Today was my last video interaction with Mao. However, I’ve decided to keep in contact and have weekly interactions with Mao this summer because I found this experience to be incredibly rewarding. In this short clip of our 2 hour conversation, Mao is diligent in taking notes on idioms and phrases that are common to the English language.I was surprised that Mao educated herself prior to our talk by looking up idioms that are common in the English language. Mao recites an idiom and then translates what it would be in her language. It was interesting to see the different ways that cultures express the same meaning. When reciting the idiom, Mao says “Golden home, sliver home is not better than my home.” Rather than saying “silver” she switches the placement of the “l” and “i” possibly because it is easier for her to pronounce it that way. As Mao tries to express that her mother bought dough to make dumplings, she is unable to come up with a word to express this, and viewers can see how difficult it is to communicate with each other at times. During our conversation I talk to Mao about “following the beat to your own drum”. She was confused by the word drum but eventually started making “boom boom boom” sounds and expressing the action of beating a drum with her hands. I used these clips to show that when communicating with someone who is learning a language (or in my case someone who knows nothing about her language) sometimes you need to use hand gestures and even sounds as is seen when I begin talking about the drums to relay a message. These 5 interactions with Mao have been eye opening and I am excited to continue with our friendship we have made.
Here is another short clip of our chat. In China, I found it interesting that students attend Law school as undergraduates. Law school in America is strictly for graduate students. This difference in our culture caught my attention, as did how shocked both Mao and her friend were when I said that in America, we get almost 4 months of summer vacation. I learned a lot about the differences in our culture this week. For example, in America, white people strive to be tanner while in China, they think it is more beautiful to have paler skin. At the end of the clip Mao explains how the man who lives above their apartment has lost his speech. We can further see the trouble Mao has with pronouns. She says, “He lose her speech.” With practice and being more aware, Mao will be able to catch onto the idea that in English, we refer to gender in our daily speech.
This week I was unable to talk to Mao over FaceTime, but we had the opportunity to e-mail back and forth. The following e-mail is one that I received from Mao:
hi,gab~today some guests will come to my house to celebrate the holiday.My mother told me just now. And I have to help my mother do some preparation. So today maybe I have no time to chat with you. I’m sorry. Since we have holiday you have finals this week. We can cancel it this week,ok? Wish you have a good mark in the finals~Don’t be too tired,take care of yourself~
In this e-mail, Mao continuously refers to “my mother” and avoids using the pronoun she and her. While I am speaking with Mao verbally, she does not mind using these pronouns because if she mistakes “her” for “his”, she is able to fix herself in her tracks. However, Mao was most likely unsure and didn’t want to make a mistake so that it was easier for me to understand the message she was trying to relay. I noticed here that Mao misplaces the periods in places. I am not sure why this is but I will look further into this aspect of the e-mail.
Here is another excerpt from an e-mail I received from her:
hi~ It is monday night this time. tomorrow is Thuesday. So i will
be free tomorrow morning. Maybe you can tell your friends the message.
The interesting thing I found in this message was the spelling of “Tuesday”. Last week we had focused a lot on how she needs to place her tongue and mouth in order to achieve the “th” and “θ” sound and was most likely trying to show me that she understood. However, she over generalized the “th” sound and this is clear in her spelling of “Tuesday”.
Although I was disappointed to not talk to Mao last week, these e-mail’s relay very important messages into not only syntactical analyses but also into part of her culture.
My second meeting with Mao was just as interesting as our first. While we continued to have a conversation that flowed, this time I stopped Mao to correct her on her pronunciation of words. Additionally, I focused on the way she was constructing sentences. At around 2:23, Mao says she “took paht…”. It is very difficult for students of specific languages who are learning English, especially Chinese students, to pronounce certain clusters, vowels, and consonants. The “th”, “s”, “r”, “l” are all letters that as I talk to Mao, I have to stop her in her sentences and help her pronounce the sounds of these letters. I noticed that when Mao is not being conscious of her pronunciation of words (such as part), the “r” sound is missing from her speech. However, when she is conscious of it, she can pronounce words almost perfectly in English. Another example could be found later in the video during our conversation of TV shows and the pronunciation of “episode”. Here one can observe that Mao mistakes the pronunciation for “episode” as “sepisode”.
