ChatGPT writes VHM

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[This is a guest post by ChatGPT]

Write a Language Log blog post by Victor H. Mair

Title: "The Wonders of the Chinese Language"

As one of the world's oldest and most complex languages, Chinese has captivated linguists and language enthusiasts for centuries. From its unique writing system to its vast vocabulary and intricate grammar, Chinese is a fascinating and challenging language that continues to surprise and delight those who study it.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Chinese is its writing system. Chinese characters are visual symbols that convey meaning, and they are used in both written and spoken language. Unlike the phonetic alphabets used in many other languages, Chinese characters do not correspond to specific sounds, but rather to concepts or ideas. This makes the learning process much more complex, as students must memorize thousands of characters and learn their meanings and pronunciations.

Despite the challenges of learning Chinese, there are many benefits to studying this language. For one, it opens up a wealth of cultural and historical knowledge. Chinese literature, art, and philosophy have been hugely influential throughout history, and knowledge of the language allows access to a vast treasure trove of resources and ideas.

Moreover, as China continues to play an increasingly prominent role on the world stage, proficiency in Chinese is becoming a highly valuable skill in many industries. From business to diplomacy to academia, the ability to speak and read Chinese can be a huge asset.

But beyond its practical applications, Chinese is simply a beautiful and fascinating language. Its complex grammar and syntax, with its reliance on context and tone, allow for a depth of expression and nuance that is difficult to achieve in other languages. And its vast vocabulary, with its many homophones and idiomatic expressions, ensures that there is always more to discover and learn.

In short, Chinese is a language that rewards those who take the time to study it. Whether for practical or personal reasons, those who choose to learn Chinese are embarking on a journey that will challenge and enrich them for years to come. As someone who has devoted much of my life to studying and teaching Chinese, I can say with certainty that the wonders of this language are truly endless.


Regenerate response


ChatGPT Feb 13 Version. Free Research Preview. Our goal is to make AI systems more natural and safe to interact with. Your feedback will help us improve.

New chat

 中文是美好的!*                [This automatically Chinese title was at the left!]

Clear conversations


*Zhōngwén shì měihǎo de! ("Chinese is wonderful")


Selected readings

[Thanks to Michael Carr]


  1. Carl said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 7:07 am

    It understood your broad topic area, but doesn’t have any sense of style whatsoever.

  2. Peter Grubtal said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 7:21 am

    @Carl –

    well, I'd say the most remarkable thing about it is the consistent soapy PR style. Almost breathtaking for me.

    As for accuracy, how did VHM's hackles respond to "Chinese characters …. correspond to … concepts or ideas"?

  3. Rube said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 8:22 am

    From today's Comic Curmudgeon blog:

    One of the fascinating things about the current state of AI is that in science fiction, we imagined that robots would be able to dryly give ultra-correct answers to concrete questions but struggle with nuance, emotion, and (for some reason) contractions, while what we have today are chatbots like ChatGPT that will respond to your questions in fully idiomatic English paragraphs full of confidently delivered vague bullshitting and outright errors.

    Not sure why that came to mind…

  4. Mike Grubb said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 9:37 am

    I know the AI is prone to errors because it doesn't actually "understand" what it is producing, but I found this sentence striking: "Chinese characters are visual symbols that convey meaning, and they are used in both written and spoken language." I suppose, if people make gestures that are meant to replicate characters in the midst of verbal exchanges–I'm thinking of something similar to "air quotes" here–there might be some basis for this expression that seems blatantly false on the surface. Can anyone share light on whether such gesturing is a thing in the Sinosphere that salvages this sentence?

  5. Jerry Packard said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 10:11 am

    No, the “used in both written and spoken language." statement is ridiculous, even though the characters are occasionally traced in the air and Chinese sign language occasionally traces a character to represent a word.

  6. Taylor, Philip said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 10:45 am

    If I thought that my feedback might in any way influence ChatGPT's pronouncements in the future, I would suggest the following re-cast — "Chinese characters are visual symbols that convey both sound and meaning; they are used in the written language, and, occasionally, to augment the spoken language".

  7. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 1:07 pm

    To be clear, the "Selected readings" were presumably compiled by the real VHM and not by ChatGPT.

  8. Peter C. said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 1:31 pm

    This was an incredibly poor imitation. Transition words and writing style typical of highschool. Victor Mair is far more concise (and vocabulary more complex). Here I thought I was going to be fooled!

