I’ve always wanted to write something about the two languages I have learned and come to love. Or even, to write something about language in general. There used to be a debate between me and cc about how useful Linguistics actually is. I don’t remember the details but do remember that I took a very practical stand on the topic. In my eyes language is just a tool. And that’s all it is, a tool, a “means to an end“, a “device for doing work“. Linguistics is nice and interesting but I was not sure how much practical use there really is to it.
The only thing you should worry about a tool is simply how to use it, to achieve what it is intended for. You use a scissor in order to cut better (you don’t really spend lots of time studying its origin do you). A washing machine to keep your clothes clean. A video recorder, to remember a piece of your life.
In language’s case, it is to communicate.
And some people have more than one tool for this job (they are called bi-lingual or multi-lingual).
The interesting thing here is, no matter how many tools you have, at any given time you can only use one of them. And when you have stopped using one of the them for a very long time, you find it harder and harder to pick it back up and use it as effectively as before. This is especially true in the case where the tool, the language, was not born, but learned.
English is my learned language, Chinese, born.
There cannot be a pair of languages with bigger differences than these two.
When I think of Chinese the language, I think of words like “rich”, “poetry”, and “history”;
When I think of English, I think of it as the language of the modern world. The language to get things done. The language you never dwell on, rarely think much about. It conveys the same meaning in 5 words that takes Chinese 50.
Compared with Chinese, English looks straightforward and bland;
Compared with English, Chinese looks convoluted and contrived.
English is great for lovers, when subtlety is less valuable than candor;
Chinese is great for poets, whose spirit can never be limited by the richness.
If English is a song, Chinese is music.
Sometimes you want to sing to others;
Sometimes, you sit down and play for them.