Chinese is an analytic language, meaning it is a language that does not use inflectional affixes to convey grammatical relationships. Words have one grammatical form and the language lacks tense, gender, and number. With this being said, Chinese depends on syntax rather than morphology to relay messages/meanings. Early in the conversation I ask Mao “what have you been doing for the last week” and rather than replying “I have been dancing”, Mao simply replies with “dance”. Chinese is a language where they do not say more than they need to. As stated in my previous post, in Chinese, you only need to indicate something one time in a sentence. Because I was talking about the past, Mao did not need to clarify that last week she had been practicing a dance for school. Because Chinese does not have more than one grammatical form for words, it is difficult for Mao to develop sentences expressing these parts of our sentence structures. Mao says when I ask when her dance is “23rd, this month”. Here the words “the” and “of” are missing simply because these words do not exist in Mao’s language. There is no need for them.
On April 12, I had the opportunity to Skype with a 20-year-old college student from Shanghai. Our conversation was very pleasant and we became very good friends. As a linguistics major, I went into this conversation wanting to focus on how well she follows English syntax and morphology rules. Certain aspects of her sentence structure caught my attention. Presented above is a short clip of our hour and a half conversation. As you listen to this clip you too may notice differences in the way she formulates sentences. For example, when she was talking about Chin Min festival, she spoke of going back to her hometown. She says, “Last week it’s Chin Min festival. We go to my hometown. Very beautiful. Lots of flowers. We go to the farm and celebrate it with my grandma.” The reason Mao speaks in the present tense is because in Chinese syntax, it is only necessary to indicate things once in a sentence. For example, she stated the festival was “last” week, and because the timing of the event had already been made clear, Moa felt no need to indicate it again. Another reason Mao speaks in the present tense about past events is because Chinese doesn’t require the conjugation of verbs. Words only have one grammatical form. Additionally, Mao leave out articles and pronouns because in Chinese, these aspects of our language have no meaning to them. Words that exist in English do not necessarily hold any significant meaning in other languages as seen first hand in this conversation. Mao recognizes words in the speech stream but often times, her sentence structures are lacking words or phrases. Finally, a striking aspect of this conversation was that Mao got her pronouns mixed up and disregarded pluralization. She often times did not make words plural when speaking but this is most likely due to the Chinese syntax rule that nouns never change their form. Mao mixed up pronouns such as “me vs. we” and “he vs. her”. In Chinese, there is no distinction for gender. It’s interesting that Mao applies many rules that come easily to her from her own language and generalizes them to create sentences that make sense to her in English.
Throughout our chats, there are going to be many times where there are miscommunications. For instance, in the clip above, Mao is speaking of flowers and while after the conversation I believe Mao wanted to say the flowers were in bloom, in the conversation I had asked her if she meant that the flowers were in an open field/valley. It was only after when I was analyzing these clips that I figured out what she truly may have meant. It is a shame I do not speak any Chinese. This ability would make it easier to understand each other when Mao is unclear of what words to use.
In only 5 days, I will begin my weekly chats with a student in Shanghai over either Skype or FaceTime. We will converse about different topics from festivals/holidays to food to career interests and goals to social responsibilities. This will occur weekly for 5 weeks every Friday. This is very exciting as I will get to work first hand with teaching students who do not speak English very well the differences between our languages. I will be listening for specifics when they speak and will get to inform them of the phonetic and phonological differences between their language and mine (English). As a linguistics major in hopes of pursuing speech pathology, this week can not go fast enough until I finally sit down for the first time and meet this student.