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On the day of Lantern Festival, a local radio in Nanning, the city where I currently stay, played a show where two hosts read out a poem authored by 杜甫 in Cantonese and in Mandarin respectively in celebration of the holiday. Since 杜甫 is a famous poet, there was no problem to know his name by the sound, but about the poem I could understand not even one word of it, and when I later wanted to check this online, I forgot the title of the poem. Later on, I also read an article about Chinese people's addictive reliance on subtitle displayed on screen when watching videos, even the language is their mother tongue.

What will you do in this context and can you understand an ancient poem by hearing only if you are a native Chinese?

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Is it possible to understand an ancient poem by hearing only?

virtually impossible 😼

people's addictive reliance on subtitle displayed on screen when watching videos, even the language is their mother tongue

there’re many explanations, mainly:

普通話同音字太多

there’re too many homophones in mandarin, read a caption can save the time to guess what did the actors say

台灣的電視節目會上字幕,最主要原因是因為國語、台語、客語的方言目標收視族群不同

in taiwan, the same caption can serve different “groups” of audiences, like mandarin, taiwanese, hakka, . . .

使用拼音文字為母語的人在聽力方面比較強,以象形文字為母語的人圖像辨識能力比較高

more scientific, people using ideographs, their listening skill are weaker, they rely heavily on visual input; that’s why captions is popular

have fun :)

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    My teacher told me that it is impoosible for any Chinese to know a poem, especially an old one by hearing unless he reads it, because almost all the expressions are in an old style. Commented Mar 2 at 1:42
  • I think if someone is very fluent in classical chinese, they might understand an ancient poem just by hearing it. But I fully agree that a regular modern educated chinese speaker, native or otherwise, has no chance.
    – zagrycha
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:21
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Is it possible to understand an ancient poem by hearing only?

It is hard for modern Mandarin speakers because Mandarin only has four tones. Cantonese has nine tones (less homophone) and retains more old Chinese vocabulary that often appears in ancient poems. Reading ancient poems in Cantonese sounds much more natural than in Mandarin. Mandarin became the national language of China only recently, there was a different common language that was closer to Cantonese

See 為什麼用粵語讀古詩詞更動聽 and 一句廣東話七成都是古文

Also this article

Chinese people's addictive reliance on subtitle displayed on screen when watching videos, even the language is their mother tongue.

It is for different markets. Different regions speak different dialects, but all can read Standard written Chinese (SWC).

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    About the superiority of Cantonese over mandarin itself, I have read some articles. But what about other dialects like those in Sichuan, Shanghai, Fujian and Taiwan, which have long history and develop their own culture? Are they not good enough to read a poem in? Commented Mar 2 at 1:47
  • In the videos I linked, they all mentioned some dialects retain even more old Chinese tones than Cantonese. Just Mandarin lost too much of that compared to older dialects
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Mar 2 at 3:27

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