URS Mystery of Language Part A: My fascination with language

I have a great fascination with language. My first language was, strangely, English, because of my American born mother, but I learned to also speak Chaozhou, Cantonese, Mandarin, and finally, Hakka (Kejia), in that order. I learned to speak the first 3 in childhood, and the last 2, Mandarin and Hakka, as an adult.  I learned Mandarin in the Cincinnati Chinese Church, and Hakka by speaking with my wife’s nieces in Seattle, who grew up in Thailand speaking the language!

Since prayer language might include a few “more specialized terms,” I used to only pray in English, my “comfortable” language. I’m wondering if there was also a bit of subconscious absurdity that my language should be “better” when addressing the heavens! But I have always urged people to be bold in speaking any language, so I took my own advice and started using Mandarin in prayers. At first it was infrequent, only when I really had to, like when I was praying with someone who only spoke Mandarin. In the last year, however, since moving to Seattle, better late than never, I started using Mandarin in prayers regularly, and also Cantonese (which oddly, I had not used either before), when praying with my wife, who knows all the languages mentioned, plus childhood Thai.

Photo 1: Fun with Cantonese: is it Chinese or is it another language? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Try saying it also with the right tone: you have one in 9 chances to get it musically right.

Then, to my own surprise, and to my wife’s even greater surprise, I actually began to try using Chaozhou and Hakka in my prayers.  At age 76! Amazingly, I can now converse and even say my prayers, pretty fluently, in all 5 languages! Now, I can even jump between different languages for fun and verbal effect, since I feel it “stretches my mind.”

Actually, I think I had a distinct language advantage when growing up, since many languages, and especially these 5 languages, were floating around me then. The words and their nerve tracks obviously had etched themselves into my brain speech zones, subconsciously, just waiting for the right time to integrate with my later attempts at speaking them. As I began to actually speak in my less familiar languages, and especially as I prayed, suddenly some words I did not even know I knew, just popped into my mouth, sometimes seemingly bypassing my thinking brain, out of some deep brain reserve, words I might only have heard 65 years ago! And many related memories have also surprisingly floated into my mind. What a surprise and mystery!

Some people think that Chinese languages are all just dialects of Chinese. But language experts now know that many Chinese languages are truly languages, and no longer considered dialects. For example, Chaozhou, Cantonese, and Hakka are languages different from Mandarin, as different as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are from Latin. Meaning that a person speaking in Mandarin cannot just switch into Chaozhou or Cantonese like a “dialect” or a tone change, because, surprisingly, the actual words used in speaking may not even be Chinese words that a Mandarin speaking person would use.

What is confusing to Mandarin speakers is that the Chaozhou or Cantonese person, in trying to communicate with other Chinese people, converts himself into Mandarin automatically when he writes out his words. So, when other Chinese look at the words, they recognize it as Mandarin Chinese, and think that the spoken form of Chaozhou or Cantonese, which is their true natural language, must also be a variation of Mandarin Chinese. It might, and it might not; it just depends.

Photo 2: Parrots are parrots, no matter how “smart” they are, no Shakespearean oration ever.

To further complicate matters, these spoken languages might nowadays be also written out in their own languages, and not in official Mandarin. Open a truly Cantonese newspaper in Hong Kong, or try to read the ads in the Hong Kong MTR subway. The Mandarin speaking person will be so surprised, and suddenly realize that a different language is being used! Isn’t Hong Kong part of China? Strange, is it not? What are they trying to say, is it Chinese? Well, it is and it isn’t.

This situation is an analogy of Europe of the past, when the literate European communicated in Latin in writing, but spoke Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian at home or with friends. Got it?  As a modern joke, they might now communicate in English writing! Which is obviously not Spanish, Portuguese or Italian.

Try to read the Kanji of the Japanese language, which are basically Chinese characters, but which sound, and might mean different things from Chinese. Chinese is basically often indeed like the Latin of Asia, the structure around which many languages are related, including the so called “Chinese languages,” and other national languages (such as spoken Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese).

