Chinese languages and economic prosperity

August 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm (Arts and languages, Economics)

A while ago I had a post about why learning Mandarin may not be the best idea for those working in business. One reason I outlined was that much of the industrialized regions of China were not Mandarin-speaking areas. In addition to this, one point I forgot to mention was that the ethnic Chinese who dominate business and trade in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and to a lesser extent Vietnam and Indonesia are also not native Mandarin speakers.

I do not have access to figures about the dominance of ethnic Chinese in trade and business in these regions, but I have been able to roughly calculate the GDP per capita (in USD) of these Chinese communities. I will then compare that with figures for the majority-Mandarin speaking provinces of China, in an attempt to show that economic opportunities in these non-Mandarin speaking communities are much greater for foreign investors. I will also list the figures for the North American Chinese community for those who are interested.

I will list the main native Chinese languages of each community by their ancestral origin. This will be roughly ordered by descending number of speakers, but I will not provide actual figures for each language as estimates here tends to vary considerably.

Now, it is true that many of the businessmen in these communities have learnt to understand Mandarin. However, that is usually their third or fourth language (with the possible exception of Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China, where there has been government-promoted Mandarization), and in general they understand it less well than English. In that sense, learning Mandarin will not provide any networking advantage for a native English speaker.

There are also a fair number of ethnic Chinese who speak Malay (in Malaysia and Indonesia), Thai (in Thailand), and English (in all countries). In Thailand, in particular, the majority of the Chinese speak Thai as a native language. However, I will only list the main native Chinese languages for comparison purposes.

Countries that are not included for lack of data: Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia

—Overseas Chinese—

Malaysian Chinese community:

Languages: Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew

Population: 7m (25%)

Avg. Income: $12,936

Singaporean Chinese community:

Languages: Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Mandarin

Population: 3m (74%)

Avg. Income: At least $43,867
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Ten commonly misused terms

August 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm (Arts and languages, Evolution and psychology, Mass media)

1. Social construct

Social construct refers to a specific and arbitrary social arrangement. It can be compared to the idea of a social contract, although a social contract often involves common knowledge while a construct does not.

In critical studies and in other fields, there has been a trend of labeling pretty much every social or natural phenomenon as a “social construct”, often with the implication that it is imaginary and undesirable. But many of these “social constructs” can be attributed to natural causes, and are completely unrelated to society.


  • Languages are social constructs.
  • Gender roles are largely social constructs.
  • The idea that “romantic love” exists is a social construct.
  • Language use is not a social construct.
  • Gender is not a social construct.
  • The feeling described by “romantic love” is not a social construct.

2. Ad hominem

The notion of argumentum ad hominem is distinct from the notion of personal attacks. Argumentum ad hominem is to relate a person’s argument with his character; if someone states that homosexuality is immoral, and is revealed to be a closet homosexual, it is an argumentum ad hominem to question his hypocrisy, though it is not intended as a personal attack. It is also logically permissible.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to make a personal comment without making an argumentum ad hominem, and in fact this is very common in daily conversation – “It’s not what you said, but the way you said it” “I don’t like your attitude” – etc.

3. Ethos, pathos, logos

These are commonly known as the three “modes of persuasion”, but they are nothing of this sort. Ethos (sense of authority/credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (reason) belong to the audience. The three modes of persuasion are appealing to ethos, appealing to pathos, and appealing to logos.

These terms are also often confused with each other. For example, Brutus’s speech to the citizens in Julius Caesar is often cited as an appeal to ethos or pathos, but it is in fact mostly an appeal to logos. While he talks about his love of Caesar, and of Rome, it was not an attempt to establish his own character or appeal to the audience’s emotions, but to justify the act of killing Caesar as a reasonable decision. One can speak of his own character and of emotions without it being an appeal to either ethos or pathos.

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London artist shows off to struggling foreign workers how much money he can afford to waste

July 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm (Arts and languages)

Link: The Art of the Factory

“I asked them to make me one of their products, but to make it with an error…Whatever this worker chose to do, I would accept and pay for.”

