Saturday, September 2, 2017

(Not So) Silly Reasons to Start Learning a New Language, Part 2

Last time I wrote about reasons why I chose French over Spanish, and this time, I'll continue the series(?) and talk about Swedish, Japanese, and Taiwanese.

One thing you might want to know before reading: my ultimate goal? Finnish. Don't ask. Read on.

The orthography
I mean, look at those hiragana. They're such cute little art pieces, and so relatively simple and loopy compared to kanji or the Chinese characters that I write.

And those umlauts and circles on top of a's and o's! They seemed so mysterious to me because English has none of those.  (Also applies to the hats and accents for e's in French.) I still remember the first time I wrote out smörgås and the pure joy I derived from placing that circle on top of the a. Such pleasure. (Shut up. I'm not weird.)

And Finnish? LOOK AT ALL THE ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ and a little bit of Å's!

(This is probably why I want to learn Hindi and Thai and Myanmar and Arabic and probably Cree. You get the idea.)

Their linguistic features 
There's this proverb in Chinese that can be roughly translated as "The drunk man wants not the wine", which doesn't really make sense but Chinese in general doesn't make sense anyway. It basically describes someone that does something for a further reason beyond what it seems to be. (Because people who just wants to get drunk totally wouldn't want booze, duh. That's Chinese literature for you: sentences that don't make sense and drunk men all over the place.)

And how's that related to my learning these languages?

Here are some good reasons to learn a foreign language:
a) because it's useful (the case with English) or
b) because you are interested in the culture. One of the illustrative examples is people learning Japanese for anime and Japanese drama and sushi and um, idk, kimonos and ninjas? Basically Japanese culture? At least that's how it is for my brothers and my friends.

And here's me:
the shape of the pillow has nothing to do with anything. yes it's a pillow. shut up.

Yes, I learn Japanese because it's an agglutinative language*. (among other reasons to be mentioned later.) The structure of agglutinative languages is so different from that of the languages that I speak! Wouldn't it be so interesting to fully understand how it works, and maybe even speak it!? Juoksentelisinkohan, anyone?

The culture? And, like, connecting with people? Maybe?
Or not. (see reason above)

To be honest I know nearly nothing about Sweden when I started learning Swedish, except that it has pretty letters and Ikea. And Ericsson. And snow and reindeers. Oh, and that it's next to Finland and once owned Finland but not anymore. And that Swedish is also an official language of Finland. Fine, I'm just all about Finland. BUT (please lower you pitchforks) Sweden did slowly grow on me, and I do find the culture (and the food, of course) very charming.

I have a bit more mixed feelings for Japan though. Yeah, sushi is awesome and their arts and buildings are really cool as well, but contemporary Japan is kind of...meh? please don't hate me. It's probably because I have access to more information about Japan from Taiwan, I see quite a few more things about Japan that kind of put me off, including the patriarchy and the huge (to me) emphasis on manners and hierarchy between not only boss and staff, but also between students of different years in school and even between family members. It's obvious that I'm biased though, and things are probably not as serious as I've imagined. Hopefully learning Japanese and tapping into their culture via their language will shed some more light to it, and help me view it from a more objective point of view. (And I do understand that I'm probably looking at Sweden and Finland with quite a thick pair of rose-tinted glasses. I'm working on it, promise. Also please kindly whack me on the head if I'm idealising a bit much.)

An interesting fact: since Taiwan had been colonised by Japan from 1895 to 1945, older people here actually still speak Japanese, including my paternal grandparents. I remember every time after someone visited Japan, my grandma would always be so excited and would try to talk to them in Japanese, so my learning Japanese may enable me to bond with her? (She's just so happy whenever someone talks to her with Japanese, I just, ack.) Which leads me to the reason to learn Taiwanese.

Taiwanese is actually a variety of Hokkien, which is a variety of Min Nan, which is a variety of Min, which is considered to be a dialect of Chinese by some Chinese scholars but not by many others because the two languages aren't mutually intelligible ugh I'm not delving into this.

The thing is, a lot of people in Taiwan speak Taiwanese and it is even the first language to many, therefore is very close to people's heart. It is stigmatised, however, and the population that speak the language is decreasing in an alarming rate, due to some messed-up policy made by a messed-up previous dictatorship. see all the Taiwanese history lessons I'm giving you?