And just for fun, just within the Chinese languages, remember that there are 9 tones in Cantonese, compared with 4 or 5 in Mandarin, which adds a tremendous complexity and strain on speaker and listener, when trying to learn this as a new language. I always quip that when you are not a native Cantonese speaker, the moment you open your mouth to try to speak in Cantonese, even if you think your version of Cantonese is pretty good, there is an 8 to 1 chance that you will be wrong!

And to the native speaker, when the non-Cantonese says something that is not the right tone, it is very sharply recognized as hilarious or weird, just like any music that is off key, which it is, sort of. And unfortunately, the native speaker (and therefore listener) will often burst out, embarrassingly, with great laughter, because to him or her it really sounds “so funny.” That’s why it is so difficult to learn Cantonese if you are not a native speaker! It can be quite humiliating, intentional or not.

I used to play language tapes as I was driving, in order to learn different languages. At my peak of learning, I could speak 20 to 50 phrases, in each different language. My minimum target was “20 phrases in 20 languages.” The great linguist Berlitz’ recommendation has always been that if you knew 20 phrases in any language you can get around in any country, since the only really important words are “how are you, thank you, goodbye, pleased to meet you, where is the bathroom? etc.”

I had great fun learning these languages and truly wherever I traveled, I would use the local language that I memorized, using key phrases. Particularly for Thai, Malay-Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, and European languages. My language acquisition was not difficult because I had already had at least 5 language tracks etched in my brain, so it was just a series of add-ons and modifications of already known sounds or musical notes. It was often a great icebreaker just to say a few words in the listener’s mother tongue, and it opened many doors. See my Uncle Reggie Stories, “Salam Allay Kuhm.”

Photo 3: My favorite book shelf of self-teaching language audios.

There is also no question that the younger you learn a language, the more fluent you are. I’ve always noted that children from China who come to America before the teenage period learn within a year to speak fluently like an American, those who come as teenagers become nearly American, but those who come after age 25 will nearly never speak totally like an American! For example, I visited Thailand for the first time at age 15, and I tried to learn the language, so in later years when I returned to visit, locals often commented that my accents were pretty good, likely since I got an early start.

But with all this great joy of learning different languages, and using language to cross different cultural barriers for effective communication and friendship, no one knows, in the secular world, where language originally comes from! No one! People have tried all kinds of ways of trying to find out where language originally came from, by teaching parrots and apes to try to speak some kind of human language, but the results, though fun and interesting, are abysmal in understanding this mystery. And the gap between humans and nonhumans in language ability is gargantuan in scope. We are not just talking about a small little difference or an accent, or a tone difference. We are talking about a huge jump, physiologically, that is, well, between a fish and a man.

Continued in Part B. Where does Language come from…?

曾叔叔故事: 语言的奥秘(上): 语言令我着迷 (Dixia 翻译)

我对语言很着迷. 虽然我在香港出生长大, 但因为我妈生在美国只会说英语, 英语就成了我的母语.  但我先后学会了说潮州话, 广东话, 普通话, 还有客家话.  孩提时代我就学会了英语和说前两种话, 成年以后学会了说普通话和客家话. 我是在辛辛那提华人教会学会说普通话, 在与西雅图我太太的侄女们聊天当中学会了说客家话, 她们在泰国长大, 从小说客家话.

因为祷告的时候常会有一些”专用词”, 我以前只用英语祷告, 因为我说得最顺溜. 我不知道是不是我潜意识中荒唐地认为我跟天国说话的时候就应该用我最拿手的语言.  但我总是鼓励他人要大胆地说各种语言, 所以我也勉为其难终于开始用普通话祷告. 起初我只是在不得已的时候偶尔为之, 例如说我和只会说普通话的人一起祷告的时候就只好用普通话. 一年前我搬到西雅图后, 想着迟做总比不做好, 我就开始在和我太太一起祷告的时候, 用普通话或广东话(不知怎么回事, 我以前也很少用广东话祷告).  我太太会说前面提到的这些地方话, 另外也会说她孩提时代说的泰语.

