Type: Exploratory
Pages: 6 | Words: 1523
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The Chinese and English societies as well as their languages are substantially different. First of all, it is essential to compare the distinctive features of these two nations. The Chinese society is based on collectivism, which implies that a person stresses upon not his/her own values or interests but gives a greater prominence to the family, society, and country. This is not the case with the Western culture, which glorifies individualism with its personal rights and excessive self-indulgence (it is enough to remember the American concept of a “self-made man,†which implies that a person can do everything to reach his/her goals). Therefore, if the English culture can be said to expand and develop outwards, the Chinese culture is more internal, stable, and self-centered. 

Secondly, the English, as representatives of the western culture, are more adventurous and tend to explore new things, whereas the Chinese society is more human-centered. That is why there is no wonder that in the English society, science dominates and is applied to solve conflicts between people and nature; whereas the Chinese try to unite the heaven and human for this purpose. Likewise, China does not use laws to solve interpersonal conflicts but rather tolerance and ethics. Correspondingly, the Chinese do not rely on God as a means of solving any problems (as it is the case with the Western culture, which is imbued with the notion of omnipotent God) but emphasize upon internal personal cultivation.

China’s inclination towards collectivity was historically predetermined. For Confucius, the collective welfare of the society was the most prominent thing; he praised such virtues as communal commitment, diligence, obedience, selflessness, social harmony, and working for the common well-being. He also defined a strict social division of the Chinese patriarchal society: “scholar-bureaucrats†ranked at the top since they were the wisest and knew how the social order could be maintained; they were followed by farmers, who produced vital goods; after farmers came artisans, whose skills were also highly appreciated; merchants ranked at the bottom since they only bought and sold things. Today, however, it seems that this traditional division broke down and was replaced by another hierarchy: 1) merchant-bureaucrats; 2) factory workers (who replaced artisans); 3) scholars and migrants (whom the government represses); 4) farmers  .     

Inclination towards collectivism cannot go without conformity, which is of immense significance in the Chinese society. People fear to violate rules because being different can lead to an exclusion from a group. That is why the Chinese have a sharp sense of “our†and “strange,†which implies that they are less likely than the English (who are labeled as reserved) to help strangers. For the same reason, privacy is not as valued in the Chinese society as it is in the English one. The Chinese tend to live particularly close to each other with minimal boundaries; they enjoy crowds, street life, shouting, and going everywhere together in groups. Thus, the European striving for privacy is often understood by the Chinese as arrogance.

Social distinctions are highly significant in Chinese society, for instance, people should rigidly stick to established behavioral patterns, such as displaying deference and humility to the superior, while the Englishmen tend to be rather informal in the workplace. For instance, colleagues and bosses are usually called by the first names, and the same can be said about tutors and students. Although the social distinction is also inherent to the English society, it should be mentioned that the boundary between classes has become vaguer recently, and people began shifting from one social layer to another. Predominantly, this is the shift to the middle-class from the working class. According to some sociologists, this phenomenon is known as “embourgeoisement.†The royal family, however, still preserves its status and position in the society.  

As far as the Chinese and English communication styles are concerned, they are both characterized as implicit and indirect. The British will never tell directly what they think so that to understand them as well as Chinese people, one should have enough background and cultural knowledge to interpret non-verbal behavior, tone, and expressions correctly (Harzing, n.d.). Another common feature in the societies compared is that both Chinese and English care for their children’s future. Therefore, children’s education is of great importance, and parents often invest in children’s educational opportunities. Further, family traditions are cherished in both societies, but the Chinese have more obligations to old parents. For instance, there is a chance that parents may sue their son and make him pay money if he refuses to support them.

It goes without saying that every nation has its language with peculiar features, which can be hardly found in other languages. The same can be said about the Chinese and English languages, which are radically different. In the first place, this is predetermined by the fact that English belongs to the Indo-European language system, whereas Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Firstly, it is essential to examine the differences in the sentence structure. Chinese is topic oriented and English is a subject-prominent language. Secondly, English is hypotactic, while Chinese is paratactic (consensual). In hypotactic languages, logical relationships between sentences or their parts are expressed with the help of conjunctions; paratactic languages, in turn, use context for the same purpose.  Further, in the English language, the passive voice prevails, whereas the Chinese language makes profound use of the active voice (since it always uses animate things as a subject). Finally, in English, the main information is presented at the beginning of a sentence (the main clause comes before the subordinate clause), while in the Chinese language, the main information comes at the end of a sentence.  

Comparing the two languages, one cannot but mention their alphabetic system. Unlike English, Chinese uses logographic symbols, which stand for separate words. Chinese comprises about 50,000 pictograms; people, however, can make themselves clear using only 2,000 characters (Basic Chinese Language, n.d.). Whereas the English alphabet is based on the Latin one, Chinese symbols trace back to the Aramaic alphabet.

As far as the phonetic system is concerned, Chinese distinguishes a word meaning by changing the pitch of a phoneme, i.e. it is a tone language; English uses the pitch to express emotions or emphasize something. The unique features of the Chinese phonology are its four lexical tones and that all Chinese words are monosyllabic with four tones (Differences between Chinese and English – character structure and pronunciation, n.d.). As in a tonal language, each Chinese syllable has its tone. The quantity of phonologically allowed syllables is limited, e.g. there can be no more than 1345 monosyllables in Mandarin. If one disregards the variation of tones, this number is reduced to 416 for Mandarin or slightly different numbers for other dialects. Small quantity of syllables predetermines larger number of homonym pictograms within the same syllable. Consequently, each syllable contains many polysemantic characters, the combination of which results into unrestricted number of sentences and words. Exactly this phenomenon is meant under the monosyllabic structure of the Chinese language (Lee, n.d.). Besides, there are more vowel sounds in English than in Chinese; it is difficult for Chinese people to distinguish between /l/ and /r/ and produce the final consonant, which is typical for English and less common for Chinese. 

What makes Chinese grammar easier than English is that Chinese verbs are not inflected, which implies that such grammatical categories as person, time, and number are absent in Chinese. To render verb tenses, Chinese uses particles and adverbs. As the Chinese language lacks inflectional morphology, it is concerned with the meaningful arrangements of words. The basic sentence pattern is similar to English: in declarative sentences, the pattern is Subject + Predicative or Subject + Verb + Object. At the same time, a Chinese question has the same syntax as a statement, which is not usually typical of the English language. There are no articles in Chinese as well as phrasal verbs; therefore, it is exceptionally difficult for Chinese learners to use them correctly and they may avoid using such words at all. The same can be said about modal verbs: as Chinese modals bear less semantic loading than their English counterparts, Chinese people usually fail to use them correctly.

After considering the abovementioned distinctions, it can be reasonably claimed that the English and Chinese societies are fundamentally different, which is predetermined by their history and culture. The English society tends to develop outwards and be individualistic or predominantly self-indulgent, whereas the Chinese society develops inwards and emphasizes collectivism and collective well-being. The fear of being different is typical of the Chinese society since Chinese people have a strong sense of belonging to a group, while the English are more adventurous. The Chinese strong collective sense is unknown to the Englishmen, who value their privacy and do not allow, unlike Chinese people, to intrude on their private space. The common features of the two societies are their indirect communication style and concern for their children’s education. The differences between the languages are caused by their pertaining to different language families. English is subject-oriented, hypotactic, and makes profound use of the passive voice, whereas Chinese is topic-oriented, paratactic, and gives greater prominence to the active voice.

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