Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The two western festivals of Christmas and New Year came to this city with the commercial hustle and subway bustle expected. And as those two bumped by a cold sopping blanket also descended: winter. The semi in semi-tropical reflects the fact there is a winter here, one that last a couple of months. But with a house that is now a home, it can be warm and cosy, in atmosphere if not of physical actuality.
Learning a language is a constant reminder that the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know. I've felt like I've had a few breakthroughs on several fronts. Without direct study, I'm assimilatiing Cantonese more naturally than any other language I've learnt. But that is not saying much: I'm poor at assimilating language. I generally need to see language on paper, broken down into pieces and reformed. While I still have the desire for my new language to be served on a plate, I have felt more able to take language naturally in.
And for its big brother, Mandarin, I'm slowly but surely overcoming one of my big failings with it: tone combinations. The tonal nature of both languages is a significant part of my learning. It is the third dimension of the spoken language. Mandarin has five tones counting its neutral tone; Cantonese has six if we don't include three that some include. That might sound hard enough, but there is more texture to it than that. Some tones have more stress than others (a fact I only learnt with my superteacher last year). I knew way back in Taiwan that sometimes a second tone followed by a first tone was a huge difficulty, I couldn't say them correctly together. This is true for so many words including the country name Taiwan. I'd tend to change a second to a third tone when it was followed by a first. My throat couldn't cope with the change without my larynx collapsing in frustration, and when my teachers of the past had tried to help me with it, after five minutes my will and composure would collapse with it. Usually I just got the giggles. I'm rarely caught on that one anymore, which is pleasing. Now next on the list is a third followed by a second. And slowly but surely this to is becoming less of a problem. My teacher told me yesterday that there weren't any real problems, just slips.
The festival of the Chinese year, Spring festival will descend in less than a month and I'll be again on site to report from the cultural core: the family home. Last time I got to spend it with my friend's family and was immersed in it. For another Chinese new year my Cantonese will be proven and tested.


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