  9. Daniel Barkalow said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 3:04 pm

    It's interesting that it completely missed the structure of a usual VHM post. They normally start with a number of quotations, then some text written by VHM about the topic the quotations introduced, and end with selected readings. Occasionally, there's a story at the beginning rather than a quotation, but I don't think I've ever seen an actual VHM post that has only a title to set the topic or doesn't end with selected readings.

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 5:16 pm

    While it is true that Chinese characters are visual symbols used in written and spoken language, the assertion that they do not correspond to specific sounds is inaccurate. Chinese characters are, in fact, closely linked to pronunciation, and there are many rules governing their pronunciation in spoken Chinese. While it is true that some characters have multiple pronunciations, these are generally determined by the context in which they are used, and not entirely arbitrary.

    Additionally, the statement that Chinese characters represent only concepts or ideas is a vast oversimplification. While it is true that some characters represent abstract concepts, many others represent concrete objects, actions, or ideas. For example, the character for "mountain" (山) clearly represents a physical object, while the character for "to eat" (吃) represents a concrete action.

    In conclusion, while the quotation may contain some elements of truth, it oversimplifies and misrepresents the complexities of the Chinese writing system.

  11. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 5:24 pm

    @ Jonathan Smith I beg to differ —

    The character for "mountain" (山) does not necessarily represent the object in a clear or unambiguous manner to an unfamiliar reader who is not familiar with the character. The character for "mountain" is a pictographic character, which means that it was originally derived from a pictorial representation of the object it represents. However, over time, the character has become stylized and abstracted, so its resemblance to the object it represents may not be immediately obvious to all readers. In this sense, the visual symbol of the character for "mountain" does not necessarily convey its meaning in a straightforward manner to someone who is not already familiar with the character.

  12. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 5:35 pm

    ChatGPT:[…] 我只是一种工具,而人类仍然是掌握和创造语言的主体 […]

    Me: 你能把刚才那段话翻译成英文吗?

    ChatGPT: Sure, here's the translation: […] I am just a tool, and humans are still the main body of mastering and creating language […]

    Me: “人类仍然是掌握和创造语言的主体” is a nice Chinese sentence, but certainly can't be translated as "humans are still the main body of mastering and creating language." Can you improve on this line?

    Yes, you are correct that the translation of "人类仍然是掌握和创造语言的主体" as "humans are still the main body of mastering and creating language" is not the most accurate translation. A more accurate translation might be: "Human beings remain the primary agents in mastering and creating language."

    The above (ChatGPT-generated) comments were screwing around but at this point color me impressed :D

  13. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 5:43 pm

    me: very nice except that "mastering" for 掌握 seems odd here…

    chatgpt: You are correct, the word "mastering" may not be the best choice for translating 掌握 in this context. A more appropriate translation might be "understanding" or "commanding," which better captures the idea that humans are able to comprehend and use language in sophisticated ways

    crap I cam going to have to pay for this thing to help me with translation before long :/ :/ :/

  14. Viseguy said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 10:12 pm

    Ha ha, yet another amazing feat of ChatGPT: having proved beyond any doubt that Prof. Mair is irreplaceable.

  15. Viseguy said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 10:24 pm

    Me: "Professor of linguistics Victor H. Mair is not irreplaceable." Discuss.


    As an AI language model, I do not have personal opinions or beliefs, but I can provide a neutral analysis of the statement that "Professor of linguistics Victor H. Mair is not irreplaceable."

    Firstly, it is important to define what is meant by "irreplaceable" in this context. If we take the term to mean that no other linguist could ever replicate or exceed Professor Mair's achievements, then it would be difficult to make a definitive judgment. Professor Mair has made significant contributions to the field of linguistics, particularly in the study of Chinese language and literature. He has published numerous scholarly works and edited many important volumes in the field, and his expertise and insights are widely respected.

    However, if we take "irreplaceable" to mean that no one else could fill Professor Mair's position at a university or institution, then it is possible that this statement is true. While no individual is indispensable, it is important to consider the unique qualities and expertise that Professor Mair brings to his role as a professor of linguistics. He has likely built relationships with students and colleagues, developed teaching materials and curricula, and contributed to the research and administrative activities of his department. These tasks could be challenging to replicate, particularly if Professor Mair has specialized knowledge or skills that are not readily available in other faculty members.

    Moreover, it is worth considering that the replacement of a professor is not simply a matter of finding someone with similar expertise. Hiring a new professor can involve a lengthy search process, with factors such as funding, availability, and institutional priorities playing a role. Even if there are other linguists who could potentially fill Professor Mair's position, there may be other considerations that make it difficult to find a suitable replacement.

