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Quest

The Chinese script has been misunderstood.

Read Quest's post and give you opinion:  

  1. 1. Read Quest's post and give you opinion:

    • I absolutely agree with Quest!
      7
    • I somewhat agree with Quest.
      4
    • I agree with Quest on some points and disagree on others.
      6
    • I see where Quest is coming from, but he is wrong.
      5
    • I totally disagree.
      2


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Quest

Roddy, I want to hear people's opinions on what I think. So you don't mind that I post my pm here, do you? 8)

so here is what I wrote to Roddy, please give your vote:

4000 seem like a lot, but they are not totally unrelated. In a sense, you are really remembering the order and shape of a set of basic units, much like remembering spelling order in English. Among those, there are shape and sound radicals to help. Of course, an uneducated person cannot possibly make use of those radicals, but they do help learners remember the characters.

I am not saying characters are any better, but I would say they are only worse for computer inputs. The significance of the difference between the Chinese script and the phonetic scripts has been exaggerated.

It's really a myth that learning characters takes away the kids time blahblah. I spent 10-15 minutes writing 5-10 new words repeatedly each day, but I thought of it as learning new vocabulary each day instead of learning how to write each day(I think this is where our perception differs). I still played sports, had fun with friends, watched tv a lot, and read books my grade level. and it took me 4 years of formal 语文课 to learn all the characters I know today, but in the course of doing so I also learned all the vocabulary needed for my entire life. It took only one elementary semester to learn all the basic strokes, units and radicals. After that it was really vocab learning. English kids learn new vocabs by remembering spelling orders or by hearing them often inside and outside their classrooms, Chinese kids learn new vocabs by remembering basic components, by referring to words they've already mastered, and also by seeing them often inside and outside their classrooms. If they don't know the word, they don't use it. If they see a word they don't know, they look it up in the dictionary. In the end, it all worked out the same.

On the surface, 26 letters are easier to learn than 4000 characters, sure! but that is because you are comparing two totally different systems based on the rules of your system(i.e. phonetic), and disregarding the fact that, in the other system(chinese), words are learned and remembered in a different way and different manner.

An outsider might say how can it possibly be that they have to learn 4000 characters in order to read and write?

but put it vise versa: the Chinese mindset would tell you how can it possibly be that the mere 26 letters can represent all possible meanings in the world?

Both systems work differently, and suit their own languages. I believe languages will and should continue to evolve, but since languages have been evolving and influenced by their own scripts for so many years, an inter-dependency has already been formed.

Morever, there are many parameters as to what is considered a better script, of which the perceived "efficiency" is only one. A gain here might be a loss elsewhere. In the end, things cancel each other out, there is no reason for a change.

I believe changes shall be made only when they are significantly better(meaning--keeping most if not all original pros and eliminating the original cons), and only if there's a need. Since there's no good and viable way to do this, and there is no need at all, for these reasons I am against a radical phonetic script for Chinese.

Lastly, it's also too idealistic and overly "logical" to say that nothing is lost when a country adopts a completely new script. The loss could be subtle, but it could be important to many people. It's like saying "why not the whole world just learn , it is better!", and then saying "nothing will be lost, all the languages are still there, if you want to learn them." It sounds all logical, right?

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Alhazred

I voted for the intermediate option.

The thing I disagree with is that ->

"An outsider might say how can it possibly be that they have to learn 4000 characters in order to read and write?

but put it vise versa: the Chinese mindset would tell you how can it possibly be that the mere 26 letters can represent all possible meanings in the world?"

I don't agree with the "vice versa" bit. I confess, this is quibbling, but your comparison does not work for me in some way that I find hard to explain. (Roughly, the elements on both sides of vice versa don't relate.)

As to the idea behind your post, though I have started learning mandarin only 6 months ago, I tend to agree since I have noticed that the more characters you learn the easier it is. An "outsider" (I put it between " because I think I am not yet qualified to call anyone an outsider to chinese) as you say will be rebuked by this bunch of strokes but from the moment you begin to study them, you start being able to differentiate them and then also, of course, being able to notice similar points and learning grows easier.

Well, that is just an unclearly stated beginner's point of view but that's what it's worth ;)

edit: spelling

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geek_frappa

i forget, what percentage of Chinese actually can read Chinese script?

