This was originally a post on futurepundit…I will post the original article and my comments below:

Mandarin is probably more efficient in the spoken form, but less so in the written. Its typical construction is s-v-o, however, mandarin has no effective future sense, no case change, no real past tense (but for the particle “le” at the end of the sentence and using constructs such as “wo zuotien qu shangdian le” (I yesterday go store). Mandarin also has no real plural, everything is counted with counting words, such as we have in English but they have far more (such as 2 flocks of geese, a heard of deer, etc)….in Mandarin an example would be “Wo kanguo san suen quaizi” ( I saw three chopstix, “suen” being the group word (I’m not 100% sure on the group word for chopsticks, been awhile) This language in the spoken form has few exceptions, is very streamline, and despite this Chinese people have been able to develop very complex abstract ideas in science and literature.

I once read that the older a language is and the more unified the country is culturally, the less grammar the language has…English not being an old language and is a hog-pog of two distinct languages, Latin (through the old Norman French) and German (through a distinct dialect that is closer to present day Dutch than High German and Old Norse)…the language is not efficient in grammar or spelling due to this.

I find Mandarin much easier to speak, than other languages I studied (such as Russian, French, and Spanish) due to the simple grammar constructions. Writing Chinese I found very hard, is is extremely detail oriented and memory intensive…the reason they still use characters is due to the fact that the writing system was the langu-franca of China proper for centuries. Until the Communists unified Modern China only the highly educated could speak the language of the “court” and this langauge varied depending on where the court was located. It was not always in Beijing. Due to China’s age and the fact that most people did not move around, regional dialects became so diversified that the difference between Shanghai Dialect, Cantonese, and Mandarin became greater than the difference between Portugese, Italian, and Spanish. If they had went to an alphabet, it would have been chaos, because everyone would have spelled words differently. The characters have no sound associated with them, therefore it does not matter how you say the character the meaning is the same.

I can give a good example of this.

Although Japanese (but for many loan words) is not grammatically similar to Chinese at all, the characters for the words sky and country are exactly the same as in Mandarin, however in Mandarin the characters are pronounced “tien” and guo, whereas in Japanese they are “Ten” and “koku” respectively. China in Mandarin is Zhongguo, in Japanese it is Chugoku, but written exactly the same in Chinese characters.

These characters unified China and made it possible to communicate between regions despite the dialect or language…even Vietnamese (who were part of China for over 1,000 years but have a strikingly different language) and Koreans once wrote in Chinese characer completely…so did the Japanese (however Japanese today only use 2,000 characters in unison with their two alphabet sytems).

 Parts Of Brain Used For Math Differ For English, Chinese Speakers

Chinese and English speakers both use the inferior parietal cortex when doing math. But Chinese and English speakers use different additional brain regions for calculating.

“But native English speakers rely more on additional brain regions involved in the meaning of words, whereas native Chinese speakers rely more on additional brain regions involved in the visual appearance and physical manipulation of numbers,” says Eric Reiman of the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, US, one of the team.

Specifically, Chinese speakers had more activity in the visual and spatial brain centre called the visuo-premotor association network. Native English speakers showed more activity in the language network known as perisylvian cortices in the left half of the brain.

Reiman and his colleagues suggest that the Chinese language’s simple way of describing numbers may make native speakers less reliant on language processing when doing maths. For example, “eleven” is “ten one” in Chinese “twenty-one” is “two ten one”.

Note that the native Engilsih speakers used in the study probably were not ethnic Chinese. So this study does not control for genetic factors. I’d like to see this study repeated in an English speaking country with Chinese ethnics who were raised to speak English from birth. Also, a comparison with other groups and with more languages would provide more controls.

If people use different parts of the brain to perform the same problems they probably think differently about the world.

The difference “may mean that Chinese speakers perform problems in a different manner than do English speakers,” said lead author Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China.

“In part that might represent the difference in language. It could be that the difference in language encourages different styles of computation and this may be enhanced by different methods of learning to deal with numbers,” Tang said in an interview via e-mail.

More use of some part of the brain to do computations might reduce the availability of that part of the brain for other uses. That, in turn, probably changes how the mind models the world.

This report is consistent with previous research which found differences in which parts of the mind process language. See Mandarin Language Uses More Of The Brain Than English.

I’d also like to brain scan comparisons done of people with different occupations (e.g. physicists, mathematicians, truck drivers, lawyers, reporters) for how they do mathematics. Do they differ between occupations as much as English and Chinese speakers differ?