April 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Although there is no correlation between writing and speech in Chinese, how we speak does affect our way of thinking. Each language builds a fence around those who speak it from birth, imprisoning our thought within its vocabulary (and grammar) unless we find a way out. Freedom is achieved by becoming familiar with a second language. This new knowledge enables us to view our first language objectively from without, creating fresh insight while further enhancing the interplay between language and thought.
Because of the diversity of each nation’s history and culture, it is debatable whether there is any such thing as a universal code of logic. Concepts are expressed by words. If certain words are absent in a second language, the exact meaning of a particular concept expressed in the vocabulary of the first language may also be non-existent in the second, ‘foreign’ country and may not hold the same relevance there.
Chinese logic is not based on subject—predicate relationships but on correlative duality. Neither subject nor predicate is necessary in a Chinese sentence. Instead of saying, ‘Milk is white, but coal is not white’, we Chinese say, ‘White milk, black coal’. On many occasions, the subject is omitted altogether. In Chinese, we cannot say, ‘It snows’. Instead, we say, ‘Drop snow’.
By dispensing with the subject, Chinese thought takes a different path. Attention is concentrated not on the nature of the ‘thing in itself’ (Kant’s ‘das Ding an sich’) but on the total relational pattern of things in general.
Two words with opposite meanings are seldom placed together side by side in English. In contrast, we Chinese frequently use antonyms to represent a concept. Some common examples are:
Opposing words Meaning Concept represented jìn 進 tuì 退 advance/retreat movement shàng 上 xià 下 above/below; up/down all about, whole body kāi 開 guān 關 open/close light switch chéng 成 bài 敗 success/failure outcome, result dà 大 xiǎo 小 big/small size cháng 長 duǎn 短 long/short situation duō 多 shǎo 少 much/little how much or what mǎi 買 mài 賣 buy/sell business or trade hè 黑 bái 白 black/white morality