照片1: 趣学粤语:属于汉语还是另一种语言? 有时侯是, 有时侯不是. 来学着说粤语: 你有九分之一的机率说得悦耳.

后来, 出乎我的意料, 更出乎我太太的意料, 我甚至开始用潮州话及客家话祷告. 年届76的 我现在能比较流利地用我会的这五种语言进行对话或祷告.  我甚至可以在这五种话中随意转换, 既好玩, 拓展我的思维,又能加强语意.

实际上, 回想我的成长经历, 我有得天独厚的语言优势, 因为我的周围至少能听到五种语言. 潜意识中, 我周遭的这些言谈及其相应的神经记号已经深深刻入我的大脑语言区, 只是在潜意识中等待合适的时机被激发, 在我尝试说的时候, 就迸出来了. 当我开始尝试用这些我相对陌生的语言交谈, 尤其是在祷告时, 有些我从未意识到的词, 会脱口而出, 甚至不需要经过我的大脑, 直接就从深部脑神经存储中跳出来, 这些词可能是我65或70年前听到过的! 并且很多相关的记忆也被勾起.  真是惊讶, 不可思议!

有人认为汉语只是各种地方话, 但语言专家现在确定很多汉语是不同的语言, 而不仅仅是方言. 比如, 潮洲话, 广东话, 客家话都是独立的语言, 其和普通话之别不亚于西班牙语, 葡萄牙语, 意大利语之别于拉丁语, 也就是说, 一个说普通话的人不能只是通过声调变化, 就说出潮洲话或广东话, 令人惊讶的是, 有些词在普通话中根本没有.

令说普通话者困惑的是, 说潮洲话或广东话的人, 往往会在与不会说潮洲话或广东话的人交流的时候, 会自动翻译成普通话再写出来.  所以当说普通话者看到这些字, 就认定是普通话, 然后就认为潮洲话或广东话的口语, 肯定是普通话的一种变异. 这或许对, 或许不对, 视情况而定.

照片二: 鹦鹉总归是鹦鹉, 再怎么聪明, 也成不了莎士比亚演说家

更有甚者, 如今这些口语常常写成当地的文字, 而不是普通话. 香港的正宗粤语报纸, 或香港地铁上的广告, 会让说普通话的人摸不着头脑, 因为这简直就是一种不同的语言!  香港不是属于中国的吗? 奇怪! 这说的是啥? 是中文吗? 也许是, 也许不是.

这种情况和曾经的欧洲非常类似, 当年有文化的欧洲人用拉丁文写作, 但日常还是说西班牙语, 或葡萄牙语, 或意大利语. 明白了吧? 再比如说, 说个笑话, 如今欧洲大概都用英语文字, 显然, 英语不等同于西语, 或葡语, 或意语.

去读读日语中的汉字Kanji, 看起来是汉字, 但读音不同, 字意也不一定相近. 汉语就象是亚洲的拉丁文, 周边很多语言文字是以其为基础的, 包括中国国内所谓的各种地方话, 也包括其他国民语言, 如韩语, 日语, 越南语.

更有意思的是, 汉语言系里粤语有九个声调, 普通话有4到5个声调, 这给初学者说或听的时候大大增加了难度. 我常开玩笑说, 如果你不是从小说粤语, 哪怕你自认你的广东话很不错, 只要你一张嘴, 十有八九你的发音有误!

而对于母语是粤语的人而言, 别人的声调稍有不对, 听起来就会很怪异或很滑稽, 就象音乐中听到走音一样.  听者往往会忍不住捧腹大笑, 令对方尴尬, 实在是因为走调得十分好笑.  正因为这样, 广东话十分难学, 有意无意中,令初学者感觉颜面扫地.

曾经为了学语言, 我经常边开车边听录音. 在我高峰期, 我可以用各种语言说20到50句短语.  我给自己定的最低目标是学20种语言, 每种语言学会说20句话. 语言学大师贝立兹建议, 只要学会20句日常用语, 你就基本上可以在那个国家玩得转, 因为无论何种语言, 真正重要的只有几句: “你好, 谢谢, 再见, 很高兴见到你, 洗手间在哪儿? 等等.”

