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  1. from-China-love-Taiwan's Avatar
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    #1

    Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thing?

    Hi there, I'm a native-Chinese. Please excuse me because I have to post some Chinese characters here to illustrate my question. Most web browser software running on Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac/iPad/iPhone/Android/Windows Mobile/Linux/UNIX could display Chinese text correctly, if yours not, please ignore the Chinese part or ignore this thread.

    I've been learning English for many years, there is a question puzzles me consistently: Why don't English words end up with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind of thing?Or Why don't English words appear in the same form to describe the same thing?

    In Chinese, this problem doesn't exist.

    Example Ⅰ:
    When we say the name of the months in a year, in English, we say January/February/March/April.........December. Do you find any similarity in these names? No, at least I don't find any, in my opinion they are just 12 different words which I must memorize. But in Chinese? We say:
    一月(1月)(pronounce “yi yue”, January)
    二月(2月)(pronounce “er yue”, February)
    三月(3月)(pronounce “san yue”, March)
    四月(4月)(pronounce “si yue”, April)
    五月(5月)(pronounce “wu yue”, May)
    六月(6月)(pronounce “liu yue”, June)
    七月(7月)(pronounce “qi yue”, July)
    八月(8月)(pronounce “ba yue”, August)
    九月(9月)(pronounce “jiu yue”, September)
    十月(10月)(pronounce “shi yue”, October)
    十一月(11月)(pronounce “shi yi yue”, November)
    十二月(12月)(pronounce “shi er yue”, December)

    Do you find any similarity in these Chinese names? I believe a five-year-old kid could find the similarity, because all of them are numbers, mathematical numbers. And most importantly, all of them are ended up with “月”(pronounce “yue”) which means “moon; month” in Chinese.

    So, why don't we say something like “Januarymonth” or ”Febmonth“ or ”Marchmonth“? Or even simpler, 1st month/2nd month/3rd month.........?

    Example Ⅱ:
    Homosexual topic. In English we have three words for that: homosexual, gay, lesbian.

    But in Chinese, actually we just have one word:同性戀(pronounce “tong xing lian”),
    you probably know that “男” means “man; male; boy” and “女” means “woman; female; girl”. So it becomes easy and simple:
    homosexual=同性戀(pronounce “tong xing lian”)
    gay=男同性戀(pronounce “nan tong xing lian”)
    lesbian=女同性戀(pronounce “nü tong xing lian”)

    You could see that, we have one word/root for “homosexual”(同性戀), the only thing we need to do when refer to specific gender is to add a gender-prefix (男 or 女). So in English, why don't we say “man homosexual” or ”woman homosexual“? I don't know where the two strange words ”gay“ and ”lesbian“ came from.

    PS: 同 means “same”, 性 means “sex”, 戀 means “Romantic love”, so 同性戀=same sex love.

    Example Ⅲ:
    Science Terminology/Jargon.

    Just take a look at these:
    Animal VS Zoology
    Plant VS Botany
    Insect VS Entomology
    Fish VS Ichthyology
    Bird VS Ornithology
    Human VS Anthropology
    .............
    I can't list more, sorry. I got really confused and frustrated when I met these strange discipline names for the first time. Because in Chinese, their names are accessible and reasonable:
    動物VS動物學 (Animal VS Zoology)
    植物VS植物學 (Plant VS Botany)
    昆蟲VS昆蟲學 (Insect VS Entomology)
    魚類VS魚類學 (Fish VS Ichthyology)
    鳥類VS鳥類學 (Bird VS Ornithology)
    人類VS人類學 (Human VS Anthropology)

    You see that, “學” (pronounce “xue”) means “to learn; learning; to study; the study; science; discipline”, you can regard this character as the suffix “-ology” or “-tics”. So if we talk in the Chinese way, things could be like this:
    Animal VS Animalology or Animaltics
    Plant VS Plantology or Plantics
    Insect VS Insectology or Insectics
    Fish VS Fishology or Fishtics
    Bird VS Birdology or Birdtics
    Human VS Humanology or Humantics
    ............
    I guess that might be a horrible blockbuster for some native-English speakers.

    Example Ⅳ:
    Automobile(motors)/Car/Truck/Bus/Van/Train/Bike/Motorbike.

