Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Everyone is learning Chinese

My French is near-nonexistent, at least for the purposes of speaking, though the saving grace is that I can understand most of what I read. The only languages other than English that I speak with any fluency are Asian ones (really just Chinese, though I try to make claims for Japanese). And occasionally my Chinese has come in handy, as when I buy vegetables at the Place Monge from Mr. Tan. But for the most part it is not at all useful here, impending Olympics notwithstanding.

Today I stood in the Metro over a fiftyish man seated in one of the folding seats. He was poring over a xeroxed sheet with drawings of various articles of clothing (a hat, a skirt, a jacket, etc.) which were painstakingly labeled with inexpertly formed Chinese characters, and annotated at great length in French. In the margins were the verbs daì (戴) and chuān (穿), both meaning "to wear" but used for different articles of clothing。 The former is used for something that rests on you, like a hat or wig but also watches and jewelry; the latter is used for things you "pass [your body] through" like shirts and pants. You can also chuān roads, tunnels and obstacle courses, which gives a better sense of the word's meaning.

No comments: