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"* In doing some research for a trip to China this
fall, I've repeatedly come across the warning that
speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin can have
difficulty understanding each other speak, but have a
much easier time understanding each other's writing.
More anecdotal evidence!"
Much more than anecdotal evidence is readily available
in linguistic studies. If I recall correctly,
"Chinese" is comprised of over 100 *different* spoken
languages broken down into 10 or 12 language groups
(Pardon my 30-year-old memories yielding the
FYI, a "language group" is comprised of relatively
closely-related languages, such as the Romance
languages--Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and
The *only* common thing in Chinese is in fact the
written language. For each pictograph, there are many
As for "abstract" thought, clearly that is in most
cases easily within the Chinese written
characters--although there are some fundamental
differences between Chinese and English that create
very interesting philosophical differences as
expressed in abstract thought.
However, it is where specificity is needed that a
large divergence appears. I am much more familiar with
technical Japanese practices--but since the Japanese
use characters originating in China but with added
details expressed in subsidiary characters, I
understand it is the same with Chinese documents. When
Japanese engineers must be very specific, they use
English. A Japanese mechanical or electronic
engineering document will often be comprised of
Japanese kanji characters interspersed with English
blocks for those things which need high precision.
Unfortunately, I don't understand Japanese or
Chinese--but I consulted for about seven years with
the Xerox facility in El Segundo, CA. They had many
co-development projects with Fuji Xerox in Japan--and
thus I was shown numerous of these documents by
another interested colleague.
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