Evan Osnos is a London-born American journalist who lives in China but took a Chinese bus tour through Europe with Chinese people from China. He writes an article, then chats live with readers. I, on the other hand, now take a bus tour through my own linguistic prejudices.
COMMENT FROM YEQIAN: Hi, you just became my favorite writer in The New York, as a Chinese girl who are now learning communication in American college, i found that people in America including my classmates sometimes don’t quite know about China, i like your articles which are very objective and i also watched your Q&A interview, very fascinating and i already shared it on my Facebook. I’m glad your work has made people know about a real China, i really appreciate that.
EVAN OSNOS: Thanks.
I could probably learn a thing or two about language and myself if I could figure out why this writing style strikes me as so damn foreign. Would it have helped if “COMMENT FROM YEQIAN” and “…as a Chinese girl…” weren’t there? There’s something looser, more amenable to run-on, non-subordinated sentences in conversational Chinese, I guess, though there seems to be no shortage of subordination and tight writing in the written form..?
What if this was a comment from Yulia the Uzbek girl? Why do I get the distinct idea that this girl is from Southern China and would be kind of annoying if I were to try to get to know her?
COMMENT FROM SOPHIE: Hi Evan, as a Chinese who grew up abroad, I would be quite curious to join one of these groups just to see what kind of background history the guides provide to initiate the Chinese (having done my own rambling interrailing just out of high school). You mentioned that most were people who hadn’t been abroad before—do you think the guide would have provided a different set of explanations for people who had, or who had lived abroad and returned, as is the case increasingly? And if so, in what ways? Thanks.
EVAN OSNOS: Yes, I think the guide would have a different set of lectures and tips for more seasoned travelers. It was rather by accident that I ended up on the group that I did; if the dates had been a bit different, I might have ended up with a contingent of visiting dentists or cadres or whatever. After eighteen years, Guide Li had seen just about every kind of group pass through.
Ok. This excerpt brings up two issues: first, I think I write/speak basically in the way that this writer does. There’s our friend, “quite,” who stays past his welcome, having arrived in language books from the 1920s or something (in my mind). There’s the slight overconstruction, the parenthetical, the em dash.
The second issue is use of “a Chinese.” I’ve always been really uncomfortable with this usage, and this is the place where my writing would depart from “Sophie’s.” “English,” “French” and “Chinese,” to me, are in the at category of national adjectives that can’t be used substantively in a specific way: you can’t say “He is a French”–you have to say “He is a Frenchman” or “He is French.”
I forget why there are some adjective like this. Is it because these nationalities are mysteriously ascribed to odd things? French kiss, Chinese staircase, … Someone remind me.