我学外语学得很开心, 并且无论我到哪儿, 我真的可以用到我记得的当地话中的关键的几句日常用语, 尤其是在泰语, 马来语, 印尼语, 越南语, 日本语, 土耳其语, 阿拉伯语, 希伯莱语, 印度语, 和欧洲各语言. 学外语对我并不难, 因为我早就有五种语言刻印在我脑海里, 所以对我而言, 只是不断地加添或是对已知声调或音符稍加改动. 用对方的母语说寥寥几句, 常常会轻轻松松地破冰, 因而开启了很多机会. 请参看我写的”曾叔叔故事: Salam Allay Kuhm”.

照片三: 我最喜欢的满书架自学语言用的影带.

毫无疑问, 学语言是越年轻越容易越地道. 我注意到从中国来的孩子, 如果是没到青少年期就来了, 往往在一年之内他的英语就可以和美国孩子一样地道; 但是如果是青少年期才来的, 他的英语会说得很接近美国孩子; 但那些25岁以后来的, 几乎不可能完全象美国人那样地道! 举个例子, 我15岁那年第一次去泰国, 当时学了点泰语, 多年后我再去泰国, 当地人就夸我的发音, 估计是因为我学得早的缘故.

尽管学新的语言乐趣多多, 并且语言能帮助我们跨越文化障碍进行有效沟通并建立友谊, 但是, 谁都不知道世界上各种语言从何而来. 无人知晓!  人们想尽各种办法尝试发现最初语言的起源, 例如通过教鹦鹉和猩猩说人话, 虽然好玩, 但最终还是不能解开谜团. 人类与非人类之间的语言能力有天壤之别. 这可不只是声调或口音的细微差别, 而是鱼和人之间的生理飞跃.

未完待续: 语言从何而来…?

URS Mystery of Language Part A: My fascination with language
曾叔叔故事: 语言的奥秘(上): 语言令我着迷 (Dixia 翻译)

I have a great fascination with language. My first language was, strangely, English, because of my American born mother, but I learned to also speak Chaozhou, Cantonese, Mandarin, and finally, Hakka (Kejia), in that order. I learned to speak the first 3 in childhood, and the last 2, Mandarin and Hakka, as an adult.  I learned Mandarin in the Cincinnati Chinese Church, and Hakka by speaking with my wife’s nieces in Seattle, who grew up in Thailand speaking the language!
我对语言很着迷. 虽然我在香港出生长大, 但因为我妈生在美国只会说英语, 英语就成了我的母语.  但我先后学会了说潮州话, 广东话, 普通话, 还有客家话.  孩提时代我就学会了英语和说前两种话, 成年以后学会了说普通话和客家话. 我是在辛辛那提华人教会学会说普通话, 在与西雅图我太太的侄女们聊天当中学会了说客家话, 她们在泰国长大, 从小说客家话.

Since prayer language might include a few “more specialized terms,” I used to only pray in English, my “comfortable” language. I’m wondering if there was also a bit of subconscious absurdity that my language should be “better” when addressing the heavens! But I have always urged people to be bold in speaking any language, so I took my own advice and started using Mandarin in prayers. At first it was infrequent, only when I really had to, like when I was praying with someone who only spoke Mandarin. In the last year, however, since moving to Seattle, better late than never, I started using Mandarin in prayers regularly, and also Cantonese (which oddly, I had not used either before), when praying with my wife, who knows all the languages mentioned, plus childhood Thai.
因为祷告的时候常会有一些”专用词”, 我以前只用英语祷告, 因为我说得最顺溜. 我不知道是不是我潜意识中荒唐地认为我跟天国说话的时候就应该用我最拿手的语言.  但我总是鼓励他人要大胆地说各种语言, 所以我也勉为其难终于开始用普通话祷告. 起初我只是在不得已的时候偶尔为之, 例如说我和只会说普通话的人一起祷告的时候就只好用普通话. 一年前我搬到西雅图后, 想着迟做总比不做好, 我就开始在和我太太一起祷告的时候, 用普通话或广东话(不知怎么回事, 我以前也很少用广东话祷告).  我太太会说前面提到的这些地方话, 另外也会说她孩提时代说的泰语.