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sunyata

yeah, i agree with you...

the thing you gotta remember though is that you learned the characters when you were YOUNG, which is different from a foreigner above 20 trying to learn them...

children have much better learning capabilities, especially when in comes to language

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bathrobe

There is so much in there that I'm not going to try to reply to everything. But your last point:

it's also too idealistic and overly "logical" to say that nothing is lost when a country adopts a completely new script. The loss could be subtle, but it could be important to many people. It's like saying "why not the whole world just learn , it is better!", and then saying "nothing will be lost, all the languages are still there, if you want to learn them." It sounds all logical, right?

Things are being lost all the time, in every culture of the world. The maintenance of the 'great tradition' is what most Chinese would lament if the characters were lost. But what happens when this insistence on the 'great tradition' is responsible for the gradual erosion and final loss of other cultures and languages?

The aggressive expansion of Mandarin Chinese and Chinese characters to China's ethnic minorities is a point in hand. If you love Chinese and Chinese characters, or if you take a politically correct view that 'putonghua is the standard language of the Chinese nation and everyone should speak it', then you are going to see this as a tremendous gain for all concerned.

But excessive reverence for Chinese characters and the dominant culture is leading to the extinction of ancient languages like, for instance, Qiangic in Sichuan, which is one of the keys to understanding the original lineage of the Chinese language and people.

And what about minorities like the Li in Hainan who are not taught to write in their own language, learning putonghua and Chinese characters from the moment they attend school? This not only denies them the right to develop their own culture, causing a different kind of loss, the loss of the potential to an independent, viable language and culture (instead of a second-rate culture alongside the Han culture) -- it also leads to massive learning difficulties. Li kids start school at 7. A lot only ever finish primary school. The ones that finish Middle School (Junior High) are usually about 18 by the time they do so, after all the struggles and problems of repeating grades, grappling with a foreign language (Chinese), not to mention poverty and other social problems. The over-reverence for the Chinese language and Characters is one factor behind the depression of the Li to a second-rate position in their own country.

So, no, I don't sympathise with the poster. Contrary to the impression you may get, Chinese is not some poor little language that is being put down by everyone else. It's one of the 'imperial expansionist' languages of the world (like English). In their pleas to consider the 'losses' that would occur if Chinese characters were abolished, majority Han Chinese appear to be totally oblivious of the destructive effect of their own culture on other cultures within China, and the huge losses that this causes. (But of course, a small minority culture without its own script isn't much of a loss, is it?)

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beirne

I have a few thoughts on the characters. If Chinese were switched to a good phonetic system the semester spent learning strokes, radicals, etc. could be spent learning the alphabet and tone marks. At that point the student willl know how to read and write every word that they know how to speak. One time factor not mentioned in the article is that after that first semester some time will be required to have their written language knowledge catch up with their spoken language, so a lot of it isn't really analogous to learning new vocabulary for the student of phonetic alphabets.

Another advantage of an alphabet is that the student will always know how to pronounce every word. Even though a small number of characters account for most of what is seen, most real-life text includes a lot of less common characters that may be unknown or forgotten. This does not mean that the reader does not know the word, though. They just don't know how it is written. With a phonetic alphabet this will not be an issue.

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bathrobe
I have a few thoughts on the characters. If Chinese were switched to a good phonetic system the semester spent learning strokes' date=' radicals, etc. could be spent learning the alphabet and tone marks. [b']At that point the student willl know how to read and write every word that they know how to speak.[/b] One time factor not mentioned in the article is that after that first semester some time will be required to have their written language knowledge catch up with their spoken language, so a lot of it isn't really analogous to learning new vocabulary for the student of phonetic alphabets.

Another advantage of an alphabet is that the student will always know how to pronounce every word. Even though a small number of characters account for most of what is seen, most real-life text includes a lot of less common characters that may be unknown or forgotten. This does not mean that the reader does not know the word, though. They just don't know how it is written. With a phonetic alphabet this will not be an issue.

Don't Chinese kids learn pinyin in school?

Besides which, many dialect speakers have problems with learning the correct pronunciation of characters (and pinyin) because, in their dialect, there is no distinction between certain sounds. Many Chinese have major difficulty using pinyin input to type Chinese because they are always getting the spelling wrong!

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skylee
Besides which, many dialect speakers have problems with learning the correct pronunciation of characters (and pinyin) because, in their dialect, there is no distinction between certain sounds. Many Chinese have major difficulty using pinyin input to type Chinese because they are always getting the spelling wrong!

Isn't this also applicable to other languages?

Poor pronunciation -> wrong spelling -> write the wrong words.

Better education -> better pronunciation -> right spelling -> write the words correctly.

Better Putonghua education -> better pronunciation -> correct pinyin -> type the characters correctly.

