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wix

Characters vs phonetic writing systems

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wix
Are you suggesting that the spread of Mandarin and having a unified standard language is a bad thing for China? I don't believe a large nation can be and remain powerful without a standard language. Usually foreigners in the U.S. are frowned upon when speaking their native language in public because Americans feel threatened. Don't get me wrong though, I am totally for preserving Chinese dialects but I believe everyone should be able to speak Mandarin (even as a second language).

I agree there is a need for a common language in China, but problems arise when that language becomes too dominant and marginalises other languages or dialects.

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ChouDoufu
ChouDoufu' date=' great post, but I still disagree with you. The Vietnamese made the switch from characters to romanisation and do you ever hear them complaining about their culture being lost. The Koreans invented their own alphabet which is a source of cultural pride. If you are really worried about Chinese culture being lost then you should be concerned by the increasing dominance of Mandarin/putonghua at the expense of regional languages and dialects.

[/quote']

The thing about Vietnam and Korea is that though they were once controlled by China, they maintained a seperate cultural identity. As a way of exploring this cultural identity, Korea developed their writing system. That's a natural progression for a culture to want a system that it created, not a system that was forced upon it.

I am very concerned by the loss of regional languages and dialects. Not just in China, but also around the world (many Native American Languages have fewer than fluent 60 speakers-- these languages unfortunately won't survive). I view diversity as something that makes everyone better off, so the loss of these languages is a loss for humanity. But I don't believe the disappearence of these dialects can be blamed only on the "dominance of Mandarin". Many languages are fading because the younger generation doesn't see the need to speak it. It's not useful; it's not cool; it won't get you a job. I feel both situations (trying to replace Chinese characters, and the disappearence of local dialects) are symptoms of the same problem, a desire in humans to fit in, to be the same, to not stick out. Rather than just accepting the fact that Chinese Characters are difficult but that it's a perfectly valid method, people (and I'm mostly reading stuff by and from non-native speakers) who don't like the system are trying to change it into something more like their own. [it's a ridiculous analogy, but: Some people try to change another person's behavior because it doesn't fit it, because it's different, rather than just accepting a person for who they are.] I'm not a fan of any movement to remove distinctness from cultures.

Also Chinese do not need to totally abandon characters. If some sort of alphabetic writing system was adopted I am sure that people would still continue to learn some characters and those who wished to go on to higher education would no doubt still become fully literate in characters.

And maybe not. I still believe that most people wouldn't learn the characters, so you'd end up with a small minority who did and Chinese Characters would be lost to the Chinese people. I base this belief off the fact that in America, a higher and higher percentage of "old works" are getting translated into English. Many classes read Shakespeare in english, not Shakespearean-english. Many more read Chaucer in english rather than middle english. Very few read Beowulf in it's original form. There is the belief that they are too hard and so aren't worth learning. But here is where I disagree again. Yes it's more difficult than standard english, but I feel that the look back into the past provides some intangible benefit. It links people with the past and enriches them whether they realize it or not. People are inevitably looking for the way to do the most with the least amount of effort, and if you remove characters from newspapers, and everyday life then you will kill them for the majority of Chinese people.

Again my two points: 1) Holding onto cultural links, cultural identity, and diversity are essential. and 2) Simplification does not necessarily mean better.

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Guest Anonymous
I agree there is a need for a common language in China, but problems arise when that language becomes too dominant and marginalises other languages or dialects.

I don't believe the problem is that serious yet. I've been to many parts of China, mostly on tours but I have stayed for an extended period of time in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. When I was in Shanghai, the locals usually speak Shanghaihua with each other and only Mandarin to non-Shanghairen. Same with Shenzhen, Cantonese is still the dominant language/dialect though most people spoke Mandarin fluently as well. Not only is the Uyghur language spoken in Xinjiang but it's also written alongside with Hanzi on all public signs, whether government-owned or private. Same with Yunnan, all the ethnic minorities I saw still speak in their own native languages (and even taught us some).

If we have to worry about a single language being too dominant it should be English. Not only is it the dominant language in the U.S. (just like ChouDoufu said, many second-generation Americans don't even speak their own language) but it's also gaining dominance in the world.

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jwarriner
If you are still in doubt just pick up a newspaper in Hong Kong that is written in Cantonese. The differences go far beyond simplified/traditional characters. Indeed there are many characters that are not even used in standard Chinese.

