PiU (samedi) wrote,

  • Music:

a little less [chinese] conversation?

My Chinese 101 class is composed of four different kinds of people - business students (roughly 75% of the class), international and second-generation students, myself, and Lorenzo. The business students see China as a growing marketplace to be courted over the next several years, although a few are interested in entrepreneurship rather than international trade. The international students in our class come from Japan, Hong Kong, and Macau, while there are also second-generation students who speak Cantonese fluently but who would like to add Mandarin to their linguistic repertoire. Plus, there's a girl in class majoring in English and linguistics that I talked to outside of class on Friday, but more on her later.

Lorenzo, unfortunately, is in a class of his own. On the opening day he introduced himself to everyone within a ten foot radius by telling us his name and boasting of how he just got back from six weeks in China - over and over again. A girl sitting near him had spent a full semester studying at a Korean university, and when Lorenzo heard that he began talking about the Korean alphabet and explaining how it uses a romanized script based on the Latin alphabet. She shrugged apologetically in response, but when I joined the conversation to say that Hangul is an indigenous alphabet rather than a romanized derivative he got really defensive and blurted out, "what, are you a linguist or something?" Not exactly, no, nor would one need to be to know that information.

A few minutes later Lorenzo was talking to another new entrant to our classroom and relating his exciting news of spending six weeks in Kunming, and during a pause for breath Lorenzo's conversation partner was able to mention how he speaks fluent Cantonese. Lorenzo immediately perked up and told the second student how he really wanted to learn "how to read Cantonese characters one day" - which seems perplexing since Mandarin, Cantonese, and a large number of other Chinese dialects all use the same characters even if they are pronounced differently (some of these also appear in Korean hanja and Japanese kanji). I turned around to get more details but was severely disappointed:

"Say, I thought Cantonese and Mandarin were written using the same characters?"
"Yeah ... so what?"
"If they are you wouldn't need to learn how to read Cantonese, because you would already know the characters from learning Mandarin, right?"
"Dude ... whatever!"

And with that he turned back to his companion and continued to share the details of his trip. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and from what I can tell this seems to fit Lorenzo's education quite well. His behavior suggests that he only learns enough to impress people unfamiliar with his chosen subjects, and his quick dismissal of anything contrary to what he says indicates that he doesn't really want to know the facts. Yuko was on the same trip to Kunming, and she later told me that she doesn't like Lorenzo for the same reason.

However, it seems the aspiring linguist had been listening to our exchange, and when I greeted her at the university bookstore at the end of the week she seemed vaguely interested in hearing about my linguistic background - but only to the point where we had a five minute conversation before she returned to her sushi, wasabi, and giant textbook on syntax.

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