Matt Peperell's Blog

Z is for zh

Written: 30 Apr 2024 (Index by date)

Tags: a-to-z  languages  (Index by tag)

I’ve mention in several posts in this series that I enjoy language - and languages. The language I started studying most recently is Mandarin, sometimes called Standard Chinese or Standard Mandarin Chinese.

But why zh? That’s the ISO 639-1 code for the language, coming from the Chinese name of the language 中文. One of the most popular ways of writing Chinese characters in the Latin alphabet is called pinyin. Pinyin is typically used to make it easier for non-speakers of the language to sound out the characters but it’s also one of the techniques used to type Chinese characters one a qwerty keyboard.

The pinyin representation of 中文 is Zhōng wén (occasionally zhong1 wen2), and it’s this zh from which the ISO 639-1 code is taken.

For a couple of years I was having 2 lessons per week though I took a break a couple of months ago. I learned not only to speak, but also to read and write a little. It’s probably been the most interesting language I’ve studied. The hardest part is not (perhaps surprisingly) the tones, but rather the writing side of things.

Frustrating though this is, I’m not too disheartened. During the course of my studies, I leaarned that even Chinese natives sometimes get so-called character amnesia, mainly due to the proliferation of computerised inputs that people use as opposed to writing by hand.

A few days ago I hinted at the open question of what it means to speak a language. When I first set out to learn, I set myself the goal of being able to order a meal. And that goal I’ve achieved; I’ve been to restaurants in Chinatown and ordered. Had to fall back on English for little bits of it, but I still consider it a success. Once I’m feeling rested, I plan to resume lessons.

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