Oh yes, and what about newspapers. Is it not correct that "newspaper-hua" ;-) is sort of a foreshortened version of baihua, or a mixture of baihua and wenyan which is highly dependent on the use of hanzi for clarity?

john

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sudasana
It makes no sense to compare Latin and English with Hanzi and Pinyin (or some other kind of phoentic writing system). Latin and English are two different languages, though many English words derived from Latin.

My point was simply that it is possible for a culture to change the way it thinks about the relationship between the vulgar, spoken language and the written language of scholarship and history.

sudasana, this is not correct. Written Chinese is based on the way Mandarin is spoken. To say a Cantonese person can read standard Chinese and it is the same as their language is wrong. The Cantonese person has had to learn to read standard Chinese.

But both languages use the same set of characters to write. Regardless of grammar or vocabulary, Cantonese uses the same written signs as other dialects.

I don't think I have much else to add to this discussion, but I just wanted to clear up those two points. However you feel, characters are here and in use, and we've all got to live with them. As my 1st year Chinese teacher said; 你需要跟汉字做朋友。 Or something like that; it's been a while.

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wix
sudasana, this is not correct. Written Chinese is based on the way Mandarin is spoken. To say a Cantonese person can read standard Chinese and it is the same as their language is wrong. The Cantonese person has had to learn to read standard Chinese.

But both languages use the same set of characters to write. Regardless of grammar or vocabulary, Cantonese uses the same written signs as other dialects.

English, French, Indonesian and dozens of other languages also use the same "signs" for writing... but this doesn't mean the written languages are the same. Sure 大 means big regardless of whether something is in Cantonese, Taiwanese or Mandarin, but many alternative characters are used in writing other languages plus the syntax is often completely different. However, maybe this is getting off topic.

I think we would also have to consider the effects of phonetization on the Chinese written word' date=' literature. Passing down from the style of 文言文 (wen yan wen), modern literature still retains a bit of the flavor of 文 言. The written word is not entirely a reproduction of the spoken word and the use of single characters is not uncommon. In addition, Chinese is full of wonderful word play which depends at least in part on the hanzi representation of the words involved.

john[/quote']

Classical Chinese is very different from modern standard Chinese. Additional modifications to the way Chinese is written would be needed if characters were abandoned in favour of a phonetic script, although these modifications would not be so great. The main change would be that when writing characters a single character can often be used to replace poly-syllabic word. Although any text that could be understood when read aloud could be phoneticised directly.

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Guest Anonymous
I can guarantee, kulong, that native speakers DO NOT see the character and know what it means automatically.

I believe you misunderstood what I meant. Of course, even native speakers need to acquier at least the basic understanding of the Chinese language. However, once a person has acquired a good amount of Hanzi, he or she would start noticing that they can guess the meaning of a word without having learned it, and by word I mean "ci", not "zi". Since most Chinese words (ci) are made up of zi, one can guess the meaning of the ci if he or she knows the meaning of the zi which makes up the said ci.

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jwarriner
ChouDoufu wrote this another thread but I am quoting it here to start a new topic' date=' because it is an interesting and important issue. Let the debate begin...

[/quote']

One of the arguments I've heard from some Americans is that the Chinese character system makes collation, cataloging, and retrieval of documents cumbersome at best. I think the advent of computer has taken care of that problem however. As near as I can tell, with computer encoding of characters, these archiving tasks are accomplished without significant problem.

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channamasala

OK, that makes more sense. Then again, you can do that in English too. The prefixes, suffixes, and affixes are more mishy-mashy but you can still make good, educated guesses as to what words mean, and usually be right. But hearing the Chinese compound words spoken should have the same effect as reading the zi strung together to make up a word. As a matter of fact, that's how I learned a lot of the words I know that were not in my textbook...by listening, hearing compound words made up of words I already know, and using basic logic.

It is a lot easier to do in Chinese, too. Chinese is much less messy than any IE language!

The radicals in Chinese writing help decipher the meaning of a zi, but they don't necessarily give a meaning...example: the character for "gasoline", if I remember correctly, and my reading skills are shite so please bear with me, is the water radical paired with the "qi" (essence, air, spirit) character, which makes sense when you know the meaning and can do some reverse "explain why this happened" hindsight logic, but not if you don't already know the meaning of it.