Photo 1: Fun with Cantonese: is it Chinese or is it another language? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Try saying it also with the right tone: you have one in 9 chances to get it musically right.
照片1: 趣学粤语:属于汉语还是另一种语言? 有时侯是, 有时侯不是. 来学着说粤语: 你有九分之一的机率说得悦耳.

Then, to my own surprise, and to my wife’s even greater surprise, I actually began to try using Chaozhou and Hakka in my prayers.  At age 76! Amazingly, I can now converse and even say my prayers, pretty fluently, in all 5 languages! Now, I can even jump between different languages for fun and verbal effect, since I feel it “stretches my mind.”
后来, 出乎我的意料, 更出乎我太太的意料, 我甚至开始用潮州话及客家话祷告. 年届76的 我现在能比较流利地用我会的这五种语言进行对话或祷告.  我甚至可以在这五种话中随意转换, 既好玩, 拓展我的思维,又能加强语意.

Actually, I think I had a distinct language advantage when growing up, since many languages, and especially these 5 languages, were floating around me then. The words and their nerve tracks obviously had etched themselves into my brain speech zones, subconsciously, just waiting for the right time to integrate with my later attempts at speaking them. As I began to actually speak in my less familiar languages, and especially as I prayed, suddenly some words I did not even know I knew, just popped into my mouth, sometimes seemingly bypassing my thinking brain, out of some deep brain reserve, words I might only have heard 65 years ago! And many related memories have also surprisingly floated into my mind. What a surprise and mystery!
实际上, 回想我的成长经历, 我有得天独厚的语言优势, 因为我的周围至少能听到五种语言. 潜意识中, 我周遭的这些言谈及其相应的神经记号已经深深刻入我的大脑语言区, 只是在潜意识中等待合适的时机被激发, 在我尝试说的时候, 就迸出来了. 当我开始尝试用这些我相对陌生的语言交谈, 尤其是在祷告时, 有些我从未意识到的词, 会脱口而出, 甚至不需要经过我的大脑, 直接就从深部脑神经存储中跳出来, 这些词可能是我65或70年前听到过的! 并且很多相关的记忆也被勾起.  真是惊讶, 不可思议!

Some people think that Chinese languages are all just dialects of Chinese. But language experts now know that many Chinese languages are truly languages, and no longer considered dialects. For example, Chaozhou, Cantonese, and Hakka are languages different from Mandarin, as different as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian are from Latin. Meaning that a person speaking in Mandarin cannot just switch into Chaozhou or Cantonese like a “dialect” or a tone change, because, surprisingly, the actual words used in speaking may not even be Chinese words that a Mandarin speaking person would use.
有人认为汉语只是各种地方话, 但语言专家现在确定很多汉语是不同的语言, 而不仅仅是方言. 比如, 潮洲话, 广东话, 客家话都是独立的语言, 其和普通话之别不亚于西班牙语, 葡萄牙语, 意大利语之别于拉丁语, 也就是说, 一个说普通话的人不能只是通过声调变化, 就说出潮洲话或广东话, 令人惊讶的是, 有些词在普通话中根本没有.

What is confusing to Mandarin speakers is that the Chaozhou or Cantonese person, in trying to communicate with other Chinese people, converts himself into Mandarin automatically when he writes out his words. So, when other Chinese look at the words, they recognize it as Mandarin Chinese, and think that the spoken form of Chaozhou or Cantonese, which is their true natural language, must also be a variation of Mandarin Chinese. It might, and it might not; it just depends.
令说普通话者困惑的是, 说潮洲话或广东话的人, 往往会在与不会说潮洲话或广东话的人交流的时候, 会自动翻译成普通话再写出来.  所以当说普通话者看到这些字, 就认定是普通话, 然后就认为潮洲话或广东话的口语, 肯定是普通话的一种变异. 这或许对, 或许不对, 视情况而定.

