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How Vietnamese Became More Universal/ Tiếng việt đã trở nên phổ cập hơn như thế nào?

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English Version:

Throughout the history of Vietnam, the Vietnamese language has been through many transformations and adaptations from different cultures. Nations like China and France’s past presence in Vietnam all played their roles in shaping the language. Those cultures helped to add many features to the original Vietnamese and made it evolve over time, and from that process, it became such a unique language. As a Vietnamese speaker, I think the language has also become more universal and more colloquial to the Vietnamese people.

Vietnamese is the official language of almost 100 million people living in Vietnam, connected to more than 160 spoken languages (Alves 104), Vietnamese is a branch of the Austroasiatic language family, which is mostly found in Southeast Asia. The language is diverse across the span of the S-shaped country with different local accents and dialects. Vietnamese has a cultural and transformative history. In a way, the modern language that we use nowadays is the product of different cultures, but it is still very much Vietnamese.

The history of the Vietnamese language started a long time ago and it has gone through many transformations to become a modern language. Since the beginning of the history of Vietnam, right after the foundation of the first government, the vulnerably young nation became an intriguing target for China and its expansion scheme. The Chinese’s effort to colonize Vietnam casted an imposing presence over the country; this started the two thousand years of Chinese domination (Alves 109). Vietnamese land became a battleground throughout this long era. During this period, all documents were written in chữ Nho (classical Chinese script), while Vietnamese was the spoken language. Since the two forms are not the same language, people from lower classes did not feel the need to know the written language; and even if they did, they could not afford the education, whereas the higher classes could afford it. Moreover, the written language was considered more intricate and more exclusive to the higher classes, while at the time, the living standard was low, and poverty was very common among the people. The implication of only wealthy people affording education shows the inefficiency of having different written and spoken languages at the same time.

Education was still a luxury for the Vietnamese during the time when the Chinese government enforced an assimilation policy (chính sách đồng hoá) on Vietnamese people. At this time, China put in an extra effort to try to convert the Vietnamese to Chinese both culturally and biologically by letting Chinese into Vietnam. They wanted to turn Vietnam into a part of China (Hays). Although the lack of education was an issue, in order to keep the traditions and culture alive and to resist the Chinese influence, Vietnamese people added characters to the Chinese characters and used Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary (Vietnamese words that have Chinese origin) to create a different script called chữ Nôm. This was to prevent Chinese domination and the Chinese understanding of Vietnamese. This script was strongly enforced by Quang Trung, an emperor of the Lê dynasty. He enhanced the importance of chữ Nôm by using the script officially for royal documents and national examinations. He viewed the script as a symbol of the independence of Vietnam as a separate nation, free from Chinese domination (Huu).

One of the most influential figures that popularized chữ Nôm to the people was Nguyễn Du, a great poet from the 18th century. His epic 3,254-verse poem called The Tale of Kieu (Truyện Kiều) is considered the most significant work of the Vietnamese literature and one of the most famous works using chữ Nôm script. Despite the popularity of chữ Nôm, the two scripts coexisted at the same time until the early 20st century. Only people who knew how to read and write, usually teachers, scholars, or ones that had to associate with the Royals, were placed higher in the scale of societal standards. Over the course of history, there were other figures other than Nguyễn Du that made an impact on the Vietnamese written language.

The influencers were not only from Vietnam but also were from out of the country. In the 17th century, some of the first Frenchmen came to Vietnam wanting to spread evangelism. One of them was Alexandre de Rhodes, a Catholic preacher, who wrote the first Vietnamese Catechism. He learned Vietnamese in order to serve his evangelical work. Later, he introduced the Latin alphabet as a replacement for the two scripts chữ Nho and chữ Nôm, but still expressed the sounds based on the spoken language (Pham). Thus, through the dramatic transformation of the written language, he developed the contemporary Vietnamese language. Personally, I think this change of using the Latin alphabet made the language less complicated to write, and therefore, much more efficient.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the French started expanding in Southeast Asia and Vietnam became a colonized country by the mid-century. The French language came into the picture. It did not alter the existing Vietnamese, but the frequency of French usage around Vietnamese people did make a change. A good amount of French words was added into the informal spoken language (Love 5). Gradually, they became borrowed words and ended up a part of the Vietnamese vocabulary. A lot of people do not even know that some of the most common Vietnamese words are from French words. For example, the word (butter) is from the word beurre, ga (station) is from gare, or vang (wine) is from vin. Before becoming a French learner, I did not know all of that. Therefore, I would say the more I learn French the more Vietnamese makes sense to me.

After French colonization, from the second half of the 20th century, the Vietnamese language kept evolving. In the 21st century, you can clearly see the differences between how the young generations of Vietnamese people speak the language and how the generations from previous centuries spoke it. The young generations are using a more modernized, and universalized version of Vietnamese with more casual words, phrases and slangs, even. There is a huge difference if you compared the contemporary version of Vietnamese to the intricate and scholarly version from the past. It is not as advanced and scholarly like it used to be. English speakers could understand what I mean by comparing the English that they are using right now to the English that the great Shakespeare used.