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Guest Anonymous
OK, that makes more sense. Then again, you can do that in English too. The prefixes, suffixes, and affixes are more mishy-mashy but you can still make good, educated guesses as to what words mean, and usually be right.

Many of these prefixes, suffixes, and affixes came from Latin, which is a whole different language. Also, many English vocabularies actually came from other languages as well. English is much like Japanese, where the language is deeply affected by another. Chinese, however, has *mostly* been developed on its own, therefore to truly understand Chinese, one doesn't need to learn another language.

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Guest jjcox

I'm new to this board, just read it allo through for the first time - really interesting. I have two points, one based on a practical argument and the other a cultural one.

1) something that has not yet been mentioned on the board is the effect of the increasing use of computers versus pens and pencils when writing/typing chinese in everyday life.

One effect of this trend is the declining ability of the Chinese themselves to physically write the characters as they are so used to typing in pinyin using software such as NJStar. Any foreigner who has studied Mandarin knows that being able to read a hanzi and being able to write a hanzi are two very different things and personally I find typing Chinese with a computer (typing in pinyin which converts into hanzi) incredibly easy. The "written chinese is so difficult to learn" argument for moving to a purely phonetic system is somewhat mitigated by the fact that writing on a computer makes it so much easier. The development of such computer software has made learning and using Hanzi in everyday life much easier as you can get away with a less than perfect memory of all the characters.

2) I'm with Choudoufu on the cultural argument. Language is culture. Language is history. And you get so much more meaning from characters than phonetic alphabets. For example, the character for "tired" namely "lei" is made up of radicals symbolising silk and a field. In ancient times the men used to plough the fields and the women used to make silk. In doing so they got tired. So "lei" is soooo much more than just "tired". It is a window on the traditional chinese agrarian way of life. It hints at the dominance of silk production in the Ancient Chinese economy. Its not just a boring, efficient and purposeful "word". The same goes for "hao" comprising of the radicals for a woman and a child. For a chinese several thousand years ago, "good" was a woman who had got pregnant. I could go on and on...

So, I think the advent of computers makes chinese far more efficient and for us waiguorens far easier to write. In addition, I am of the opinion that Hanzi make the Chinese who they are, and contain meaning going far beyond their obvious beauty.

Cheers, Jon

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Guest Anonymous
1) something that has not yet been mentioned on the board is the effect of the increasing use of computers versus pens and pencils when writing/typing chinese in everyday life.

One effect of this trend is the declining ability of the Chinese themselves to physically write the characters as they are so used to typing in pinyin using software such as NJStar. Any foreigner who has studied Mandarin knows that being able to read a hanzi and being able to write a hanzi are two very different things and personally I find typing Chinese with a computer (typing in pinyin which converts into hanzi) incredibly easy. The "written chinese is so difficult to learn" argument for moving to a purely phonetic system is somewhat mitigated by the fact that writing on a computer makes it so much easier. The development of such computer software has made learning and using Hanzi in everyday life much easier as you can get away with a less than perfect memory of all the characters.

I picked up Hanyu Pinyin in a matter of days because I couldn't find a keyboard that has Zhuyin Fuhao marks. After typing Chinese with Hanyu Pinyin for over five years' date=' I've started to feel that my "writing" skills has decreased, thoguh my reading skills stayed the same, if not improved. However, during the same time, I've also started typing English increasingly (thanks to those darn papers) and my handwriting in English has decreased as well. Not only does my handwriting in English has become more sloppy but also my spelling skills has decreased due to the reliance on spell check. Therefore I believe the negative effect of the increasing usage of typing doesn't apply to just Chinese but almost any language.

2) I'm with Choudoufu on the cultural argument. Language is culture. Language is history. And you get so much more meaning from characters than phonetic alphabets. For example, the character for "tired" namely "lei" is made up of radicals symbolising silk and a field. In ancient times the men used to plough the fields and the women used to make silk. In doing so they got tired. So "lei" is soooo much more than just "tired". It is a window on the traditional chinese agrarian way of life. It hints at the dominance of silk production in the Ancient Chinese economy. Its not just a boring, efficient and purposeful "word". The same goes for "hao" comprising of the radicals for a woman and a child. For a chinese several thousand years ago, "good" was a woman who had got pregnant. I could go on and on...