Photo 2: Parrots are parrots, no matter how “smart” they are, no Shakespearean oration ever.
照片二: 鹦鹉总归是鹦鹉, 再怎么聪明, 也成不了莎士比亚演说家

To further complicate matters, these spoken languages might nowadays be also written out in their own languages, and not in official Mandarin. Open a truly Cantonese newspaper in Hong Kong, or try to read the ads in the Hong Kong MTR subway. The Mandarin speaking person will be so surprised, and suddenly realize that a different language is being used! Isn’t Hong Kong part of China? Strange, is it not? What are they trying to say, is it Chinese? Well, it is and it isn’t.
更有甚者, 如今这些口语常常写成当地的文字, 而不是普通话. 香港的正宗粤语报纸, 或香港地铁上的广告, 会让说普通话的人摸不着头脑, 因为这简直就是一种不同的语言!  香港不是属于中国的吗? 奇怪! 这说的是啥? 是中文吗? 也许是, 也许不是.

This situation is an analogy of Europe of the past, when the literate European communicated in Latin in writing, but spoke Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian at home or with friends. Got it?  As a modern joke, they might now communicate in English writing! Which is obviously not Spanish, Portuguese or Italian.
这种情况和曾经的欧洲非常类似, 当年有文化的欧洲人用拉丁文写作, 但日常还是说西班牙语, 或葡萄牙语, 或意大利语. 明白了吧? 再比如说, 说个笑话, 如今欧洲大概都用英语文字, 显然, 英语不等同于西语, 或葡语, 或意语.

Try to read the Kanji of the Japanese language, which are basically Chinese characters, but which sound, and might mean different things from Chinese. Chinese is basically often indeed like the Latin of Asia, the structure around which many languages are related, including the so called “Chinese languages,” and other national languages (such as spoken Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese).
去读读日语中的汉字Kanji, 看起来是汉字, 但读音不同, 字意也不一定相近. 汉语就象是亚洲的拉丁文, 周边很多语言文字是以其为基础的, 包括中国国内所谓的各种地方话, 也包括其他国民语言, 如韩语, 日语, 越南语.

And just for fun, just within the Chinese languages, remember that there are 9 tones in Cantonese, compared with 4 or 5 in Mandarin, which adds a tremendous complexity and strain on speaker and listener, when trying to learn this as a new language. I always quip that when you are not a native Cantonese speaker, the moment you open your mouth to try to speak in Cantonese, even if you think your version of Cantonese is pretty good, there is an 8 to 1 chance that you will be wrong!
更有意思的是, 汉语言系里粤语有九个声调, 普通话有4到5个声调, 这给初学者说或听的时候大大增加了难度. 我常开玩笑说, 如果你不是从小说粤语, 哪怕你自认你的广东话很不错, 只要你一张嘴, 十有八九你的发音有误!

And to the native speaker, when the non-Cantonese says something that is not the right tone, it is very sharply recognized as hilarious or weird, just like any music that is off key, which it is, sort of. And unfortunately, the native speaker (and therefore listener) will often burst out, embarrassingly, with great laughter, because to him or her it really sounds “so funny.” That’s why it is so difficult to learn Cantonese if you are not a native speaker! It can be quite humiliating, intentional or not.
而对于母语是粤语的人而言, 别人的声调稍有不对, 听起来就会很怪异或很滑稽, 就象音乐中听到走音一样.  听者往往会忍不住捧腹大笑, 令对方尴尬, 实在是因为走调得十分好笑.  正因为这样, 广东话十分难学, 有意无意中,令初学者感觉颜面扫地.