    In conclusion, while the statement that "Professor of linguistics Victor H. Mair is not irreplaceable" may be true in a broad sense, it is important to recognize the unique contributions and qualities that he brings to his position. The process of replacing a professor can be complex and challenging, and it may not be possible to find someone who can fully replicate Professor Mair's expertise and contributions to the field of linguistics.

  16. Viseguy said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 10:28 pm

    Whatever else it may be, ChatGPT is certainly a master of equivocation.

  17. Chester Draws said,

    February 28, 2023 @ 11:51 pm

    Whatever else it may be, ChatGPT is certainly a master of equivocation.

    Yes, except that they have specifically programmed it to be "correct" on a number of issues considered of importance to its masters. And once they start to fiddle with the settings, how can we trust it on anything important really?

    In one specific area, it is clearly spouting the official line, which is completely at contrast with the scientific evidence. (I shan't name the field, because I don't want to start a flame war.) Even to the extent of refusing to list contrary evidence, published in reputable sources like the New England Journal of Medicine.

    At that point, it it ceased to be AI at all, and they should not advertise it as such.

  18. KeithB said,

    March 1, 2023 @ 8:31 am

    Whatever else it may be, ChatGPT is certainly a master of equivocation.

    Maybe ChatGPT is an elf!
    "Do not go to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."

    Also, this is clearly not written by Victor since it does not mention character amnesia or how hard it is to write Chinese characters.

  19. John Swindle said,

    March 1, 2023 @ 7:13 pm

    It is able to repeat common misconceptions about Chinese language. It might or might not have responded the same way to 'Write a blog post by Arnold P. Smithenbocker. Title: "The Wonders of the Chinese Language".'

  20. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 3, 2023 @ 7:13 am

    Yes, except that they have specifically programmed it to be "correct" on a number of issues considered of importance to its masters. And once they start to fiddle with the settings, how can we trust it on anything important really?

    You couldn't trust it on anything important before they started fiddling.

  21. Mark S. said,

    March 4, 2023 @ 9:35 am

    I'm glad several people have pointed out that in general the remarks on Chinese characters are nonsense and very un-Mairian. (Off-topic question: What would the be best adjectival form for "Mair"? Mairian? Mairist? Mairlike? Perhaps ChatGPT could help me with that.) Anyway, I'm a bit surprised that no one has yet taken issue with the opening phrase: "As one of the world's oldest and most complex languages, Chinese has…."

    Um, what?

    My friend Victor would certainly never say anything like that. For starters, using "Chinese" to describe a language is problematic. Which language, exactly, is that? Most of the time these days "Chinese" means "Mandarin." But Mandarin — especially not modern standard Mandarin — is not all that old. Sinitic as a group of languages isn't something I believe Victor would classify as among the world's oldest either.

    Or perhaps ChatGPT is evoking the common but nebulous notion that "Chinese" — by virtue of the script of Chinese characters — somehow rises above mere language by representing "concepts or ideas." (Insert sound of me laughing hard enough to begin choking.)

    And "complex"? What are the criteria for declaring most other languages to be less "complex" than Mandarin? This is just nonsense.

    As John Swindle noted, ChatGPT is mainly regurgitating common misconceptions. It's the old GIGO problem, writ large. And with the bots, the problem is likely to get even worse: a vicious circle of misinformation.

    It's a shame, because if the bots were to be trained on what Victor Mair has actually written, what they "learned" should be correct for a change, and thus of greater use. My advice for a starting point — other than the posts right here on Language Log — would be a saying by Mair that I long ago chose as the epigraph for my website: "There is probably no subject on earth concerning which more misinformation is purveyed and more misunderstandings circulated than Chinese characters…."

  22. AntC said,

    March 11, 2023 @ 4:19 am

    A poem from chatGPT — on a recent China-adjacent news topic

    Oh lost balloon, so light and so fair,
    Drifting through the sky with not a care,
    Once held tight, now free to soar,
    Through the clouds you go, forever more.
    Your journey takes you to new lands,
    Soaring over hills and shifting sands,
    The winds of fate carry you away,
    On your journey through the skies so gay.
    With every gust, you rise and fall,
    Dancing in the air, having a ball,
    A symbol of freedom and of glee,
    Lost balloon, you soar so free.
    And though you're gone, your spirit remains,
    In the hearts of those who watch your gains,
    A reminder to embrace life's ride,
    And to follow your dreams, wherever they may guide

    Courtesy the hactivist group 'Anonymous', via Taiwan News

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