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The Art of Chinese Calligraphy: Learning Language with the Eyes
on July 8, 2008
For most Westerners the mystery of the Orient has always been cloaked in the seemingly impenetrable complexity of languages based on characters. The frustration of wanting to learn one of the Eastern languages is usually heightened by the fact that a 'character' can mean a word or a concept and for the Western mind to step away from the building of words from a set of 26 alphabet letters requires releasing the security so ingrained in our 'inside the box, phonetic approach' to learning language.
Sam Y. Song's fine book LEARNING CHINESE THE EASY WAY changes this perception. Instead of devoting the mind to memorizing countless words, arranging them into nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., Song shows us how the Chinese language is essentially a visual experience - a fascinating exploration of simplifying line drawings of visual things (man, water, eyes, and so forth) and thereby creating visual representations of words created from these reduced lines. Even in explaining the process, Song makes so accessible one of the major differences between, say, Chinese and English, is that need to scientifically dissect symbols relegated to vocabulary instead of merely using the eyes to visualize the objects around us to transmit visuals to the written word.
Case in point: 'look at; see; watch' is a character that is composed of a reduction of a sketch for an eye and a hand that when combined result in a symbol of 'a person watching something with his hand above his eye' or 'to look at, see, or watch. ' Sound simple? With Song's gift for line reduction moving into calligraphy it IS simple, and with the added 'word' for each symbol along side the completed visual, very soon sentences can be constructed or thoughts can be expressed.
From Song's user friendly teaching lessons comes this example of how he accomplishes his Mission: 'How to find a character to express "water" in Chinese?' (he then draws wavy lines, progresses them to the simplest form, compresses them logically) and Presto! we "reach the character \shui\ which means 'water' in Chinese'. Eastern wisdom seduces Western thought into understanding a new form of language. And with Sam Y. Song's technique, it seems that each of us can enter a mysterious world of Chinese symbols comfortably. This is a fine book that entertains as it teaches. Highly recommended. Grady Harp