One problem with language textbooks is the texts. Kinda dumb statement, right? But all of us who’ve studied languages, regardless of the language, has had this problem: books full of boring texts, inane dialogues, and characters so devoid of personality you’d rather strike up a conversation with a slice of stale bread. And quite a few language textbooks seem to be have been written by people who collectively can muster less culture than the contents of my fridge.
Oh, alright, my fridge would provide some reasonable entertainment (and perhaps a thesis or two), for a microbiologist, but the point stands.
Well, the Chinese book I’m using at the moment, 《核心阅读中基本》, edited by 刘颂洁 and 林欢, published by 华语教学出版社，being a reading text, manages to avoid the “characters”, thank God. And the texts are pitched at about the right level for me, but sometimes it can be tough going, like wading through knee deep sand towards an oasis that consistently turns out to be a mirage. Some of the texts are just that dry. The texts are taken from a wide variety of ‘real world’ sources, from ancient to modern, but I guess the fact that in the (bit at the end of each text where they acknowledge the source- what’s the fucking word?!?!?!?!), they almost always write 有改动 should indicate that a lot of the interesting, juicy stuff has been deemed beyond my level and edited out. They’re probably right. Still, it can be a hard slog. And for a fundamentally lazy bastard such as myself, keeping up the motivation can be even more difficult.
Hah! But at least it’s not like that Russian video series, produced in about Gorbi’s time, if I remember rightly, my lecturer foisted on us poor, unsuspecting, innocent souls back in the days when Otago boasted the best (and definitely coolest, if slightly twisted) Russian department in Aotearoa. I will never forget this middle-aged, but apparently footloose and fancy-free cartoon American in raptures over the service on Aeroflot (because he couldn’t understand shit, and just repeated ‘da’), then went into absolute ecstasy over what he could possibly see from his room at the Moscow Hotel (only to come crashing back down to earth when he heard St Basil’s would be hidden from view, but ever the optimist/junky with a never ending supply….) and then, having been taken in a crapped out old Lada into the happy Soviet countryside by a ‘friend’, reached positively orgasmic heights at the sight of a milk tanker labeled in big, bright, blue letters: “Vkusno moloko” (Yes, that was ‘vkusno’ as an adverb. I too had doubts about the grammar, but the lecturer shrugged it off and moved on…). The memory of this guy shouting “Vkusno moloko!” as if he were calling the name of his lover just as he reached his climax in the best love-making session of his life is burned in my brain as if the words had been branded directly onto my prefrontal cortex with flaming magnesium.
Moving right along…..
Anyway, over the last couple of days I’ve come across texts in this book whose subject matter I actually find quite interesting. Here they are:
From the 课外阅读 at the end of 第五单元:
汉语是有声调的语言，声调不同，词义也不同。除了辨别词义以外，声调在有的语言里还具有语法功能。尼日利亚南部埃多语的[i ma]， 两音节都读低调是“我显示”，前高后低是“我正在显示”，前低后高是“我已经显示”，前后音节高低变化区分了动词的不同时态。古代汉语中不同声调代表不同词类的现象相当普遍，例如“衣”yi1，“王”wang2，“雨”yu3，都是名词，读成去声（第四声），就都变成了动词。 现代汉语也还存在这种现象，北京话“墙上钉着个钉子”“背上背着个包袱”，都是依靠声调来分辨动词和名词。但是在现代汉语里，这种现象并不是系统的存在的。
（选自林(character I can’t find, again)，王理嘉《语音学教程》“绪论”，有改动。北京大学出版社，1992年。）
Alright, so there you have it, the three texts in this book I’ve come across so far that interest me most. As you can see, they’re kinda skimpy on details. Well, there probably is a fair bit of subtlety to these texts that I’m missing. I’m trying to drag my reading skills up by their own bootstraps, and I don’t have a teacher to help me understand the intricacies of these texts (lzh helps me with writing and sometimes checks my answers to the comprehension questions, but I don’t think she’s ever done more than scan the texts to check the answers and complain about how vague Chinese writing is). I would certainly like to read more on the subjects raised in these texts, but I have to admit, that’s probably a bit beyond me right now. And it would not be good to get into too specialised an area until I’ve got my general reading going good.
But at the same time I often catch myself thinking there could be more out there. Maybe I could pick up a magazine or newspaper or magazine, flip through, find a few articles that interest me, and work through them? Perhaps I could sit down with a few of these bilingual editions of Lu Xun’s, Lao She’s, and Ba Jin’s work I have and work through the Chinese side properly (instead of occasionally glancing at the Chinese when I’m curious about how something was put in the original)?
Alright, I know I can’t go jumping ahead of myself. That would be seriously counterproductive. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking back to some advice one of my Russian lecturers gave my class one day: He said one day he decided to just buy some monumentally huge Russian novel, I think maybe it was even War and Peace, sat down with a dictionary, and waded through. He reckoned that approach worked wonders for his Russian. And I certainly would like to expand the range of my Chinese reading and inject a little bit more life into what I read.
Hmmmm…. All things to think about. I think for now I’ll just stick with the textbook and the very little Chinese online. Next step would be to make ‘News in Chinese’ a daily habit (what’s the address?). No need to rush, but I certainly need to maintain the momentum.