MANDARIN: THE TONGUE OF THE DRAGON
The Asian dragon conquered markets and, in 30 years' time, it shall stand as the new world superpower.
A trend that can be proven by the interest in the official language of China, Mandarin, which became the object of study by more than 40 million people around the planet.
The estimate by the Brazil China Chamber is that, in this year alone, business between both nations will reach a total of US$ 70 billion.
By Juliana Tavares
Although it may also be related to the numerous dialects spoken north and southeast of China, Mandarin is considered today the official oral language of the People's Republic of China and one of the four official languages of Singapore.
The advent of the term, which in English means high official of China, would have been attributed to the trade relations existing between Portuguese and Chinese officials at the beginning of the 17th century. It is a tongue from the Sino-Tibetan family, and albeit considered the standard language of China, Mandarin competes with the diversity of dialects spread throughout the country's territory.
For better illustration, the difference between Mandarin and the second most spoken tongue in China, Cantonese, is equivalent to that between Portuguese and French, for instance.
Mandarin has different nomenclatures in different regions of the country.
In Continental China, for example, the language is called ‘pǔtōnghuà’, or “common speech".
In Taiwan it is called ‘guóyǔ’, or “national tongue"—the first, therefore, as a dialect of national prestige and the second, used as a legal standard, closer to classic Chinese.
In Malaysia and in Singapore, in turn, Mandarin is regarded as ‘huáyǔ’, or “standard Chinese language", and was used by Chinese communities that lived abroad in order to refer to the diversity of Chinese dialects in contrast to the local languages.
The choice for the word Mandarin to standardize the Chinese variant was a political decision heavy with symbolism and influenced by the political trends of the Republic of China (Taiwan) when the use of the term became a distinction between People's and the Republic.
The selection of three official orthographic styles:
Traditional (used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and by the majority of the populations with Chinese ethnicity in Southeast Asia, Australia, Americas and Europe); Simplified (used in China and in Singapore) and Reduced (used in Japan), it was also intended to facilitate the communication between different ethnicities.
Mysteries of the language and challenges in translating Mandarin
Mandarin has 80 thousand characters, called hanzis, of which seven thousand are more frequently used.
It is basically a tonal language—that is, intonation is part of its semantic structure, and owing to that the same word can have several meanings.
It is also isolating and monosyllabic, particularly in the written variant.
The spoken words, in turn, usually make ample use of disyllabic and polysyllabic words.
The lexical roots are, however, all monosyllabic.
Grammar is relatively easier than other languages: without changes in gender and number, verbs remain immutable in all cases and in all grammatical tenses.
That doesn't mean the translation of documents from Mandarin into any other language is simple,
because the Chinese writing system, in all its variants, is characterized by the lack of an alphabet.
The logograms (or symbols) used to write do not transcribe the sounds of speech, but meanings that can be pronounced in a completely different manner, according to the dialect used.
The complexity and variety of objects to be named also lead some of them to be described by more than one logogram, i.e. placed beside each other, different characters generate a new meaning.
For example, the word “computer" is represented with the words “electricity" and “brain".
Another challenge in translating mandarin, according to linguists, is the influence of other languages, such as Russian—due to the proximity of the countries—and English—for being a global language.
If, on the one hand, foreignness may enrich the language, especially if the expressions are imported at the time when such objects or models have no equivalent nomenclature in that tongue, the influence may produce errors, such as the breakage of the structure of some phrases—rendering the translation work an even more difficult task.
The need for experts to translate a document into Mandarin also owes to the transliteration of the Chinese characters to the languages that use the Latin alphabet.
Since each standard has its own rules of interpretation, there may be inherent socio-political inclinations (e.g. dialect preference, dominance of the political entity, selection of a formal language).
Understanding which standard is proper for the target audience is crucial for a proper communication.
China, for example, uses Hanyu Pinyin, which is based in the official pronunciation of Mandarin and is part of the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols standard of the United Nations.
Taiwan in turn officially uses Tongyong Pinyin, since 2000.
Obstacles in the Chinese language: Why is it so difficult to learn Mandarin
There are approximately 60,000 symbols that represent words or phonemes, whereas more or less 10,000 are currently used.
The Pinyin code is used to transcribe the ideograms to the Latin alphabet.
我们 明天 去
It is estimated that, in order to read a newspaper, one needs to know at least 2,500.
Someone cultivated is able to identify 3.500 and
The Chinese are alphabetized in Pinyin, then they learn the ideograms
5.000 traditional ideograms
There are no definite articles (a, an, the)
Prepositions (above, across, against, along, among…) are rarely used
A syllable may be pronounced with up to five different intonations—which changes its meaning and increases the chances of misunderstandings
Example: mā (mother), má (woods), mǎ (horse), mà (cuss) and ma (interrogative particle)