The Vietnamese language has a great number of speakers from all over the world, especially in Cambodia, the U.S., Australia, and Czech Republic. Therefore, there are various reasons why a lot of non-native speakers would like to learn the language. For example, they may have a relative who is a native speaker, or they may want to connect better to the Vietnamese community around them. However, most people find it hard to learn Vietnamese because they think the pronunciation is difficult. Those who are from western nations struggle especially because they do not have some sounds that Vietnamese does. In my experience, I have never heard any foreigner who could pronounce Vietnamese words perfectly, and I do think Vietnamese has unique sounds and tones that only native speakers can make. However, I do not think imperfections in pronunciation should be discouraging or be the only barrier that prevents foreigners from learning Vietnamese. It might not be the most practical language to know, nor should people feel required to be fluent in it. On the other hand, I think every language is worth a try. As a language learner, I would say learning a language is a very effective way to expand your mind. It also helps you have a different perspective to look at the world, based on the culture of the language you are speaking. This is especially true for a language that has a rich background like Vietnamese. Knowing it is the best way for anyone to get closer to the Vietnamese culture and people. The world is more connected than it has ever been before, so the resources that could help people learn Vietnamese are highly accessible. This is also the case for Vietnamese cultural products such as music, movies, and documentaries.

The colorful culture of the Vietnamese language was not achieved overnight. It took a lot of changes for it to become so unique. Personally, I think those changes were for a better future of this language. It is a good thing that Vietnamese has become not just more accessible, but also more colloquial for the people.

Vietnamese Translation:

7th Paragraph:

Vào đầu thế kỉ thứ 18, thực dân Pháp bắt đầu xâm chiếm các nước ở khu vực Đông Nam Á, Việt Nam đã sớm trở thành thuộc địa của họ từ trước khi nửa thế kỉ đã trôi qua. Ngôn ngữ Pháp đã bắt đầu có ảnh hưởng lên tiếng Việt, nó không hoàn toàn thay đổi ngôn ngữ Việt vốn có, nhưng cường độ tiếng Pháp được sử dụng trong khoảng thời gian đó cũng đã gây nên những tác động nhất định. Một lượng nhiều những từ ngữ Pháp đã được sử dụng vào trong văn nói Việt. Qua thời gian, những từ mượn này đã chính thức trở thành một phần của ngôn ngữ Việt. Rất nhiều người Việt không biết rằng những từ phổ biến và thông dụng nhất trong tiếng Việt lại là những từ mượn được từ tiếng Pháp, ví dụ, chữ “bơ” (bơ sữa) có nguồn gốc từ chữ beurre, chữ “ga” (nhà ga) là từ chữ gare mà ra, hoặc rượu vang có nguồn gốc từ chữ vin. Bản thân tôi trước khi học tiếng Pháp cũng không biết điều này. Vậy nên, sau khi bắt đầu học tiếng Pháp, tôi lại có thêm một góc nhìn khác biệt hơn về tiếng mẹ đẻ của mình.

Final Two Paragraphs:

Số lượng người nói tiếng Việt trên khắp năm châu là rất nhiều, đặc biệt là ở Campuchia, Hoa Kỳ, Úc và Cộng hoà Séc. Vì vậy, có rất nhiều người nước ngoài mong muốn được học tiếng Việt vì nhiều nguyên nhân khác nhau: có thể vì họ có họ hàng là người Việt, hoặc có thể họ muốn được kết nối tốt hơn với cộng đồng người Việt sống xung quanh họ. Tuy nhiên, đa số người ngoại quốc cảm thấy tiếng Việt là một ngôn ngữ rất khó để học vì cách phát âm phức tạp của nó. Đặc biệt là đối với những người từ các nước phương Tây, đa số ngôn ngữ của họ có hệ thống phát âm hoàn toàn khác biệt, không giống như của tiếng Việt. Chưa một người ngoại quốc nào có thể phát âm tiếng Việt chuẩn theo quan sát của tôi, và tôi cũng công nhận tiếng Việt có những âm sắc và những cách phát âm đặc biệt mà chỉ có người bản xứ có thể nói được. Mặc dù vậy, tôi không nghĩ những khuyết điểm trong cách phát âm của người ngoại quốc nên trở thành một rào cản khiến họ nản lòng khi học tiếng Việt. Nó có thể không phải là một ngôn ngữ có tính ứng dụng cao hay ai cũng nên thành thạo. Mặt khác, tôi nghĩ tất cả các ngôn ngữ đều đáng được thử qua ít nhất một lần. Là một người học ngoại ngữ, tôi nghĩ việc học bất cứ ngôn ngữ nào đều có thể giúp người học mở mang đầu óc. Nó giúp họ có một góc nhìn khác về thế giới và xã hội, dựa vào văn hoá tập quán của đất nước mà họ đang học tiếng. Đặc biệt, đối với một ngôn ngữ có bề dày văn hoá và lịch sử như tiếng Việt, hiểu biết được nó là cách tốt nhất để giúp bất cứ ai đến gần hơn với văn hoá và con người Việt Nam. Ngày nay, thế giới đã trở nên hiện đại hơn bao giờ hết, vì vậy những tài liệu tham khảo giúp mọi người học tiếng Việt cũng đã trở nên dễ dàng để tiếp cận hơn. Tương tự, những văn hoá phẩm về Việt Nam như âm nhạc, phim hoặc các nguồn tham khảo khác cũng vậy.

