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Guardian Interview with "The Father of Pinyin"


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#1 roddy

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 09:29 AM

Here. It's video, so if you are on a slow connection or distant from the Guardian's servers you might find it a bit jerky.

I was kind of surprised to see this featured on the Guardian's front page under the 'Father of Pinyin' title - I'd wager 9/10ths upwards of the Guardian's readership doesn't know what pinyin is. Somewhat unforgivably they've managed to spell the guy's name wrong and not bothered to add tones to the pinyin used in the video, and the interview is pretty weak - basically it's 'here's a nice old Chinese guy talking for a few minutes' but there's really very little of depth. They've also opted to add subtitles to what sounds to me like perfectly comprehensible English.

But enough negativity, if you want to get a look at the guy who rescued you from bopomofo, have a look.
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#2 889

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 10:42 AM

There's a full article along with the video at the link below, though unfortunately the writer keeps referring to Zhou Youguang 周有光 as "Youguang" instead of "Mr. Zhou."

http://www.guardian....08/feb/21/china
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#3 self-taught-mba

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 02:27 PM

Pinyin just had its 50th birthday by the way.
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#4 calibre2001

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Posted 21 February 2008 - 05:34 PM

Happy Birthday PinYin!
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#5 wushijiao

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 12:34 AM

Good interview. I like his sense of humor.
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#6 liuzhou

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 12:52 PM

unfortunately the writer keeps referring to Zhou Youguang 周有光 as "Youguang" instead of "Mr. Zhou."


I noticed that and fired off a letter to the editor. :roll:

Today I received this reply.

Dear Mr Xxxxxxxx,
You will be glad to know that the Guardian is running a correction since,
as you pointed out, it is rude to refer to the venerable Zhou Youguang by
his given name rather than surname.
My only caveat - The Beijing correspondent does know the difference;
unfortunately whoever edited my copy doesn't, since they went through and
systematically changed "Zhou" to "Youguang" every time his name appeared -
without bothering to ask me or let me know what they had done. Thanks for
raising the issue as it means we can get it altered (I'm out of town atm
and hadn't had a chance to read the piece online).
All the best,
Tania

Tania Anin Branigan
The Guardian


(Bet you didn't know my name is Mr Xxxxxxxx :))
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#7 roddy

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 01:09 PM

Very good, keep 'em on their toes. I had one reply from the Guardian a few years back, but my latest missive seems to have been inexplicably ignored. Getting a bit fed up with the Guardian website anyway, as it seems hellbent on transforming itself into a cross between a dull Youtube and a blog. What do you think about that?
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#8 liuzhou

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 01:36 PM

Yes, it is going downhill rapidly, but I've been reading their rag for about thirty years. Hard habit to break.

I now find that, instead of spending hours on their site, I can get through the bits I want in about ten minutes.

The 'blogging' thing is particularly vapid and most videos have been shallow. There have been a few good uns, though.
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#9 roddy

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 01:42 PM

I assume you enjoyed this debacle then. I'm in the same boat, it's more reflex than choice.

Anyway, back on topic. Happy Birthday, Pinyin! Another 50 years we'll no doubt be seeing a 3D holographic interview with Imron, Pinyinput之父。。。
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#10 ABCinChina

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 02:42 AM

Hooray for the father of Hanyu pinyin who made life easier for us all. On another note, sometimes I get mad at Taiwan's inability to adapt systems just to be different from China. Tongyong pinyin just doesn't make sense and is harder to type while Zhuyin is just too complicated for foreigners to learn. Why don't they just use Hanyu pinyin so that the Taiwanese can communicate more effectively with foreigners? (But I'm glad to see that the Taipei MRT system uses Hanyu pinyin exclusively now. You can still see the Tongyong pinyin which has been pasted over by Hanyu pinyin)
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#11 imron

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 02:50 AM

Zhuyin is just too complicated for foreigners to learn

Yes, damn our puny foreign brains, and the complicated writing systems only the Chinese are capable of understanding :roll:
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#12 ABCinChina

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:28 AM

I'd like to go out on a limb here and say that somehow, the Chinese are very good at rote memorization for some reason which makes learning characters easier. This is the reason why the Chinese have higher test scores on average but sometimes suffer when devising complex theorems. Does anybody agree or disagree with me? Please explain. :)
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#13 renzhe

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:37 AM

I think that it is not something genetic, but cultural. Chinese people are good at memorising things because the school system seems to be geared towards memorising things and passing tests.

If I'm not mistaken, it was Confucius who thought that one first had to acquire a lot of knowledge before starting to understand and reason about it. At least that's what I've read somewhere.
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#14 gato

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:40 AM

Zhuyin symbols take much longer for Chinese to learn, too. I used to tutor at a place in San Francisco Chinatown where Chinese was taught to ABC elementary school kids. I'd see the kids study the same zhuyin symbols for weeks and weeks. It probably took at least a semester to learn them. I've tried to learn zhuyin myself and haven't succeed in memorizing them, yet -- though I admit I'm better at "complex theorems" than memorization, an exception among Chinese, I guess, if the ABC guy is right.

If you compare the zhuyin symbols to the latin alphabets, you will see that the zhuyin symbols are much more similar to each other than the latin alphabets. I think katakana, the Japanese phonetic alphabet, from which zhuyin was derived, has the same problems and therefore takes relatively long to learn.
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#15 atitarev

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 06:30 AM

I think katakana, the Japanese phonetic alphabet, from which zhuyin was derived, has the same problems and therefore takes relatively long to learn.

