In the survey on the influence of language on Chinese psychology and thought, it is useful to recall the differences in learning between European languages and Chinese.
Learning to draw
A Chinese child will learn to write and even draw characters, as early as the preparatory class. He will draw lines, learn to think differently. My daughter, who attended the first part of her schooling in a Chinese school of a Pekingese Hutong, spent more time writing and rewriting characters to memorize them than assimilating grammatical notions. The development of his mind was solicited differently than in the French school. For tree 木, she was “learning” an idea, an image that reminded her of a tree. When she met two trees 林, she had a wood, three trees 森, a forest. The same thing with the human character 人. With two men 从, she quickly associated ideas with the meaning follow, and with three men 众 with the crowd’s sense.
Left brain, right brain
Cyrille Javary, in his book “100 mots pour comprendre les Chinois,” shows the difference in the two ways of learning the word vivre. “To read it, our brain had to carry out a series of operations which habitually made us forget that it is primarily an arithmetic process. To read VIVRE, before perceiving the meaning of the word, we had to perform a whole series of literal additions: V + I = VI, then V+ R+ E = LIVE, and finally VI + VRE = vivre. This mental process is carried out by our left brain, the one that is skilled in arithmetic. To read an ideogram, the left brain is inoperative, simply because we cannot spell an ideogram. Even if it is composed of several elements which individually have a meaning of their own, its meaning does not result from their addition, but the qualitative leap produced by their association. Its reading involves the right hemisphere. »
Logic and analysis
The difference also in the study of grammar; my daughter doesn’t remember studying grammar during those five years, which is a sign that the courses on the subject must not have been significant. A European child will have to navigate through the labyrinth of tenses, modes, subordinates, concordances of time. The analysis of grammar and spelling train him to apprehend and analyze the world in another way with another logic. Remember that the Chinese did not feel the need to have a real grammar before 1889. Since then, Chinese grammar has become more conceptualized and is taught more systematically with the significant notions familiar to us, but the relative simplicity of Chinese grammar does not impose sophisticated rules (see article).
Thus, we can note that the brain is solicited differently in the learning of Chinese characters and that the study of a European language gives rise to a different and more consequent work of analysis and logic. Can we link this observation with the different fates of the science of logic in the Greek world and the world of Confucius? Indeed, but that is another story. It would be easy to make hasty deductions with beautiful theories to show the influence of language and characters, but this is only one factor, certainly an important one, among others in the formation and structure of thoughts. I will come back to this in future articles on related topics.
5 July 2020