Sự phong phú trong văn hoá của tiếng Việt không trở nên thành hình chỉ qua một đêm. Rất nhiều thay đổi và ảnh hưởng đã góp phần cho tiếng Việt trở thành một ngôn ngữ độc đáo và đặc sắc như bây giờ. Theo quan điểm của tôi, những thay đổi đó đã giúp phát triển tiếng Việt theo những chiều hướng tốt hơn.


Works Cited:

Alves, Mark. “Linguistic Research on the Origins of the Vietnamese Language: An Overview.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies, vol. 1, no. 1-2, 2006, pp. 104–130. JSTOR,

Hays, Jeffrey. “EARLY CHINESE RULE OF VIETNAM (111 B.C. TO A.D. 938).” Facts and Details,

Huu, Vinh. “Vóc Lại u Nu Giống Trái Tràm.” Vua Quang Trung Với Việc Dùng Chữ Nôm,

Love, Susan. “French and Tây Bồi in Vietnam: A study of language policy, practice and perceptions.” Adelaide Research & Scholarship, Aug. 2000,

Pham, Khoi. “Street Cred: Alexandre De Rhodes and the Birth of Chữ Quốc Ngữ.”Saigoneer,

Dying to Revive, Journey Just Starts. 走过涅槃重生,人生才始启程。

Zhang performs her first solo recital, “Dying to Revive”, accompanied by pianist Andrew Stuart. Picture Credit: Julian Fernandez

English Version:

On the night of April 3, 2019, with endless applause and cheers, I closed my first solo recital ever in my life with great success. “Dying to Revive.” It was an unforgettable night.

This is a recital about “death and life.” I died over and over again in the songs, and I sang my own eulogy. After my dance in this dark hell, I started a journey of revival. As I finished singing the last lyrics from Night of the Sixth Magnitude Star, “After being reborn, I’ll shine on tomorrow,” I finally reached new life. Just as shown on the poster, the first row of black and white photos means “death,” and in the second row there’s a movement from holding nothing to receiving life.

After the concert, when I saw my friends all waiting so long in line to hug me and send me good wishes, I experienced a happiness and sense of achievement that I’d never felt before. I appreciate my voice teacher Jennifer Blades, piano accompanist Andrew Stewart, and my friend Elysia Hempel for helping me make this recital possible, and I’m also so thankful for all of my friends who came to support me. The time you spend on roses is what makes roses so special.

I also want to appreciate all of my hard work behind the stage. I couldn’t believe I learned three new pieces in this half semester, sang them all, and gave a great performance. I think I deserve that night and all of the wishes and applause. But I know there’s still a long way to go.

One of my friends told me, “You are shining when chasing your dream step by step.”

Being prepared and not nervous is the key to everything, and I felt this so strongly on that night. It felt so good for everything to be under control and turn out better than expected. After the performance, a friend said that I have magic, that my songs have a serene power which draws people into their aura. I heard that one of my friends cried halfway through the concert, and many other people told me that my songs made them want to cry at some point. Another friend said that he sank into real darkness, but saw a shimmering light. I never knew that my voice could be that powerful. Aside from all of my surprise, I was very glad that the audience could feel my emotions from my songs.

As a performer, honestly I could not feel the aura and enjoy myself during the performance because I need to think about how to deal with the next place in which I often make mistakes and how to pronounce the lyrics better and control my breath. But when I watched the video the day after, surprisingly, I felt like I was watching another person’s performance, and I became a member of the audience, and I was moved by that singer’s songs. That was the best feeling that from the audience’s perspective; I could feel what I wanted to show, and I felt so moved.

From my conversations with my audience members afterward, surprisingly, all of them said that their favorite song was the Chinese song, Da Yu (Big Fish). Something I wondered about was that most of them didn’t understand the lyrics, but still loved it. Then I asked my professor and she said, “Because this language and this song is part of you.” Suddenly, a conversation that I had with a musician came to my mind. I asked him which was more important: melody or lyrics. I used to think melody was more important, but he said that it’s lyrics. Although the audience may not understand the lyrics, as performers, the goal is to show what we’ve understood. Melody is a tool to help present the lyrics. When I first heard his words, I was surprised but I didn’t understand much. Finally I proved what he said exactly in my own performance.

Zhang and Hempel perform their duet, accompanied by pianist Andrew Stuart, during Zang’s recital. Picture Credit: Julian Fernandez

I die over and over again in the songs, but in real life, my journey has just started.

