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Keys for Writers, Second Edition
Ann Raimes
ESL Tip Sheet 2: The Chinese Languages

Spoken in People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Singapore.

The written language

Mandarin is the dialect that forms the basis of the standard written language, uniting the many dialects of spoken Chinese, which can be as different from each other as French and Italian are. The examples in this section refer to Mandarin.

Mandarin uses compact ideographs, not an alphabetic script, so readers are used to processing more information with a shorter eye span. One and a half lines of a Chinese text might require more than ten or fifteen lines when translated idiomatically into English.

Sentence structure and word order
  • No difference between word order in statements and questions: *When they will arrive? 34b.
  • Subject can be omitted: *Is raining. 62a.
  • Very little inversion of subject and verb: *She is leaving and so I am. 34b.
  • Conjunctions occur in pairs: *Although she is rich, but she wears simple clothes. 62e.
  • An adjective phrase precedes the noun it modifies: *He gave me a too difficult for me book. 62b.
Nouns and pronouns
  • Nouns do not have plural forms: *He has three sister. 60b.
  • Pronouns can be dropped (he, she, and it have the same sound), and no distinction is made between subject and object forms: *He stored [his] furniture. *I gave the forms to she. 44a.
  • A noun will often have the same form as an adjective: *She is very beauty woman. 45.
Verbs and verbals
  • Chinese has no inflections for singular and plural, tense, or verb form. Most words in Chinese have just one form, often just one syllable, so changes reflecting number, tense, part of speech, or agreement cause difficulty: *The house was painting last month. *The singer have a big band. 42; 43.
  • Little differentiation between a base form, an -ing form, and a past participle: *I was very confusing. *They decided moving to Baltimore. 61c-61f.
  • In Chinese, an adjective can include the sense of the verb be, so the form of be is frequently omitted in English: *She always cheerful. 38c; 41c; 45c.
  • No equivalent of auxiliaries be or have: *I am be able. 41c.
Adjectives and adverbs
  • Adjectives such as easy, hard, and difficult apply to how a person feels, not only to the nature of the task: *I am easy to program a computer. 64e.
  • No articles in Chinese: *I bought book. 60.

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