I used to play language tapes as I was driving, in order to learn different languages. At my peak of learning, I could speak 20 to 50 phrases, in each different language. My minimum target was “20 phrases in 20 languages.” The great linguist Berlitz’ recommendation has always been that if you knew 20 phrases in any language you can get around in any country, since the only really important words are “how are you, thank you, goodbye, pleased to meet you, where is the bathroom? etc.”
曾经为了学语言, 我经常边开车边听录音. 在我高峰期, 我可以用各种语言说20到50句短语.  我给自己定的最低目标是学20种语言, 每种语言学会说20句话. 语言学大师贝立兹建议, 只要学会20句日常用语, 你就基本上可以在那个国家玩得转, 因为无论何种语言, 真正重要的只有几句: “你好, 谢谢, 再见, 很高兴见到你, 洗手间在哪儿? 等等.”

I had great fun learning these languages and truly wherever I traveled, I would use the local language that I memorized, using key phrases. Particularly for Thai, Malay-Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, and European languages. My language acquisition was not difficult because I had already had at least 5 language tracks etched in my brain, so it was just a series of add-ons and modifications of already known sounds or musical notes. It was often a great icebreaker just to say a few words in the listener’s mother tongue, and it opened many doors. See my Uncle Reggie Stories, “Salam Allay Kuhm.”
我学外语学得很开心, 并且无论我到哪儿, 我真的可以用到我记得的当地话中的关键的几句日常用语, 尤其是在泰语, 马来语, 印尼语, 越南语, 日本语, 土耳其语, 阿拉伯语, 希伯莱语, 印度语, 和欧洲各语言. 学外语对我并不难, 因为我早就有五种语言刻印在我脑海里, 所以对我而言, 只是不断地加添或是对已知声调或音符稍加改动. 用对方的母语说寥寥几句, 常常会轻轻松松地破冰, 因而开启了很多机会. 请参看我写的”曾叔叔故事: Salam Allay Kuhm”.

Photo 3: My favorite book shelf of self-teaching language audios.
照片三: 我最喜欢的满书架自学语言用的影带.

There is also no question that the younger you learn a language, the more fluent you are. I’ve always noted that children from China who come to America before the teenage period learn within a year to speak fluently like an American, those who come as teenagers become nearly American, but those who come after age 25 will nearly never speak totally like an American! For example, I visited Thailand for the first time at age 15, and I tried to learn the language, so in later years when I returned to visit, locals often commented that my accents were pretty good, likely since I got an early start.
毫无疑问, 学语言是越年轻越容易越地道. 我注意到从中国来的孩子, 如果是没到青少年期就来了, 往往在一年之内他的英语就可以和美国孩子一样地道; 但是如果是青少年期才来的, 他的英语会说得很接近美国孩子; 但那些25岁以后来的, 几乎不可能完全象美国人那样地道! 举个例子, 我15岁那年第一次去泰国, 当时学了点泰语, 多年后我再去泰国, 当地人就夸我的发音, 估计是因为我学得早的缘故.

But with all this great joy of learning different languages, and using language to cross different cultural barriers for effective communication and friendship, no one knows, in the secular world, where language originally comes from! No one! People have tried all kinds of ways of trying to find out where language originally came from, by teaching parrots and apes to try to speak some kind of human language, but the results, though fun and interesting, are abysmal in understanding this mystery. And the gap between humans and nonhumans in language ability is gargantuan in scope. We are not just talking about a small little difference or an accent, or a tone difference. We are talking about a huge jump, physiologically, that is, well, between a fish and a man.
尽管学新的语言乐趣多多, 并且语言能帮助我们跨越文化障碍进行有效沟通并建立友谊, 但是, 谁都不知道世界上各种语言从何而来. 无人知晓!  人们想尽各种办法尝试发现最初语言的起源, 例如通过教鹦鹉和猩猩说人话, 虽然好玩, 但最终还是不能解开谜团. 人类与非人类之间的语言能力有天壤之别. 这可不只是声调或口音的细微差别, 而是鱼和人之间的生理飞跃.

Continued in Part B. Where does Language come from…?
未完待续: 语言从何而来…?

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