Coincidently, last Friday was the Tomb Sweeping Festival in China. Showing “death and life” in this concert gave me more thoughts about my own life. Because I’m still alive, I can do the things I love, and make everything possible.

Soon, I’ll start to volunteer at a hospice. At first, I was kind of afraid of this work, but gradually I realized that since I’m so into “life” and “death”, by doing this special job, I might grow and have a deeper understanding of life and death, though the job will be heavy.

Recently, I read a quote from people who work in this field: “You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.” Till the last breath, life is always an important existence. And this job gives people strength to live. I recalled a sentence, “We should not spend too much time mourning the death. Instead, we should spend more strength to confront our lives. As long as we exist, Death has not arrived; when Death arrives, we are not existing anymore.” As long as there’s still breath, it is the biggest affront to death. Although we are all going to compromise in the end.

I remember that after my grandfather passed away, in front of the crematory’s fire door. My mother said to me that no matter how hard life is and how much you feel that you can’t continue, you can come to see the real farewell. Then you will feel that all the things you thought you cannot endure are not a big deal anymore. It’s everyone’s last station, a little box.

A few days ago I read a sentence: “People die three times in their lives. The first time is biological death; the second time is one’s funeral, which is the sociological death; the third time is being forgotten by the last person who remembered them, and that is the real death.” Thinking this way, my grandfather has still not left me, and people who I’m going to serve will also not disappear, because of being remembered by their loved ones.

After the journey from death to life, I’m just starting on my road.



Chinese Version:

Poster for Zhang’s recital created by herself.




演唱会后,看着大家排着队来拥抱我时,感受到了前所未有的欣喜。感恩我的老师Jennifer Blades,钢琴家Andrew Stewart和我的朋友Elysia Hempel的帮助让这场演出变成可能,也感谢所有到场支持的朋友们。正是你们花在玫瑰身上的时间,让玫瑰如此珍贵。





在观众们的反馈中发现,所有的人都千篇一律最喜欢我的中文歌《大鱼》。出乎意料般,因为他们都并不理解歌词,却依旧喜欢这首歌。之后问老师,她说,“Because this language and this song is part of you.”想起之前和一位音乐家的谈话。我问他,曲调和歌词,哪一个更重要。我曾经认为曲调更加重要,但他的回答是歌词更重要。即使听众无法理解歌词,但若表演者能够通过自己的理解和表演来将歌词的情感传达给听众,这就是目标;而曲调是一种辅助表达歌词的方法。当时对他的这番言论挺新奇,这次终于在自己的歌里得到印证。




最近读到一段关于这个职业的从业者的自白。“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.  ” 即使在生命的最后一刻,也是重要的存在。而这份职业就是给予人们活着的勇气。想起一段话,“不应用太多的时间去凭吊死神,而应用更多的勇气去直面人生。因为我们存在时死神不会降临,等到死神光临时,我们又不复存在了。” 只要一息尚存,就是对死亡最大的蔑视,即使我们终将走向妥协.


前几天读过一段话,“人的一生有三次死亡:第一次是生物学死亡, 第二次是葬礼,被宣告社会性死亡,第三次便是被最后一个记得其存在的人遗忘,那时才是真正的死亡”。这样想着,爷爷也并没有离我远去;我即将服务的人们也因为被思念着,而不会消逝。



Chinese Version: You move forward like the seasons, I move forward like Greyson Chance

Zhang (left) and Chance (right).






I can see something pure and clean inside of him, no matter how time changes.


He knows what is right.



他的一首歌,写的是他妈妈曾经对他讲,希望若有一天她离开了,他会是一个good man. 他小时候在公众场合骂脏话,被妈妈严厉批评,说那是boy才做的事,而她,只想培养a man.

他说,成长中最棒的一件事,是developing the perspective of how life works. It’s constantly up and down.

他说,f–- ur Instagram. 这个社会和世界只通过数据的多少来评判人的成功与否,完全是不合理的。自己的价值不该由这些数值来定义。别沉浸在屏幕里那个虚幻的世界;好好爱自己,爱朋友,家人,好好享受每一天的阳光,因为生命真的太短暂。





他今天没有唱任何一首早期的歌,应该是认为那都是属于他的过去了,也希望自己能以全新的面目获得认可。就像他自己唱的一样,I’m not looking back, to rewrite my f–-ing past. 既然他都大步向前,为何我还要纠结于过去呢?




You move forward like the seasons,

I move forward like Greyson Chance.

Our story goes on.



You move forward like the seasons, I move forward like Greyson Chance

Zhang (left) and Chance (right).

Since 24 hours before the concert, anxiety, excitement, happiness, nervousness, expectation, fear, all different kinds of emotions mixed together in my mind. Grey has been my idol for the past eight and half years and is my initial motivation to study abroad here. I was worried for myself that at the moment of meeting him, I might lose my destination for the future and not know where to go, since I would complete a goal I’ve had for a long time.

However, I found my new hope today.

