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It is Unfortunately that Chinese is less logical than English

April 23, 2008

不幸的是,中文不如英文有逻辑。

What is the English version of this sentence in Chinese? There are two possibilities:

Unfortunately, Chinese is less logical than English.

It is unfortunate that Chinese is less logical than English.

One will reach the same Chinese sentences when translating these two sentences in English into Chinese. Of course, one may argue that the latter should be translated into

中文不如英文有逻辑,这是不幸的。

But why should a “normal” Chinese speaker articulate in that way?

Now comparing the two sentences in English. They sound similar. The trouble comes when one tries to decide if one agrees or disagrees with a statement.

When trying to agree/disagree the statement

Unfortunately, Chinese is less logical than English.

one tries to determine if one thinks Chinese is indeed less logical than English.

Whereas when trying to agree/disagree the statement

It is unfortunate that Chinese is less logical than English.

one tries to determine if the fact that “Chinese is less logical than English” is unfortunate or not — even if one is not sure whether that statement was really a fact.

You got it?

What is more, the above thoughts emerged when I went cross an on-line test in Chinese which contains a bunch of questions that I had to provide an answer as “agree” or “disagree”. What confused me with that question was, I didn’t know which statement I was to agree or disagree, since it appeared to be equivalent to two statements (in English) which are very different, and, to make things worse, I kinda agree with one of them and disagree the other..

The same test was passed over to me by another intelligent person. I asked him, did you find a problem with the first question? I don’t know how to agree or disagree with it if I couldn’t figure out what the statement really was. Surprisingly he thought it was a clear enough statement. To be more precise, he thought it was obvious that that statement was

Unfortunately, Chinese is less logical than English.

While in my opinion, a more direct translation from Chinese into English would more likely result in

It is unfortunate that Chinese is less logical than English.

The fact that I found that Chinese sentence confusing when trying to agree or disagreeing with it, while the other person didn’t, makes me ponder. It is my opinion that the difference lies in our different point of view of understanding a given statement. Simply put, I am trained in mathematics (sounds much better than saying “I am a mathematician”), and his expertise is on biology. I started to think about how one’s career changes one’s personality and behavioral patterns.

More than often, our careers change our ways of thinking and ways of reacting to certain things, even those who don’t love their careers. It is the process of training that changes a person’s mind, bit by bit, in a way so hidden that one might not notice its existence, until some evidence is explicitly shown to him/her one day. This explains at least partially why a person should be careful choosing his/her career, since the choice might look random at that moment, but as long as the process starts, it’s not reversible, and the changes will only push one to that direction further. I’m not saying that changing one’s career is too hard or impossible. I only mean that any choice of career, being permanent or temporary, will leave a mark on that person, and that mark is more than often permanent, even if secretly so.

I heard yesterday in a talk that an average American changes his/her career about 5 times, and this is not talking about changing jobs. I found it hard to believe. One way to reason it might be the following. Talking about “mark leaving”, some careers may have a better tendency than other careers, depending on how hard it was in the first place to pursue that career. For example, one has to go through a significant amount of training in order to become a doctor or a lawyer, henceforth my guess is (without any statistical evidence) that the average times of career changing among doctors and lawyers is way less than 5 or even 3. I may even guess that more than 80 percent of such people don’t ever change their careers at all. This is the example where changing career equals abandoning a lot of years of training, which is of course a hard decision to make. There is another type of career changing possibility, where the amount of training is not much less than that for doctors and lawyers, while the training has a feature that it lands on a larger diversity of kinds of jobs. An example of such, is of course mathematics PhD.

****

Today I talked about the above agree and disagree statement with my boss. He mentioned that one of his daughters was conducting a project on the difference between western and eastern languages, and a basic result was that eastern languages tended to be less clear and logical. I found it interesting to think about. It will be nice if I find more examples of different sorts in the future.

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One comment

  1. 我老人家时常造出类似“中文不如英文有逻辑,这是不幸的。”这样的句子而被人嘲笑。其实我觉得没有任何语言天生就缺乏逻辑或者充满逻辑。说到底是用这个语言的人怎么用这个语言。英语一样可以说的非常没有逻辑,汉语一样可以说得很有逻辑,我以为。



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