Saturday, July 02, 2005

Why the Chinese Are So Friggin' Smart

Copyright 2005 by Miles Gloriosus.

I've had an epiphany: I've finally figured out why the Chinese are so friggin' smart.

There's no point in denying it: on average, they're smarter than we white European types are. They blow the doors off the SATs, they (and other Asians) dominate the upper-GPA ranks in universities, and they even win most English-language spelling bees, though homeschooled white kids give them a run for their money. They also work like coal miners, which doesn't hurt at all.

But back to why the Chinese are so smart. Is it their diet? No. Is it their culture? No. Is it the length of their history? No, it's none of those things. It's their language. Really.

Chinese, which I've started to learn, must be the most accursedly difficult language in the world. I asked a young Chinese-American woman if she'd tutor me. She said that her parents had sent her to a Chinese-language high school, but that even she hadn't been able to learn the language with any degree of fluency.

Written letters in traditional Chinese are pictograms that you have to memorize; to make it easier for us foreigners (and to facilitate international commerce), the Chinese have developed a new system of writing called pinyin that uses standard English letters to transliterate words according to their pronunciation.

But even pinyin isn't much help, because the letters don't match very well with their English pronunciation: "z" is pronounced "ds," "c" is pronounced "tz," "iu" is pronounced "ee-oh," and so forth. Pinyin is a lousy pronunciation guide because it was devised by Chinamen who didn't know English very well. The previous system that pinyin replaced, Wade-Giles, was also a lousy pronunciation guide because it was devised by Englishmen who didn't know Chinese very well.

Transliteration isn't the only problem. In Chinese, it's not just the sounds you pronounce: it's also the pitch. A syllable can have a high and even pitch, or rising, falling, falling/rising, or neutral. Each word has its own combination of pronunciation and pitch, and when it's used in combination with other words, the pitch sometimes changes. Speaking Chinese is more like singing than talking. The trick is to learn the notes.

My theory of Chinese smartitude is this: Before you can have children, you have to ask a woman for a date. Before you can ask a woman for a date, you have to learn the language. And you can't learn Chinese unless you're pretty smart.

Therefore, in China, people who aren't pretty smart can't get dates. They either move to other countries that have easier languages, or they end up having no children. Over the centuries, the average Chinese IQ goes up and up as less-intelligent people are weeded out of the gene pool.

That's quite a bit different from the way it goes in the West, where less-intelligent members of the population start breeding when they're in their early teens and don't stop until biology calls the game for want of gametes. The more intelligent members of the population are all too busy going to college, grad school, and working 70-hour weeks at the law firm to have any kids. And I think we can all see which direction the average Western IQ is going: it ain't good, campers.

In the meantime, between now and the collapse of Western civilization, I'm struggling to learn putongwhah (Mandarin Chinese) so that I can speak it without causing every Chinese person in a five-mile radius to burst into uncontrollable laughter. Wish me "buena suerte."


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