I used to think, today is the time to say goodbye to “the old me,” and let him only belong to the past; nevertheless, I found a new destination and goal from him. Besides the tears that dropped at the moment I saw him, after the whole concert, I felt from a strong and peaceful belief and power. There’s no “foreignness” that I used to worry about. He is really like a real old friend. He’s always on his way to becoming an excellent, comprehensive and special musician, and I’ll be as good as him, and sing together with him on the same stage. I’m also on my way.

His serious attitude and hard work for music, and all the efforts behind the stage, were all shown in this one hour of performance.

His “silence” for these years finally turned into his powerful songs, which became the steps of his great return today. The concert exceeded my expectation, powerful and impressive. His confident demeanor and dances, skillful and mature way of singing, meaningful lyrics, the “just right” melodies, with his special high and low voices. All the moments of this concert were painted with his own color. He has already polished himself to a pure jade, not too dazzling as other diamonds, but the shine only belongs to him. Tender and peaceful, but strong and undaunted.

I can see something pure and clean inside of him, no matter how time passes.

As for his kindness and honesty, I think it’s from his humble hometown, and education and love from his family.

He knows what is right.

His lyrics are from the heart. He writes the conversation with his favorite person, he writes to encourage his friend who’s feeling low, he writes his thoughts about everyday life.

He said he experienced “love” for the first time last year. He has never had those kinds of feelings before, and he wanted to get married and raise kids. But when the guy said he didn’t want to stay with him anymore, he was heartbroken. So he turned this desperation into power, and wrote this new album called Portraits, which is going to be released on March 15.

One of his new songs is about how his mom used to tell him she hoped that if she left someday, he would rather be a good man. Once when he was young, he was saying bad words in public, and was criticized seriously by his mom. She said only boys do that, and she wanted to raise a man.

He said one of the best things about growing up is developing the perspective of how life works. It’s constantly up and down.

He said f–- your Instagram. This society only judges people’s success by the numbers next to their name (followers and likes), and that’s nonsense. The value of self should not be defined by these numbers. Don’t be drawn into the world inside of the screen; love yourself, your friends, family, and enjoy the sunshine every day, because life is so short.

He, who said these words above, finally became a glass of wine that was distilled and fermented by time. Discarding the unkindness of society, he smiles as peaceful as a breeze, and sings his own stories without inhibitions.

He was betrayed and discarded, but he finally got back on his feet. When he was questioned and doubted, he proved himself.

Suddenly, a sentence written to me by one of my friends came up to my mind: “Being aware of pretentiousness but not being pretentious is the kindest way of growing up.”

I’m so proud of you from the bottom of my heart, and very honored to have you as my idol for my entire youth.

He didn’t sing any songs from his early period – maybe he thinks that belongs to his past, and he wants to convince audience by his new works. Just like he wrote in his lyrics, “I’m not looking back, to rewrite my f–-ing past.” He has already chosen to walk forward; why am I still entangled in the past?

Since today, he is the new Greyson Chance. As for me, I like this new him. After I saw him work so hard and serious, I’m more sure than before that he will continue to be better and better by his own efforts. And I’ll also work hard and try to be closer to him step by step.

After meeting with him, I suddenly felt that there’s nothing hard that I couldn’t endure. I’ve already met with the person that I want to meet so eagerly. For things and other people that I used to have hard time with and thought that I couldn’t handle, they are not big problems anymore and are all gone with the wind. All by myself, I’ve made my childhood dream come true that used to be most impossible, and now I know that by keeping faith and moving forward in one direction, someday I will reach the destination. It’s just a matter of time.

You move forward like the seasons,

I move forward like Greyson Chance.

Our story goes on.






英語話者にとって、中国語、ロシア語、アラビア語は難しい言語だとよく言 われるのではないでしょうか。日本語もそれらに並んで難しいとよく言われま す。今回は、なぜ日本語が、非日本語話者、英語話者にとって難しいとされるのかについて述べようと思います。

では、英語と日本語の大きな違いとは何でしょうか。ここで3つの大きな違 いを紹介しようと思います。

その一、3種類の文字(ひらがな、カタカナ、漢字)を使う。英語ではアル ファベットという一種類の文字で構成されているのに対し、日本語にはひらが な、カタカナ、漢字という3種類の文字があります。例えば、「りんご」とい う単語書き表すとき、英語では“apple”としか書き表せないですが、日本語 で 「りんご」、「リンゴ」、「林檎」の3種類で書き表すことができ、すべ て意味は同じになります。文字の種類が2種類以上あるという概念は外国人に はなく、それらをどのように使い分けるのかが外国人にとって難しいようです。また、日本語の文字の種類が英語と比べ多いのも難しく感じる理由の一つで す。ひらがな、カタカナはそれぞれ50種類あり、漢字については、日本の学 生は小学校を卒業するまでに1006種類の漢字を学びます。

