Wednesday, April 28, 2010

JDM on Learning Chinese

[I] was amused at people on the ship en route from US taking Chinese lessons in [the] happy delusion they would converse during [the] tour. No way. Not only are there many dialects so unlike that the Chinese need interpreters among themselves, but even if you had the happy accident of trying your pidgin mandarin on a mandarin-speaking Chinese person, there would be no response. The Chinese do not want you to try to speak their language! Why is this? For precisely the same reason that most Frenchmen will, in France, absolutely refuse to comprehend your French, even though they know what you are trying to say. The French and the Chinese, more than other peoples, think of themselves as being the only perfect race on earth, and all other peoples are barbarians. So an attempt to speak the tongue of the perfect is an impertinence. What if your dog spoke up and asked you for a meatloaf? You would refuse to understand because if you did, he would keep asking, and he would become boring. So it was sad and funny to see the language class from the ship going about hooting, honking, cooing -- and getting no response at all from anyone.

-- from "Reflections on China"
JDM Bibliophile # 24 (July 1979)

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