So, I think the advent of computers makes chinese far more efficient and for us waiguorens far easier to write. In addition, I am of the opinion that Hanzi make the Chinese who they are, and contain meaning going far beyond their obvious beauty.

I completely agree.

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roddy

I've moved the recent posts on Chinese Character Input Methods to a new topic in the Textbooks and Resources forum, shortly to be renamed the Textbooks, Resources and Computing forum.

http://www.roddyflagg.34sp.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=211

The posts on the difficulty or otherwise of learning Chinese are now in a new topic in this forum.

http://www.roddyflagg.34sp.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=212

Kulong's query as to why some of us learn Hanzi if we hate them and responses to it have also been split

http://www.roddyflagg.34sp.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=213

This thread is getting so long it would be hard for a newcomer to digest - it would be a good idea to keep posts on the topic of Characters vs Phonetic writing systems - otherwise, please start a new topic.

Thanks for everyones contributions to this topic - I've reviewed them all in the process of moving the above posts around, and I should probably go and read them in more detail when I have time. Keep them coming . . .

Roddy

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PollyWaffle

Whilst i enjoy using chopsticks, i consider them highly inefficient compared to knives, forks, spoons, and sporks. Whilst i enjoy learning/writing Chinese characters, i also consider them inefficient. Having said this, i don't think the Chinese should move away from using either - they are symbols of their cultural uniqueness.

As another side note: has anyone considered whether the English writing system should be reformed so that ALL words are actually pronounced the way they are spelled?

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skylee

I agree with Kulong about declining handwriting skills. The other day I was discussing something with a collegue at office and wanted to jog down some notes for her. And my handwriting was so horrible that not even myself could recognize what was written. All letters of each word seemed to have jammed together. And I do write in English everyday, though it's with my PC.

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Quest
Whilst i enjoy using chopsticks' date=' i consider them highly inefficient compared to knives, forks, spoons, and sporks. Whilst i enjoy learning/writing Chinese characters, i also consider them inefficient. Having said this, i don't think the Chinese should move away from using either - they are symbols of their cultural uniqueness.

As another side note: has anyone considered whether the English writing system should be reformed so that ALL words are actually pronounced the way they are spelled?[/quote']

Chopsticks for chinese food is highly efficient, because unlike in western cuisine, the chinese chef is responsible for chopping the food into tiny pieces(thus, the knife is not needed). it's really a matter of preference, and their efficiency depends on what food you eat.

as it has been mentioned before, chinese characters have its pros and cons, but what is important is that its a cross-lingual script, until all of china speaks the same dialect, it's impossible to abandon it, and there is no need to do that either. chinese societies function well with these characters. it's a cost and benefits issue, just like in public schools in america, everyone knows its better to let the students highlight and write notes in their textbooks, but the schools can't afford to buy new books every year.

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Quest

english might be a phonetic script, but admit it, you read it pictographically. when you read, u skim through word by word instead of reading each syllable. somehow, the shape and the order of letters, not the sound, help you understand what the word is. of course that is logical, because you use your eyes not your ears to read. However, english can work well that way because it is multi syllabic and there are not many homonyms. but chinese is mono syllabic with zillions of homonyms, for example

"wo3 bu4 xiang3 qu4 xiang3 ni3 xiang3 xiang4 he2 xiang4 wang3 de shi4."

我不想去想你想象和向往的事。

"I don't want to think about what you imagine and crave."

there's no way you can read that sentence in pinyin pictographically without making out the sounds in your mind first then interpret the sounds. and that leads to one more step in processing.

i've heard someone talked about you can read what you can hear, true, but you dont read with your ears. your eyes read light, your ears read sound. reading sounds with your eyes requires more brain processing.

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PollyWaffle
the chinese chef is responsible for chopping the food into tiny pieces

i wish someone would have told this to the chef at the chinese restaurant i was at the other night. the pieces of pork were anything but bight size.

but chinese is mono syllabic

this is off topic & should possibly go into a new thread, but chinese is not monosyllabic

polly

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wix
this is off topic & should possibly go into a new thread, but chinese is not monosyllabic

Discussions of the merits of chopsticks are also off topic. Please feel free to start a new thread on either of these topics.

Moderator

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