その二、1つの漢字に2つ以上読み方があることがある。英語において、発 音の種類はいくつかあるが、“A”という文字は「エー」であり、他の呼ばれ 方はありません。一方、多くの日本語の漢字は2つ以上の読み方があります。例えば、「日」という漢字。一般的に使われる読み方として、「ニチ」、「ジ ツ」、「ひ」、「か」等があります。つまりこの「日」という漢字一字には少 なくとも4種類の読み方があることになります。「3月1日は日曜日で祝日、晴れの日でした。」この文章に5つの「日」という漢字が使われていますが、どれも読み方が異なります。中国語でも漢字は使われますが、このように1つ の漢字が複数の読み方をするのは日本語の漢字のみです。したがって、漢字の 数は中国語の方が多いですが、日本語の漢字は読み方がややこしいという理由 で中国語話者からも日本語は難しいと言われることがあります。

その三、使われる言葉が、地域、年齢・性別、場合によって大きく変わる。地域による言葉の違いについて、日本語には方言があります。これはイギリス 英語とアメリカ英語の違いに似ているところがあるかもしれないですが、単語 レベルの違いだけでなく文法、イントネーション、言い方までも違ってきます。したがって一般的に外国人が習う日本語は標準語といわれ、日常的に使われ る日本語と違うかもしれません。年齢・性別による言葉の違いについて、人称 代名詞が大きく異なることがあります。英語の一人称単数の主格の人称代名詞 は“I”しかないですが、日本語には「私」、「僕」、「あたし」、「俺」、「わし」、「わい」等、何種類も存在します。一人称だけでなく、二人称 でも「あなた」、「お前」、「君」等、複数あります。これも英語に無い概念 の1つです。場合による言葉の違いについて、日本語には敬語があります。敬 語は年上の人と話すときや、公的な場面で用いられます。敬語を用いると主に 動詞とその活用が日常的な言い方と異なります。日本において敬語は重要な文 化であり、正しい敬語を使わないと相手に失礼な態度をとってしまうことにな ることがあります。態度や行動の他に、言語のレベルで相手に敬意を表すこと ができるのは日本語の特徴のように思います。

これらの他にも日本語と英語の違いは数多く存在します。英語と日本語にこ れらの違いがある理由の1つは、それぞれの言語の起源が異なるからです。英 語の起源はインド・ヨーロッパ祖語であり、例えば、英語と起源が同じである スペイン語は文法や単語において英語と似ている点が数多く存在します。一方 、日本語の起源はインド・ヨーロッパ祖語でないため異なる点が数多く存在し ます。

非日本語話者にとって日本語は母国語とかけ離れていると思うかもしれませ ん。今回は日本語と英語の違いについて取り上げてみましたが、自分の母国語 と日本語の共通点を見つけてみるのも面白いかもしれません。韓国語と日本語。中国語と日本語。スペイン語と日本語。醤油をつけてお寿司を箸で食べるつ いでに日本語に興味をもってみるのはいかがでしょうか?


Why Is Japanese Difficult?


It is often said that it’s hard for English speakers to master tonal and character-based languages like Chinese, Russian, Arabic, etc. Japanese is one of those languages. In this article, I’m going to discuss why Japanese is difficult for non-Japanese speakers, especially English speakers, to master.

Then, what are the huge differences between English and Japanese? I’m going to introduce three huge differences below.

First, there are three kinds of alphabets in Japanese, which are called “hiragana”, “katakana”, and “kanji”. In English, there is only one type of alphabet— the Latin alphabet. For example, there is only one way to describe the fruit, “apple” while we can describe an apple in three different ways in Japanese. If you use hiragana, “apple” is “りんご”. If you use katakana, “apple” is “リンゴ”. If you use kanji, “apple” is “林檎”. All of them have the same meaning. English speakers don’t have the concept of using more than one kind of alphabet, so it is difficult for them to distinguish the Japanese alphabets. In addition, since there are many more characters in Japanese than there are letters in English, Japanese is difficult for English speakers. There are 50 kinds of hiragana and 50 kinds of katakana. Students are supposed to learn 1,006 kinds of kanji before they graduate from elementary school in Japan.

Second, many kanji characters can be referred to more than one way. In English, the letter “A” is referred to as “A” and there is no other way to refer to it. On the other hand, there is more than one way of referring to each kanji character. For example, the character “日” has at least four ways of being referred to: “nichi”, “jitsu”, “hi”, and “ka”. Here is an example sentence: 3月1日は日曜日で祝日、晴れの日でした。In this sentence, there are five “日” characters but they are all called differently. How they are called depends on the context. Kanji also exists in written Chinese. However, each spoken Chinese dialect refers to each kanji character in only one way within that specific dialect. Thus, Japanese is sometimes regarded as difficult for Chinese speakers just as it is for English speakers.

