First chat with Mao 4/12/2013

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.

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