Sunday, July 28, 2013

Truly Asia

Teachers and zen
When I was an undergraduate engineering student at Howard University, I had a Korean prof who said to me once, "Tozhin, you always use brute force. You can not uzh-ee bruuh forrh, you have to find weak point in the problem."  

We loved imitating his speech; probably why we can still remember his words fifteen years later.  He was earnest, hardworking, definitely shy, a hardware tinkerer (that wasn't my thing) and occasionally something of a philosopher (that was and is totally of interest.)  

Today I am amazed, unsettled, at the self-effacement of teachers.  It's like the self-effacement of mothers, could it really be so satisfactory to be merely one of a team that contributes to building great people?  What happened to cashmoneyhoes, moneypowerrespec'?  Or as one of my favourite students recently said of winding up in front of a classroom someday: "it's like my worst nightmare."

Anyway, in this post I was going to write a bit about my current Eastern preoccupation.  I just watched 120 hours of Korean drama.  Like oh my God, amazing.  I am sort of learning Chinese - sort of.  I just read a South-East-Asia history book.  This morning I re-watched Seven Samurai...  

Did you know that "There are only about 250 Korean family names currently in use, and the three most common (Kim, Lee, and Park) account for nearly half of the population."
(From Wikipedia: Korean Names)
Yep, nearly a quarter of Koreans are have the surname Kim e.g. North Korean President Kim Jong-Un.  Another 1 in 7 are named Lee.  Then 1 in 12 are named Park e.g. South Korean President Park Geun-He. Now you can guess my Korean teacher's name.

Then also, compared with the Chinese, Korean script at least seems superbly easy to learn.  Very easy.  If the holiday wasn't so full of things to do already I'd have learned it.  The encoding system for writing may be logical and straightforward, but I can't promise that the language itself is easy, I mean, they take five syllables to say "thanks" - sounds like 'komasomida' - but I think the 'mida' is just added for respect. 

Chinese though, I doubt that there is a method to their encoding.  I aim to learn about the method(s), gain some speaking skill beyond Ni hao, xiexie, zaijie, Wo shi-huan, _ zai ma?, and be able to read and write simple things, maybe on just 100+ words of vocabulary.

For now I've got ren (easy word, looks like this and means a person) and bu (不  negative particle, not). Writing zero, as 0, is particularly easy too.  My to-learn list includes da (big), Han, taitai (Miss), ...

The characters get really complicated so you wonder what they were smoking when they invented them.  A simple word like wo (me, I) is like crisscrossupdownticktockswish.  Seriously?
On top of that is the pronunciations, since it's a tonal language like Yoruba, so there's ma, ma, ma, ma, all sound different and mean different things, and presumably have different symbols too.

You know what's really funny?  Chinese signatures.  This is President Xi Jinping's:
Dude, don't worry, nobody's going to forge your name (习近平) let alone that signature. 

Summer fun
I'm using the Chinese-learning text+cd by a Yoruba/Nigerian scholar named Victoria Arowolo.  I guess I'll also check these out soon: Chinese characters on Wikipedia, and the most common Chinese characters lists.
The original plan was to learn Hindi script, but that will have to wait now.  One cool thing is finding words that seem to be much the same from Arabia to Korea and wondering just how that happened: blame Genghis Khan?


t said...

Tea is chai, shai, etc in many languages, including Hausa which almost certainly got it through Islam/thedesert/Arabic.

shah, tsar, czar, for a king, supposedly from Caesar
Kings are also rei, raj, roy quite a lot, from Europe to India.

If you're not saying mama/umm/oma for mother and baba/ab/abba for father, I guess you're slacking. Here's mother in over 100 languages. My language Yoruba uses iya/yeye as well as maa/mama. Uses baba.

and so on. Remember this: study on baby sounds? Baby Language/Sound Relexes So which one is um/ma?

t said...

reflexes, not relexes.

t said...

By the way, KIM means gold , LEE (or Rhee/Yi/Ri) is from the Chinese word for plum, someone says pear, another says it was the name of a Chinese royal and it means a minister, anyhow it's a common (top 3) Chinese surname that is also a top 3 surname in Korean. To clear the confusion, remember the tones in Chinese? Apparently there are different meanings for the surname Li/Lee.
PARK is radiance or rays of light in Korean. It's also a magnolia tree, a gourd/calabash?

Click on the hyperlinks for my sources, mostly Wikipedia.

The other top Korean names are Chung/Jung, Choi, Cho...

t said...

Meanwhile in China, the top surnames are Wang/Wong, Li/Lee, and Zhang/Chang/Cheung. Each of these surnames is borne by about 90million people, so the number of people with Surname Wang, Li, or Zhang, including different forms and different countries is about the entire population of the USA. By the way, Wang means King.

If it seems to you like nearly half of Vietnamese people are named Nguyen, you're right.

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