    These words refer to the same thing: land vehicles with round wheels. But I don't see any prefix/root/suffix to tell me that fact. In Chinese, they do.

    What do we call “land vehicles with round wheels” in Chinese? Answer: 車 (pronounce “che”)

    Automobile(motors)=汽車
    Car=轎車, sometimes also 汽車
    Truck=卡車 or 貨車 or 大貨車
    Bus=公共汽車(公車) or 客車
    Van=小貨車 or 麵包車
    Train=火車
    Bike=自行車 or 單車 or 腳踏車(Taiwanese people say “腳踏車”)
    Motorbike=摩托車 or 機車(Taiwanese people say “機車”)

    Whatever the name is, there is one common root/suffix: 車. If you never meet the word before, it doesn't matter, bacause the suffix (車) would tell you “whatever it is, it must be some land-vehicle with round wheels”. But in English, we don't enjoy that tip.

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    #2

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Hello,

    Fascinating subject! I look forward to reading the answers that you will receive.

    I certainly do not speak Chinese, but I think that it is accurate to say that China has one of the oldest civilizations in history. Thus, it has always had a word ("che") for what we might call a "cart."

    Then when the West forced itself upon China in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Chinese came across Western inventions such as the automobile and the train. So the clever Chinese decided to translate those terms in this way:

    An automobile would be "steam" + "cart." [Of course, the Chinese long had a word for "steam."]
    A train would be ""fire" + "cart." [Of course, the Chinese long had a word for "fire."]
    A bus would be "public" + "steam" + "cart." [That is, a "public automobile."]

    English, however, is a totally different language. Many words come from French, Latin, and Greek.


    For example, the word "bus" is just a shorter way to say "omnibus." [A good dictionary will explain its origins.]
    For example, the word "bicycle" consists of "bi" [two] + "cycle" [circle / wheel]. [Again a good dictionary will ...]

    *****

    Regarding the word "homosexual," again the Chinese cleverly expressed the idea by stringing three words together: "same" + "sex" + "love."

    Remember that the word "homosexual" was coined only in the 19th century. Until then, people had other ways to refer to "such people." One favorite word, I believe, was "sodomite." [See a good dictionary for its origin.]

    By the way, of course, there were gay people in China LONG before the Westerners introduced that word. Did the Chinese have a word for that orientation, or was it something that went unnamed?

    I also have heard that in the People's Republic of China, sometimes people use the word "comrade" ("tong zhi") to refer to a gay man.

    Here in the United States, if one opposes homosexuality, one will often use the word "homosexual" on purpose to show one's opposition. In 2015 America, people are expected to use the word "gay." So if you visit the United States, it might be a good idea NOT to refer to "homosexuals." Many people will feel that you are implying a negative attitude.
    Last edited by TheParser; 07-Jan-2015 at 23:24. Reason: misspelling

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    #3

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    By the way, of course, there were gay people in China LONG before the Westerners introduced that word. Did the Chinese have a word for that orientation, or was it something that went unnamed?
    Well, I just look up the word 同性戀 (the “same sex love”) in the Chinese Wikipedia. The Chinese Wikipedia says “In ancient China, the term 「同性戀」(the “same sex love”) didn't exist, but the ancient Chinese people had a lot of other words to describe that indirectly.” I'd better not list these terms used by ancient Chinese people, because all of them are ancient-Chinese language, very different from modern Chinese language. For most Chinese people today, these terms are difficult to understand too. (Ancient-Chinese language is a compulsory course in the junior and senior high school of both China and Taiwan, but most students don't like the course because it's really hard to learn Ancient-Chinese)

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    #4

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    I also have heard that in the People's Republic of China, sometimes people use the word "comrade" ("tong zhi") to refer to a gay man.
    Yes, both Chinese and Taiwanese people use the word 同志 (pronounce “tong zhi”) to refer to gay/lesbian. But actually this is just a kind of slang, and a lot of senior people (old people) don't use this slang when they refer to gay/lesbian. Young people in both China and Taiwan prefer to use it.