They just have to learn better Putonghua. Besides, there are other Chinese character input methods apart from pinyin, such as 倉頡 (Cangjie), 蒙恬筆 (Pen Power), etc. Or they could invent an input method basing on their own dialects (there is a Cantonese input method you see).

I don't see this as a problem.

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beirne

Sure, Chinese kids do learn pinyin in school, but pinyin isn't used anywhere except on street signs. When I learned Chinese I didn't learn the characters at first because I was mainly interested in the spoken language and though pinyin would be enough. I found out that knowing pinyin is nearly useless in general Chinese society. When I actually went to China I found out how bad it is being illiterate.

Being a pinyin user, I don't have much trouble spelling Mandarin. I would assume the misspellings among Mandarin speakers come from lack of use of Pinyin. I do not recommend pinyin for speakers of Cantonese, Fujianese, etc, because the phonetics are different. If pinyin were commonly used instead of the characters, though, it would be easy to read and write. Well, with possible exceptions of southerners who pronounce z and zh the same. It still beats characters, though.

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bathrobe
Better education -> better pronunciation -> right spelling -> write the words correctly.

This is at least as much a linguistic problem as an education problem. There are many speakers of Chinese dialects who cannot distinguish between /n/ and /ng/, or /n/ and /l/, or /s/ or /sh/. Yes, you can 'teach' them, but they can't hear the difference!

My point was that teaching pinyin in schools (or improving the teaching of pinyin in schools) is not necessarily such a great solution as suggested.

In fact, this problem represents an argument for Chinese characters and against pinyin, because characters are not influenced by the differences in pronunciation among dialects. You don't need to know if it is pronounced /jin/ or /jing/ in order to get the correct character 京, for instance.

So, no, 'input methods' are not a problem -- but the need to rely on other input methods simply highlights the problems of pinyin and a pronunciation-based writing system.

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ala

Another advantage of an alphabet is that the student will always know how to pronounce every word. Even though a small number of characters account for most of what is seen' date=' most real-life text includes a lot of less common characters that may be unknown or forgotten. This does not mean that the reader does not know the word, though. They just don't know how it is written. With a phonetic alphabet this will not be an issue.[/quote']

Unless you can devise a phonetic Chinese script with semantic qualities, the use of an alphabet as the primary script will never take off if the Chinese are to continue speaking the present form of Mandarin. Chinese has too many homophones and Mandarin has a lot of monosyllabic words. Yes, you could mark tones and have word spacing allowing for compound character words, but the ambiguity is clearly still there forcing you to add semantic elements. The problems with devising semantic elements is that you end up with A LOT of irregular spellings for words with the same sound that are just as difficult to remember as the characters themselves (perhaps even more so). Imagine the spelling confusion of "effect" and "affect", "write" and "right" times 3 to 10 fold for each group of homophones (and there are many groups). 1: 攻克 功课 工科, 2: 谈话 碳化 昙花 炭化 探花 炭画 It gets worse for words that are monosyllabic. Would that really aid in literacy?

Of course, I agree, it's doable. You can completely replace Chinese characters with a semi-phonetic system (something akin to a more eccentric and semantic form of Gwoyeu Romatzyh). But the problems of literacy would still be all there. The other choice is the existing pinyin system compounded with gradual language transitions (encouraging more polysyllabic words that lack ambiguity, etc), kind of like Korea.

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smithsgj

This question has been asked before, and never satisfactorily answered. I don't want to get involved in this debate again, but hopefully there are people following this thread who can resolve the matter once and for all. Here is the question:

If Chinese is so homophonic as to require the use of a non-phonetic writing system, how is it that people manage to speak?

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ala

If Chinese is so homophonic as to require the use of a non-phonetic writing system' date=' how is it that people manage to speak?[/quote']

Will only touch on this a little. People express themselves in Chinese conversations on a rather unsophisticated and wordy level. Chinese language is complicated by the fact that it can be extremely CONCISE and purposefully vague (by specific character selection), far more than English could ever imagine. But this characteristic is usually only applied in advanced writing since it would lead to confusion in speech. Hence abandoning the script abandons this lyrical feature of the script as well, which has been deemed unacceptable by the intellectual community. Unless a person was really educated, if someone read to him Lu Xun's 野草 short stories, he will have a pretty hard time following. Yet, if one could read the characters, he can get pretty much the entire text without much prepping.

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Quest

ala brought up some good points there.

Also, when confusion arises in conversations, the speaker can use informal and "tedious" ways to explain what he said.