No, Katakana like Hiragana was not derived from Zhuyin Fuhao:

http://en.wikipedia....atakana#History
http://en.wikipedia....iragana#History

Zhuyin Fuhao has a similar but not the same history. Some Zhuyin letters look the same as Katakana letters but they have a different reading:
http://en.wikipedia....#Symbol_origins
ㄟ (ei) looks like Katakana ヘ (he)
ㄨ (u) looks like Katakana メ (me)
ㄙ (s) looks like Katakana ム (mu)
ㄉ (d) looks like Katakana カ (ka)
etc.

The last example: ㄉ is derived from 刀 but カ from 加.

IMHO, both are not too hard to learn as they are heavily used. If Zhuyin Fuhao was incorporated into the Chinese writing it would be much easier to learn because of exposure.

Latin letters are also (somewhat) similar to each other but we got used to them. :mrgreen: p - d, Q - O, I - l (I, i and L, l), I - J
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#16 Quest

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 07:27 AM

This is the reason why the Chinese have higher test scores on average but sometimes suffer when devising complex theorems. Does anybody agree or disagree with me?


I disagree, many older complex astronomical and mathematical theorems were devised by the Chinese. In the modern era, however, history would explain why we don't see as many.

In America, many Chinese students do well academically, that is because the requirements are too low too easy. If these same students were put in classrooms in China, most'd probably fail miserably. When generalizing Chinese students, I find that many Americans fail to realize these "smart" Chinese kids aren't representative of the crown jewels of the Chinese populations. Like the average Joe in many countries, most of these kids are mediocre people who happen to care more about their grades (due to culture) than their classmates. I've attended school in both countries (both exam schools, supposedly filled with top students of the region). In China, there were many people that I knew I could not possibly best academically, they were too damn smart. In America, I did not feel that at all. 99% of the Chinese students who are in the top 10 percentile of the class aren't too sharp. They just hand in their homework on time, and do well on easy tests... they give people the impression that they represent smart Chinese people, but they don't.
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#17 muyongshi

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 10:47 AM

No, Katakana like Hiragana was not derived from Zhuyin Fuhao:


I think you flipped Gato's meaning...Gato said that zhuyin was derived from katakana

katakana--->zhuyin
-not-
zhuyin--->katakana
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#18 gato

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 11:52 AM

Right. Katakana was derived from radicals of Chinese characters (kanji). Zhuyin symbols were developed later using the same idea, probably by people who knew Japanese, as most Chinese studying abroad around the early 1900s studied in Japan.

Latin letters are also (somewhat) similar to each other but we got used to them. p - d, Q - O, I - l (I, i and L, l), I - J

That's true, but I think there is greater similarity between zhuyin symbols, I think. See these that I picked out:
http://www.cnpedia.c...ge/baserule.htm
ㄕ(sh ) and ㄗ(z)
ㄉ (d) and ㄌ(l) and ㄞ(ai)
ㄎ(k) and ㄘ© and ㄅ(B) and ㄋ(n)
ㄙ(s) and ㄥ (eng)
ㄛ(o) and ㄜ (e)

One could do a serious study of this. It's one of the things font experts do, to select or create fonts that are easiest to read and so forth.
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#19 Lu

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 02:53 PM

Hooray for the father of Hanyu pinyin who made life easier for us all. On another note, sometimes I get mad at Taiwan's inability to adapt systems just to be different from China. Tongyong pinyin just doesn't make sense and is harder to type while Zhuyin is just too complicated for foreigners to learn. Why don't they just use Hanyu pinyin so that the Taiwanese can communicate more effectively with foreigners? (But I'm glad to see that the Taipei MRT system uses Hanyu pinyin exclusively now. You can still see the Tongyong pinyin which has been pasted over by Hanyu pinyin)

The Taipei MRT ditched bad Wade-Giles (Kuting) for bad Hanyu Pinyin (Daan, Qilian). But it is an improvement, that much is for sure.

I doubt Tongyong is much harder than HYPY, the problem is more that few people in Taiwan know any romanization at all (apart from bopomofo which isn't really a romanization). Also, inconsistency is everywhere: Taipei city at least uses mostly HYPY, but most of the rest of the country is on Tongyong, or bad W-G, and if you take a train down the east coast you can still see MPS2 everywhere. Just pick a system for chrissake, any one, even the consistent use of Yale would be an improvement over the current mess.

All this shouldn't still frustrate me as much as it does. I guess it's a result of this being a free country, everyone is free to spell their name and their shop and their everything any which way they like. And on the plus side, I can now recognize and read all kinds of obscure romanization systems.
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#20 atitarev

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 03:15 PM

I think you flipped Gato's meaning...Gato said that zhuyin was derived from katakana

Yes, that's right. My bad :)

Gato, you may be right about greater similarity but phonetic alphabets are not too hard, anyway. Even a dumb person can learn Zhuyin alphabet in a month (well, if he/she really wants and needs it). I prefer Hanyu Pinyin too but I think Zhuyin would be good for onomatopoeia, foreign words or foreign/dialectal accents. These characters seem to fit better than Roman when mixed with Chinese characters.
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