Hi, all,

Would you please tell me why we say 'Chinese food', but 'the Chinese language'.

Cambridge Dictionary Online crossed out the following examples:

  • Do you speak Chinese language?
  • I love the Japanese food.

 

Thank you.

Last edited by Hussein Hassan
Original Post

Hi, Hussein,

"Chinese" can be an adjective (before the noun "language" it has to take the article "the": the Chinese language, just as we say the English language) or a noun. As a noun, it is the name of the language. That's why it is incorrect to say:

Do you speak Chinese language?

just as it is incorrect to say:

- I live in Argentina country.

The problem with:

- I love the Japanese food.

is that "food" is an uncountable noun and, when used generically as is the case above, you have to use the zero article:

- I love Japanese food.

Here you can find the example in question with the corresponding explanation:

  • We don’t use the when we refer in general to something abstract or uncountable:

I love Japanese food. (all Japanese food/Japanese food in general)

Not: I love the Japanese food.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

Dear, Gustavo, 

Thank you for your reply at first. I just cited what we've already learned (as Cambridge mentioned) and I have no objection to that. My question was about using 'the' before the adjective 'chinese' with 'language' whereas it can't be used before 'chinese' as well with 'food'? Both 'food' and 'language' are nouns preceded by an adjective. 

 

Gustavo, Contributor posted:

The problem with:

- I love the Japanese food.

is that "food" is an uncountable noun and, when used generically as is the case above, you have to use the zero article.

If the matter is being countable or uncountable, can we say:

'I love the Japanese foods.'? _ I mean all lists of foods. 

Last edited by Hussein Hassan

Hi Hussein

The matter is being countable or uncountable, or to be exact, singular countable vs uncountable. Drop the adjective 'Chinese' and we will see:

Do you speak the language?
NOT: Do you speak language?

I love food. (in general)
I love the food. (on this table, in this restaurant, etc.)

The presence of an adjective "Chinese" is irrelevant to the choice of a definite article 'the' here.

"food" is not normally a countable noun. Its countable use refers to particular types of food. Three typical examples from grammar books and dictionaries are: frozen foods, baby foods, health foods. I myself would understand these categories as some products of science and technology, while "Chinese/Japanese/Mexican food" is a much broader category of culture and tradition, thus "more general and less particular" if I have to draw a line of definition.

Note that, however, even when a plural countable form is possible, zero article should be used for descriptions in general.

She avoids frozen foods.
NOT: She avoids the frozen foods.

So we can't say "I love the Japanese foods" even if "foods" is justified. "The" is not used for general descriptions and "all lists of food" is a general description.

Hussein Hassan posted:
  • Do you speak Chinese language?
  • I love the Japanese food.

Hi, Hussein—To this excellent discussion I would like to add that neither of the sentences stricken out in your dictionary is ungrammatical. However, if you are trying to say "Do you speak Chinese?" / "Do you speak the Chinese language?", then you can't say "Do you speak Chinese language?" instead.

Similarly, if you are trying to say "I love Japanese food," then you can't say "I love the Japanese food" instead. In each case, the sentences will have different meanings. If you are at a buffet with a variety of different dishes, some of which are Japanese, then "I love the Japanese food" is perfectly fine.

Because the aim of learner's dictionaries is to help learners to speak normal English, such dictionaries typically do not point out what it is possible to say in contexts that are not very common. It is generally only in abstract contexts that "language" works well as a noncount noun.

Thus, one can say, "Language is complex." One could even say, "Chinese language is complex." But that is not a normal thing to say, i.e., it is not fit for a normal context. In "Chinese language is complex," the idea is that some instances of language are Chinese, and those instances of language are complex.

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