“[Err is] about creating deliberate miscommunication,” continues Hutchison, “forging a moment of poetry within a hyper-efficient system of digital exchange. It’s about an invisible global workforce, and their connection to the relentless regurgitation of stuff. It’s about Duchamp and the readymade, but updated to exist within the context of today’s globalised economy. It’s about the rub between art and design, the mass-produced and unique, the functional and the dysfunctional.”

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The problem with Humanities

June 17, 2011 at 2:36 am (Arts and languages, Logic and philosophy, Natural sciences, Personal experiences)

I remember when I was in my early teenage years, I was quite fond of thinking about (or attempting to think about) various philosophical questions on my own: the nature of the universe, the development of civilization, the underlying logic of society, and so on. At some point, when I was 14 or so, I started to study philosophy and literature seriously as an academic discipline and devoted a lot of time to it. This was a stupid blunder, and it cost me quite a few years. Today, at the age of 18, I understand essentially very little beyond what I had understood when I was 14. I did learn about a few principles about economics and a few mathematical truths during this time, but all of it I could have gotten without a pursuit of the humanities.

What I got from the humanities was entirely confusion. I learnt a massive array of terminology that contained very little depth. I was almost contaminated by the sense that philosophy is a puzzle to be solved with the aid of old white men, rather than a series of natural and essential questions that all men ought to think about. My thoughts were compartmentalized in meaningless and arbitrary ways by meaningless and arbitrary definitions: ethics, modernism, stoicism, deontology, and so on. All of these definitions are quite useful when you are communicating with people that are equally confused with you; all of these definitions are completely useless when what you are trying to do is to think.
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Lyrical composition in Cantopop

June 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm (Arts and languages)

Cantopop, or Cantonese pop music, generally refers to the songs and music videos created by the Hong Kong music industry.[1] Over the last thirty years, Cantopop has had widespread success in countries from Japan to Malaysia, and is credited with giving birth to the entire Chinese pop (C-pop) music style.

One of the features of Cantopop that are not too often appreciated in public is the sheer difficulty of composing lyrics in Cantonese. The main problem lies in the tonal system. A tone is the unique (relative) pitch associated to a word; a tonal language uses pitch to distinguish between different meanings. English, for example, is not a tonal language, for pitch cannot on its own be used to differentiate between words or between meanings of a word. There is a distinction between stress and unstressed syllables in English, which involves pitch, but this difference is mainly observed in the vowels – think of “RE-cord” (n.) versus “re-CORD” (v.).
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Learning Chinese

May 25, 2011 at 10:33 am (Arts and languages)

There is in recent years a growing trend of native English speakers attempting to learn Chinese in North America and in Western Europe. It is often seen by students and parents as a marketable skill given the rising economic status of mainland China as well as the growing Chinese population in the U.S. and Canada. Quite frankly, however, I find it a silly endeavor. Here are several reasons NOT to learn Chinese:

1. It is (almost) impossible. Written Chinese is one of the most difficult written languages in the world today. There exists more than 120,000 characters, about 30,000 of them commonly used, and about 5,000 of them necessary for daily communication. A typical Chinese course teaches you about 100 characters, which is about the amount that a Chinese toddler needs to maintain his daily necessities: ask for food, water, and toys. In addition, many words in Chinese consist of more than one character. Finally, characters and words have different meanings depending on context. That gives rise to, by my rough estimate, a few trillion possible combinations of characters that may or may not have a valid meaning.

…Now you add onto all this the fact that there is a pronunciation associated to each character depending on its context of usage as well as location in the sentence.

Probably the best evidence of the difficulty of Chinese is the existence of a unique form of television show in China, in which foreigners (many of whom having lived in China for decades) make their best attempt to speak Chinese. It was a highly successful and popular television show. Critics called it cruel and humiliating.
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