For example,

In a conversation the following is acceptable:

"wo3 de ming2zi4 jiao4 zhang1 xue2 you3, xue2xi2 de xue2, peng2you3 de you3."

but in writing--我的名字叫张学友. simple and clear

and examples are not limited to names only, often times in speaking I have to tell people what I really mean. While it is okay in a conversation to explain what you say, it would be absurd to do that in writing.

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nnt

IMHO the main reason why characters writing will remain in China is political: it is an important unifying factor.

Even in countries with alphabetical writings, pronunciations vary from regions to regions: simply, at China's scale (which can be compared to Europe...), the phonetic differences are too wide...and will not disappear so soon.

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Quest

Another thing to consider is, and I think it's been mentioned in another post, English speakers "raed by sahpe of the wrods rtaher tahn by suond." that means they do not really have to "spell out" each sound to get the meaning.

You can't really do that with pinyin, given the pitifully few distinct patterns of pinyin spellings.

all the reasons make it unpractical for Chinese to adopt a phonetic script, plus no native speakers find it hard to learn/use Chinese characters...

so again, I support characters.

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bathrobe

Unless you can devise a phonetic Chinese script with semantic qualities' date=' the use of an alphabet as the primary script will never take off if the Chinese are to continue speaking the present form of Mandarin. Chinese has too many homophones and Mandarin has a lot of monosyllabic words. Yes, you could mark tones and have word spacing allowing for compound character words, but the ambiguity is clearly still there forcing you to add semantic elements.[/quote']

This is slightly exaggerated. There are many cases where the meaning is clear enough -- there is no need to add 'semantic content' for the text to be intelligible.

On the other side of the coin, however, there is quite a lot of written Chinese that has become 'addicted' to this aspect of characters. That is, the characters are needed because the meaning would not be clear simply from the pronunciation.

Now this is where the controversy begins. People, especially literate people, are not happy if this particular tool is taken away from them. They have the 'right' to this great 'richness' of the writing system, and depriving them of it is a great loss to Chinese culture. Abolishing characters amounts to the 'dumbing down' of Chinese.

The opposite view is, if you need such a complicated writing system to support your habit, maybe you should change your habit. In other words, face the discipline of the language as it is pronounced and stop relying on the written word to make your meaning clear. This would be better for all concerned.

Which ever position you take, abolishing Chinese characters and switching to an alphabet system of some sorts would force the language to change. There is no doubt that there would be loss, as the traditionalists point out, and they would be considerably more than the reformers suspect.

On the other hand, there would also be gains in ease of learning, reform of the language to make it clearer, etc., etc.

But as nnt points out, the political aspect is probably more important than any functional considerations.

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bathrobe
Another thing to consider is' date=' and I think it's been mentioned in another post, English speakers "raed by sahpe of the wrods rtaher tahn by suond." that means they do not really have to "spell out" each sound to get the meaning.

You can't really do that with pinyin, given the pitifully few distinct patterns of pinyin spellings.[/quote']

I disagree. As people got used to the system, pinyin spellings would come to function the same way as English spellings. Xiao3shuo1 in pinyin (I don't know if I can reproduce the accent marks) would become visually identified with the meaning 'novel' just as 小说 is in characters.

If people can understand Chinese in all kinds of accents (and there are some pretty hard to understand accents!), then some variation in the shape of words should not be too much of a problem!

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Quest

A couple of generations are all that is needed for people to forget characters completely(look at Vietnam/Korea). They will be wondering why 仓,苍,沧,舱,伧 are all cang1, 钱,前,潜,乾,钳 are all qian2, 住,蛀,助,注,驻,祝,铸,筑,著 are all zhu4, and the list goes on and on. Now how would you propose to list these words in the dictionary?

What will new students of Chinese think of all these homonyms? A huge chunk of the dictionary(for monosyllabic words) will become virtually useless, "which meaning should I pick?".

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Quest
Xiao2shuo1 in pinyin would become visually identified with the meaning 'novel' just as 小说 is in characters.

Sure, but what if you see "xiao3" by itself?

If a student sees a question like this (without context):

"Use the word "xiao3" to make a sentence."

Tell me how can you make it clear that you mean xiao3 as in small?

yes you can say "Use the word "xiao3" (xiao3shuo1) de xiao to make a sentence". but..... well is that really a good idea? the student must already know "xiao3shuo1" before he can get the meaning of the sentence. Plus, why do we want to go through such troubles when the current script clearly expresses the true meaning?

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