Third, the way Japanese is spoken can change depending on area, generation/gender, and situation. Speaking on the differences according to area, there are many kinds of dialect in Japan. The difference may be similar to that of British English and American English. However, the difference is not only in the choice of words but also in the grammar, intonation, and expression. Therefore, Japanese spoken by non-Japanese speakers is sometimes different from daily Japanese because non-Japanese speakers’ Japanese tends to be the standard Japanese. Speaking on the differences in the way of speaking according to generation/gender, there are many kinds of personal pronouns in Japanese. In English, the first person pronoun is “I”. In Japanese, “watashi” (for everyone and formal), “boku” (for men), “atashi” (for girl), “ore” (for men and casual), “washi” (for elderly people and casual), and “wai” (for everyone and casual but not popular) are all first person pronouns. Just as in the first person, there are many personal pronouns for the second person perspective, such as “anata” (for everyone), “omae” (for everyone and casual), “kimi” (for everyone) and so on. This is also one of the concepts that non-Japanese speakers don’t have. Speaking on the differences because of the situation, there is an honorific word called “Kego” in Japanese. “Kego” is used when people talked with older people or when people speak in a public stage. When it comes to using “Kego”, verb and conjugation are changed. “Kego” is one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture. If you don’t use “Kego” correctly, your behavior sometimes seems rude. But I believe expressing respect at the linguistic level instead of with attitude is one of the beautiful features of Japanese.

In addition to these differences, there are other differences between Japanese and English. One of the reasons why there are so many differences is because the origin of each language is different. Though the origin of English is different from the origin of Japanese, the origin of Spanish is the same as the origin of English. That’s why there are some similarities between English and Spanish such as in grammar or with words.

For non-Japanese speakers, Japanese may be extraordinarily different from their native language. However, it may be interesting for them to find similarities between Japanese and their native language. What are similarities between English and Japanese? How about between Korean and Japanese? Between Chinese and Japanese? Between Spanish and Japanese? Do you get curious about Japanese when you eat sushi with soy sauce using chopsticks?


It’s All Greek to Me


The author on top of the acropolis. Photo Credit: Kalee LaPointe

Learning a new language is tough. Well, for me it is at least. I’ve grown up around Spanish since I was born and have even taken 3 years of it in high school and 2 semesters in college, but I’m still not fluent. So, when I was registering for classes for my study abroad semester in Greece, the thought of taking a Greek language course was a daunting idea! The letters, sounds, and just about everything seemed so drastically different than anything I was used to. My quick Google search of “Greek words to know” resulted in a case of confusion and anxiety. However, thanks to a couple of great advisers and exactly 3 credits room left in my schedule, I found myself registered for an Elementary Greek language course for my first seven-weeks in Athens. And let me tell you, I’m so glad I took the course! I learned more than I ever imagined I would (some of which I actually still remember!).

The first few classes were intimidating to say the least. I already had about 10-pages of notes, most of which looked completely foreign to me with letters and symbols I’d vaguely remembered seeing in math equations or anything dealing with fraternities and sororities. We spent what seemed like not long enough going over the alphabet, and trying to pronounce the letters was a catastrophe. The sounds felt and sounded so odd. Although, at one point we all learned how to write and say our names in Greek. Somehow seeing my name portrayed in these different symbols, “Καλη” had me in a state of awe and kept me intrigued.

After only a week, I was amazed at how much of the language I had absorbed. While there were so many aspects that were confusing, daunting, and intimidating about Greek—it was amazing. I was continuously surprised at how I was able to immediately use everything we were learning in class when I was out and about, even just going down the street to eat. I was lucky to have an amazing teacher who actually made learning the language fun and interesting, which just added to the whole experience. I found myself writing and speaking in a beautiful language I once knew little to nothing about, but now found myself surrounded by. The letters on street signs slowly went from foreign to familiar, and I would find myself reading out words from signs as I took the metro. As I walked past people, I  was slowly able to understand a few words here and there. The way it felt to understand something that once seemed just about impossible was simply amazing.

After about 7-weeks of classes, we had a fall break and I was so excited for my mom to come visit. I wanted to show her all around Athens of course, but I also couldn’t wait to show her everything I’d learned. Needless to say, she was definitely surprised. I would say “γεια σας” to people passing by and “ευχαριστώ” after ordering. The look of surprise and admiration on her face was heartwarming. At one point, this older couple came up to me asking for something in Greek and although I couldn’t understand all of what they were saying, I was able to respond to them completely in Greek. I said, “Συγνώμη mιλάω πολύ λίγο ελληνικά”, which means “sorry I speak very little Greek.” Even though what I said wasn’t anything conversational, I was so shocked at how effortlessly it came out!

Although the language course was just a basic, introductory level, I’m so glad I took it. Taking the time to learn Greek is something I will forever be grateful for. Not only is it a beautiful language, but I also feel like it really added to my overall study abroad experience. So many people travel to different countries without making even the slightest effort to understand the people or the culture. I saw this countless times while in Greece: while English is very popular, especially around Athens, so many people just assumed they could solely rely on it to get around. And while yes, that is totally doable, there’s just this overwhelming sense of appreciation and welcoming when you make even the slightest attempt to communicate with people in Greek. It definitely wasn’t easy, and I’m not fluent by any means, but I have such a deeper appreciation and love for Greek now—I still try to use the language whenever I can!

