候,库尔勒有汉族学校,可是讲维语,让那些汉族孩子必须学维语,民族学校却不要求学汉语。那时毛泽东说没有大汉族主义就不会有民族分裂主义,所以有很多尊重少数民族生活习惯的政策。那个年代的干部和汉族人比较尊重少数民族。" [In 1956, there were 150,000 Han ethnic people in Xinjiang... they learned the Uyghur language here. Mao Zedong required them to first learn the Uyghur language, learn the local language... In 1953 when he came to Xinjiang from Shanghai, there were Han ethnic schools in Korla but Uyghur was spoken in the school; the Han school children were required to learn the Uyghur language, while in the minority ethnic schools the Chinese language was not required. Back then Mao Zedong said that there will not be ethnic separatism if there is no Han-chauvinism, and so there were many policies that respect the customs of the minority ethnic people. The cadres and the Han people in those years well respected the minority ethnic people.]

II. Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word
Garcilaso certainly held the view, still widely held today though not among knowledgeable linguists, that a shared language makes for common understanding and good mutual relations: 'because the likeness and conformity of words almost always tend to reconcile people and bring them to true union and friendship'.[Father Blas Valera's words, quoted by Inca Garcilaso, Commontarios Reales, part I, vii.3: 'porqué la semejanza y conformidad de las palabras casi siempre suelen reconciliar y traer a verdadera unión y amistad a los hombres.']

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"ever" for 曾经?

Many Chinese say "ever" when they mean to say 曾经 (ceng2jing1). But that word can be translated as 曾经 only when it's in a question, e.g. "Have you ever been to Shanghai?", or in a negative sentence where it changes to "never", e.g. "I've never said that". Otherwise, it means "always", e.g. "Finding the cure for cancer seems to be an ever-lasting process without an end."

If you really want to say 曾经, say "once" instead, e.g. "Once I had a car accident."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learn English from native speakers

No doubt there's great benefit in learning English by talking with a native speaker. But most people don't realize that talking to native speakers may not be the fastest way to study English for everybody. Here's some discussion posted to a language study forum six months ago.


I don't completely agree with you on "当然是和母语英语的老外或外教学口语效果最好". It's not true in all cases. My friend is the president (or school master) of 若亚语言学校 ( She told me many of the students in her school started to change their preference a few years ago from preferring foreign teachers to Chinese teachers, because they slowly realized that in Chinese teachers' classes, they actually improve their English faster.

(I have no connection with that school. I mention it only because the president was my school mate.)

> interesting point, is that a general case, or specific to that school only?

I don't have statistics. But I believe it's a general case in most language schools in China. It should not be a rule that applies to English study in general. Suppose you do have a long-term close relationship with somebody fluent in English and that person is e.g. your spouse (so he or she is infinitely patient!!), then almost definitely it's better if he or she is a native speaker.

Judy, creator of 若亚语言学校:


我接触过不少学生,为练习口语花费不少精力,效果却不尽相同。关于是否需要和母语的老外练口语,我个人觉得不能绝对。如果有大把时间,而且又遇到文化和教 育程度都不错的母语老外,那么,恭喜你!不过,真实的语言环境中,比如雅思考试、BEC考试或者对外贸易的交流等,经常会遇到不同口音的英语,让听者一头 雾水。所以,我建议练习口语还可以考虑多听不同的录音,然后跟着相对专业的人士练习---无论他是否是母语的老外.经常的情况是:如果一个非母语的人员说 一口漂亮的英语,他/她一定有独到的体验,这种陪练者会更加的可遇而不可求.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Last January" vs "January last year"

> He arrived in New York last January.其中的last January
> 书上解释为今年一月,而不是去年一月~困惑~
> 如果按这样翻译那last该怎么分辨是今年还是去年?

"Last" is a commonly confused word. Technically, it means "immediately past" (see, where an example is "last Thursday"), "most recent; next before the present" (see, where an example is "last Friday"). So if today is Friday, "last Thursday" as the "immediately past" or "most recent" Thursday would technically be yesterday. Similarly, if it's any month after January now, "last January" would be January this year.

But as Gary B. Larson in his Style Manual points out,

The word last can also be confusing to mean "most recent" when using the name of a month or day; does last April mean April this year or April last year? Preferred: It happened in April. It happened Wednesday. Or: It happened last week. It happened last month. Redundant: It happened last Wednesday.

I think Mr. Larson has a good point (although I don't have the feeling of redundancy in the last sentence).Use "last" only when it's not ambiguous; e.g., if it's February now, "last May" means May last year. But say "last Month" or "in January" to refer to the January of this year, and "in January last year" to refer to that in the last year.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"no more than" vs "not more than"

> Any difference in meaning between these two sentences?
> "His victory in the final was no more convincing than I had expected."
> "His victory in the final was not more convincing than I had expected."
> Note that the two sentences below do have difference:
> You are not more careful than he is. 你不如他仔细。
> You are no more careful than he is. 你和他一样不仔细。

That makes perfect sense. But that distinction doesn't seem to apply to the case here: "His victory in the final was (no|not) more convincing than I had expected." I'm not sure, but if I have to think of an explanation, maybe it's because the part after "than" is not a direct object. Consider:

"His victory in the final was (no|not) more convincing than hers."

In this case, "no more convincing" implies his and hers are equally unconvincing, while "not more convincing" says her victory is more convincing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"idea" not to be pronounced like "idea-r"

> yuzhoucn said:
> 不少中国人滥用美音的儿音,如China、India、puma、idea这
> 种字里根本就没有r,也去给它附加一个儿音,听起来就很怪。

I can't agree more on that! We should make as many Chinese studying English now as possible aware of this very common and yet easy to correct mistake.

By the way, a former coworker of mine who grew up in Germany always said "data" as if it was dater. But I don't recall he read "idea" as "idea-r".