The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #28 July / August 2017
Proverbs from the World
by Tarja Jolma
July / August 2017 | 
Proverbs from the World:

The world is full of languages, which in turn are full of proverbs. Some of them are very culture related, some instead very universal. In this article there is a selection of different types of proverbs. This time the language of choice is Chinese.

The word "Chinese" may be interpreted as a group of related but often mutually unintelligible languages or dialects, but for language learners, it mostly means the standard Chinese, i.e. Modern Mandarin Chinese, which is an official language in China, Taiwan and Singapore. It may be written with traditional characters, like in Taiwan, or simplified characters, like in China and Singapore. Language learners are likely to study the simplified characters, which are used in this article. The pronunciation is given in Hanyu Pinyin.

The first two examples are called yànyǔ, 谚语. They don't have a specific form, and they represent popular wisdom just like proverbs in any language. The last two examples are called chéngyǔ, 成语. A typical chéngyǔ is very short, only four characters and therefore only four syllables. They usually allude to a story or a historical quotation. Since a chéngyǔ is not a full sentence but a proverbial phrase, it can also be inserted into sentences.

1. Chinese literature has a long history. Here's one sign of it:


Dú ​wàn ​juàn ​shū​, xíng​ wàn ​lǐ ​lù.
'Read ten thousand books and walk ten thousand miles.'<
Meaning: an avid reader will gain knowledge, and an avid traveler will gain experience. Both are important to become wise. Ten thousand is used metaphorically here, meaning a lot, innumerable. In Chinese, ten thousand is expressed with one word:

2. Contrary to many others, Chinese speakers seem to have some faith in bad people changing for the better:


Fàng​xià ​tú​dāo​, lì​dì​ chéng ​fó.
'The butcher who lays down his cleavers at once becomes a Buddha.'
Meaning: an evildoer can become a good person if he/she sincerely repents and truly changes his ways. Buddha means not only Buddha but a saintly person.

3. Dragon's are important and valued in the Chinese culture.


'Putting the finishing touches on a picture of a dragon'
This saying dates back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 589) and a painter called Zhang Sengyou. He once painted dragons on the wall of a temple but didn't paint their eyes. When asked about it, he explained that if their eyes were painted, they would fly away. People did not believe him, so Zhang Sengou added eyes to two of the four dragons. As soon as he was done, those two dragons flew away.
Meaning: when writing or speaking, one or two key sentences will enhance one's words, and be the vital finishing touch or the crucial point that brings the subject to life.

4. In the Chinese cuisine, 枣 (zǎo) is jujube, also called Chinese date, which is a common fruit.


'Gulping down a whole date'
The story behind this saying is that a physician told a group of people that dates are good for the spleen but harmful for the teeth. One man did not think things through before saying that then it would be a good idea to swallow dates whole without chewing them. In his opinion that would allow people to enjoy the advantages and avoid the harmful side.
Meaning: reading or listening without understanding or analyzing the content.

The four examples are taken from the following bilingual, illustrated books:
成语101. 101 Common Chinese Idioms and Set Phrases, Gems of the Chinese languages Through the Ages, first edition 2015, Sinolingua Co., Ltd., Beijing

谚语101. 101 Pearls of Chinese Wisdom, Gems of the Chinese languages Through the Ages, first edition 2015, Sinolingua Co., Ltd., Beijing

Proverbs from the World - Chinese
Writer: Tarja Jolma
Petey: Book; Dates

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe now
and never miss an issue!

In this issue:

Missed something?
Find previous issues in the archives.

Become a Patron and help support us


Subscribe to Parrot Time!

Copyright © 2013-2018 Scriveremo Publishing