El colonialismo benevolente: la manifestación estadounidense del racismo y el sexismo


Al final de la guerra hispano-americana en 1898, Cuba finalmente pudo cortar sus lazos con su poder colonial, España. Aunque el país finalmente se había librado de su enemigo duradero, otro estaba intentando lentamente reemplazar ese poder. Los Estados Unidos tenía diversos intereses políticos, sociales, y económicos en la isla; por consecuencia, Cuba se convirtió en la vanguardia de su movimiento imperial. Una de sus estrategias más eficaces para difundir su ideología imperialista fue a través de unas caricaturas en los medios de comunicación que estaban disponibles a la mayoría del pueblo estadounidense. Las caricaturas de los EEUU consistían en una versión humanizada, más conocida como Uncle Sam, mientras que Cuba fue imaginada como seres humanos “impotentes,” como mujeres, niños y personas negras. A través de estas imágenes, los Estados Unidos construyó una falsa imagen de Cuba como débil e impotente, lo cual impulsó su agenda imperialista.

Con el fin de comprender mejor los objetivos de EEUU, es importante comprender la táctica imperialista del colonialismo benevolente y cómo se utilizó para justificar a la intervención en la isla. El colonialismo benevolente es el fenómeno en el que los agentes coloniales (como los EEUU) crean un imaginario que los retrata como los salvadores o las guías paternas de una región colonizada (como Cuba). Durante los primeros años de separación de Cuba de España, muchos periódicos crearon caricaturas racializadas y feminizadas de la isla al representar a Cuba como una mujer blanca, un niño asistido por Uncle Sam, o un niño pendenciero de piel oscura. En su libro Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S. – Latin American Relations, Eileen Findley explica que la ideología del cuidador benevolente retratada por Uncle Sam es la encarnación de un “regalo a los colonizados.” La combinación de este “regalo a los colonizados” y las caricaturas demuestra la visión racista y sexista de la isla subyacente a la agenda imperialista de los EEUU. El complejo salvador de este país también es criticado en el libro de Carmen Alfonso 100 preguntas y respuestas sobre Cuba cuando escribe,

“Su esencia en las pretensiones del poderoso país del norte en imponer a la isla sus concepciones hegemónicas desconociendo su derecho a la independencia y soberanía, y establecer el sistema económico, político y social que considere más conveniente para su pueblo.”

Así que, el pueblo de Cuba reconoció el próximo peligro de los Estados Unidos y la amenaza para su movimiento de independencia.

La representación de Cuba como mujer o niño perpetúa la idea de que la isla era demasiado femenina o infantil para guiarse, lo que permitió a los Estados Unidos racionalizar su intervención en la isla. La caricatura de Uncle Sam añade a esta opresiva ideología porque se supone que él es el epítome de la paternidad, la protección y la fuerza. A menudo, Uncle Sam abrazaba a Cuba (como mujer) mientras lloraba o aguantaba la mano de Cuba (como niño). Sus rasgos musculares, o lo que los expertos llaman su representación “mesomórfica,” contribuyen a este áspero sentido de masculinidad y paternidad. Estas representaciones construyen la idea del salvador benevolente, lo que refuerza la noción de que Cuba es incapaz de gobernarse adecuadamente a sí misma. Además, los cubanos eran vistos como racialmente inferiores a los ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos (proporcionando otra justificación para el poder imperialista), por lo que también fueron retratados como niños negros. La representación de Cuba como niño negro transmite la noción de incontrolabilidad, que está arraigada en estereotipos coloniales de afrodescendientes. Esta propaganda es exacerbada por la imagen supremacista blanca de Uncle Sam, lo cual también se basa en antiguas percepciones de la superioridad racial. Por lo tanto, los EEUU utilizaba nociones preconcebidas de identidades marginadas para promover su colonialismo benevolente.

El colonialismo benevolente fue un medio para justificar la intervención estadounidense en Cuba y otros territorios potenciales. Al crear la imagen del salvador paternalista, Cuba fue entonces percibida como una isla de brutos y débiles que no eran ni suficientemente sofisticados ni civilizados para dirigir su propio país. Las caricaturas utilizadas en los medios de comunicación durante este período de tiempo ayudaron a la meta del control estadounidense de la isla a través de representaciones sexistas y racistas de la isla personificada. Aunque las caricaturas de los periódicos no son tan influyentes como fueron una vez durante los primeros años del siglo XX, la táctica imperialista del colonialismo benevolente todavía sigue plagando a la política exterior estadounidense en la actualidad. Ya se trate de la guerra en Oriente Medio o de la intervención política en América latina, varios países todavía no son considerados capaces por los Estados Unidos de gobernarse a sí mismos. Hay una necesidad de seguir criticando la política exterior de los Estados Unidos y cómo el país continúa promoviendo sus propias agendas políticas y económicas en el mundo.



Featured Image: Google Images


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