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    #5

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by from-China-love-Taiwan View Post
    Why don't English words end up with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind of thing?Or Why don't English words appear in the same form to describe the same thing?
    You're not comparing apples with apples. English is the result of a collision between four main languages, resulting from invasions, and it shows features of all of these in different places. March is exactly the same form as January to an English speaker. BTW- it just doesn't happen to end in the same letters, but girl and table don't either. Trying to compare two vastly different languages that have undergone very different paths will not lead to a great understanding. English does not follow a repetitive pattern that is applicable to all cases. Furthermore, its spelling system is weak. However, it is very adaptable and can manage to deal with new conditions, which it has done for hundreds of years across continents. It may not conform to a repetitive pattern, but it does work in many circumstances. Comparison to an unrelated language - unrelated linguistically, culturally and historically - is not going to lead to many truths about a language. It is better to simply accept that languages do things differently without looking at why. They do because they do- that's the answer. Chinese does not have a plural form, I am told, and English does, so you don't have a plural suffix. We do, but it doesn't apply universally or consistently. However, we can live with sheep and oxen without thinking that the concept of plurality is negated. It might not make much sense to a speaker of a language that has no concept of singular and plural, but it works for us.

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    #6

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by from-China-love-Taiwan View Post
    (Ancient-Chinese language is a compulsory course in the junior and senior high school of both China and Taiwan, but most students don't like the course because it's really hard to learn Ancient-Chinese)


    I have also heard that there is a gentle, respectful movement among some scholars to slowly start using again a few traditional characters in the People's Republic of China (the Mainland).

    Here in the United States, it seems that the trend is toward the simplified characters in Chinese-language classes. The reasoning is like this: Americans should be taught the simplified characters because they are used by the People's Republic of China.

    I think that Hong Kong and especially the Republic of China (Taiwan) are holding on to traditional characters. But as the older people leave the scene, will the young people start to gravitate to the simplified characters?

    I find the simplified vs. traditional character controversy somewhat amusing.

    It reminds me of the (courteous) debate over American and British spelling ("color" vs. "colour")!

    P.S. I have read that some of today's TRADITIONAL characters are actually SIMPLIFIED versions of ANCIENT Chinese characters!
    Last edited by TheParser; 08-Jan-2015 at 15:12. Reason: choice of preposition

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    #7

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    I know that some people might say “it's boring and unnecessary to discuss the difference between two unrelated languages. It's a waste of time.”

    I just want to express this: it's completely reasonable to compare the similarity and the difference between your native language and the second language which you are learning. I think it's a natural knee-jerk reaction that every foreign-language-learning student would have. A good example for this knee-jerk reaction is that almost all western students who try to learn Chinese or Japanese or Korean would ask their teacher “Why don't these far eastern people use an alphabet? Don't you think their written words are ridiculous?”

    If I were this teacher, I would not tell my western students that “it's a waste of time to discuss this question. All you need to do is just memorizing new words and don't ask 'why this why that' questions any more.”

    By the way, ancient Chinese language is wen yan wen(文言文) , not traditional Chinese character (繁體字/正體中文).

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    #8

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by from-China-love-Taiwan View Post
    ...If I were this teacher, I would not tell my western students that “it's a waste of time to discuss this question. All you need to do is just memorizing new words and don't ask 'why this why that' questions any more"...
    What would you say then? And how will they finally manage without any alphabet?

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    #9

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    ... English is the result of a collision between four main languages, resulting from invasions, and it shows features of all of these in different places. ...
    And there are plenty of other influences; I imagine I could name 40/50 off the top of my head, and I know there are plenty more (a greater number) - that I'm not aware of - on top of that.

    This applies to pronunciation as well: for example, most -ander words have the vowel sound /æ/: dander, gander, hander, lander, meander (three syllables; the second is /æ/), pander, sander; but not all (wander, for example). This isn't a surprise to long-time students, who are used to this sort of anomaly; but it's not a 'learner-friendly' feature!

    b
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    #10

    Re: Why don't English words end with the same “suffix” to describe the same kind thin

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    ... This isn't a surprise to long-time students, who are used to this sort of anomaly; but it's not a 'learner-friendly' feature!

    b
    Actually, there are two (only!) fundamental rules that can turn it all into a very 'learner-friendly' experience

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