I only have a limited proficiency to it because my parents didn't talk to me in Taiwanese because I didn't pay much attention to it or see much importance to it when I was younger. But now? I think it's pretty rad. My grandparents speak it, my parents speak it, some of my friends speak it, and also a lot more Taiwanese people speak it. Since I already understand and speak some of it, why not learn it full-on, connect with people and save cultural heritage? Sounds awesome to me. (The culture part of it is probably why I also want to learn the Formosan languages even though that's kind of impossible. Hey, one can always dream.)

The neighbouring country/countries
More language = more people you can talk to! Even though I'm a total introvert who doesn't talk to people! But yeah no, Swedish is actually mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish, and is also spoken in Finland, so BENEFITS!

As for Taiwanese/Hokkien, it is spoken among ethnic Chinese in South-Eastern China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore so BENEFITS.

And Japanese? It is spoken in Japan where else. BENEF--

Learning resources
Fine, I'll tell you the truth. The REAL reason why I chose Swedish.

I started to learn Swedish because I was bored one day, and Duolingo (which I used for French) offered Swedish lessons. There. There I said it. It's one of the best random decisions I've made though. (You may impale me with your pitchforks now.)

And because many Taiwanese are such Japanophiles(?), there might actually be more articles explaining the Japanese language than there are in English (didn't check though), which is a huge advantage that I'm not going to let go. Anime and cartoons also exist in abundance, so listening materials is not a problem either. Also I'm familiar with kanji so yay? (no. the pronunciation is so different you might as well unlearn it.)

Eavesdropping is fun, man
Come on, don't pretend you don't enjoy eavesdropping. The last time I went to Japan, I was bombarded by Japanese and I could understand like 3% of it. It's such a waste that people already speak so clearly for you to eavesdrop, yet you understand none of what they're talking about?? Also, it would be such a pleasure to surprise people speaking their language which they thought you don't understand but which turns out you did??

Okay fine I'm a pervert. No one would do it now that I revealed my deep dark secret anyway.

And there you have it, part two of my glorious reasons to learn a new language. Tell me, do you like this mini series? How do you decide to learn a new language? And on a completely unrelated note, when's school starting for you? Mine starts on September 10th but I still refuse to acknowledge this wretched news.

*agglutinative language:
Basically an agglutinative language is a language that has words high in proportion of agglutination.
Basically agglutinating is gluing morphemes (the grammatical unit for meanings) with a stem word to form more complex meanings.
Think: antidisestablishmentarianism = anti + dis + establish +  ment +  ari(y) + an + ism
So yes, English has some agglutinative morphology, but apparently agglutinative languages take this to a whole new level of madness like incorporating some crazy shit (tenses, passive voice, etc.) into one wordthingy (because I refuse to call that a word.) See example on Wikipedia.


  1. This is so cool! I just visited Sweden and learned a few Swedish words, which was fun. If I ever planned to live there I'd love to learn the language. Also, just a fun fact: I met an older couple and the husband was danish and the wife was swedish and they spoke to each other in their respective languages but neither of them could properly speak the other. And their kids grew up speaking both because of their parents.
    I kind of get what agglutinating is? That's really really cool. I really like how I can almost read Swedish because they use the same letters as English .And you should totally learn Hindi; I love the script and it's so useful!

    1. Swedish is just such an interesting language haha. I haven't commented on your blog but it's so cool that you visited Sweden and saw so many Swedish stuff and even talked to Swedish people(!!) I'd really like to visit Sweden some day.
      I've never really experienced first-hand how mutually intelligibility works for different dialects, but the thing you mentioned kind of makes sense since producing speech is definitely harder than just listening or reading a language. If what I read about it was correct, Danish spelling is more similar to Swedish, but Swedish is more similar to Norwegian in speech. Also,from my limited experience it IS quite easy to make out the general idea of a Danish sentence if you know enough Swedish words already.
      Perhaps there's some agglutinating in Hindi too? I have no idea but it makes sense if there is. Chinese has like no agglutination because it's made up of characters, which is bizarre if you really think about it.
      Swedish and English are related and share quite some words, which is probably also why it looks less gibberish than some other random language! (Okay the was long. I just babble about languages all the time :P)
      For the next language I'm actually choosing between Arabic and Hindi (as if I haven't had enough on my plate already) but I'll definitely look into Hindi when I have time! Also yay for having you back on the bloogoshpere (with steady Wi-Fi) again! *high fives*