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Chinese in purely phonetic script


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Chinese could be written in a purely phonetic script, which means the script is based solely on the sound of the language. Basically the grapheme matches the phoneme of the morpheme.

Not only Chinese, but all natural languages of the world could be done so.

English, French orthography could be improved if you just write everything in IPA.

It could standardise speech at least for a generation or two, and then people might begin assigning different sounds to the IPA lettres even.

The problem with Hanyu Pinyin is that it is not used to replace Chinese characters, but to mark their sounds. This is implemented in the educational system in China. A child first has a good grasp on the Chinese language when one hears the people(parents...) around them speak. The child associates the sounds with meanings, forming morphemes, When a child reads and finds a character(grapheme)"爸" that one doesn't recognise (the grapheme has not been associated with a morpheme), then the child sees a Hanyu Pinyin marking the sound "bà", which is a simpler script of 24 graphemes (Hanyu Pinyin doesn't use v but uses ü, capital lettres aren't usually used in children books) based purely on phonemes (senseless blocks of phonemes), the child connects the Hanyu Pinyin lettres (b>ba>bà), the phoneme reminds the child of a morpheme ([bα51] and image of the child's father), then the child associatess the morpheme with the grapheme "爸". But soon after, the child does not associate the Hanyu Pinyin purely phonetic grapheme "bà" with the morpheme, it is thrown away. The next time the child sees a Hanyu Pinyin "bà", the child still only recognises the senseless blocks of phonemes that was associated early on in childhood, and has to piece the Hanyu Pinyin lettre together again, (b>ba>bà) which might remind the child of the morpheme. However if the child could read, one would probably be reminded of the grapheme "爸", before being reminded of the morpheme, because this was the order in which the word was associated in the first place.

When you listen to another person speak, such as on the radio, you have no trouble in understanding what they are saying. In a perfect script that fully adapts every phoneme in the language into a grapheme, and that you are taught from childhodd to associate that grapheme to the morpheme, then you should have no trouble understanding the Chinese written using that phonetic script.

Finally, I am simply saying that modern spoken Chinese could be written with a script based on phonemes like Hanyu Pinyin, but it will have to be taught that way, otherwise it would not be possible and seem very awkward like we now do when we read an article in only Hanyu Pinyin, however some common ones like Beijing could be recognised even without the tone marks, it is simply because we are not familiar with writing in Hanyu Pinyin:

«Běijīng Wǎnbào»

Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng, Qīnmíndǎng jìniànzhāng fāxíng

Jīntiān shàngwǔ, Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng, Qīnmíndǎng Dàlù fǎngwèn jìniànzhāng 1 tào 3 méi zài Rénmín Dàhuìtáng xītīng zhèngshì yú shìmín jiànmiàn. Jù Zhōnghuá Quánguó Jíyóu Liánhéhuì zhuānjiā jièshào, cǐcì fāxíng de 1 méi jīnzhāng, 2 méi yínzhāng jūn wéi zújīn zúyín zhìzuò ér chéng. Jīnzhāng zhèngmiàn tú'àn wéi hépínggē, gǎnlǎnzhī, yùyì Guómíndǎng Dàlù Fǎngwèntuán de "Hépíng zhī Lǚ";

Highlight here:




However names are harder, because it has qualities of ancient literary Chinese, can you guess my name?

-Shìbó :mrgreen:

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Have you figured out how the Vietnamese solved their homophone problem when they romanized their language? Or the Koreans?

See this old thread:


and http://www.vny2k.net/vny2k/SiniticVietnamese3.htm

And this about romanizing Cantonese:


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Shibo, did you mean that passage in pinyin was easy to read? I sure had a hard time understanding it, and I seriously doubt anyone can skim that romanized text and make out any meaning of it.

If a pure pinyin script would work, then typing in the pinyin IME wouldn't have been so inefficient.

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I sure had a hard time understanding it.

Me too.

Chinese could be written in a purely phonetic script, which means the script is based solely on the sound of the language.
However names are harder, because it has qualities of ancient literary Chinese
Wenyan would be hard to read but pinyin should not be used for Wenyan.

There are contradictions. Right?

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Shibo, you can write ordinary conversation in pinyin, but more literary texts, which include references to classical Chinese in chengyu etc cannot be understood without the characters. By the way, what will shi4shi4 mean in your romanized Chinese? Will it mean:

1. Everything. 事事

2. Human affairs. 世事

3. To pass away, die. 逝世

4. To assume office, administer, govern, rule 视事

5. From generation to generation, from age to age. 世世

6. To presume on one's position, influence 恃势

7. Status of an incident, episode; general course of events. 事势

8. Buddha or follower of Budda. 释氏

9. To enter upon an official career. 筮什

These examples are from the ABCD dictionary.

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Me too.

There are contradictions. Right?

No, they are not. Shibo did mention that it's hard because you're not used to, you are used to characters.

Wenyan can be rendered only in characters (I said this), names are also hard to understand (Shibo said this) because they are similar to Wenyan - one syllable meaning a whole word, it's much less the case in modern Chinese, and even if individual syllables have their meaning, very often they are disambiguated by using them in combinations with others - I called this segmenting. Tongue twisters and Wenyan texts (e.g. when all words are SHI) are examples where disambiguation is needed (more info).

There are no rules for segmenting words and each person/tool may do it slightly differently, of course no-one is used to it because no uses it, no pun intended.

I, for one, use a lot of pinyin+ characters and I can read and understand words I have already covered both in hanzi and pinyin.

Not sure, if this discussion will lead to anything, I haven't started it - my point is - Chinese CAN be efficiently written and read in a phonetic script but I am not saying it WILL. Short words used separately on signs or whatever could be replaced with their full versions. If we forget about the legacy of historical literature and dialects, are you insisting that it can't be written and read in pinyin, provided training is given to read it - learning it will take from 1 day - to 2 weeks maximum.

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Wasn't Classical Chinese a purely written language anyway. Did anyone talk the way they wrote? As it was used before they had decided on which dialect was to become the national language then who would know what the correct pronunciation was, the writer and the reader of the letter could speak mutually unintelligble dialects. No doubt not all the homophones in mandarin exist in cantonese and vice versa.

Cambridge University taught its students Classical Chinese for years, with out requiring them to learn to speak any form of Chinese etc.

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The problem with chinese and other languages containing many homophones is the continuous ambiguity we face when reading a text.

If we have a sequence of 10 syllables and each one can have several readings, the number of possible combinations increases at each new syllable we read. From a probabilistic point of view, if syllable 1 (syll1) has 3 readings, syll2 has 6 readings, syll3 has 5 readings... then the combinations are:

syll1-1 syll2-1 syll3-1 ...

syll1-2 syll2-1 syll3-1 ...

syll1-3 syll2-1 syll3-1 ...

syll1-1 syll2-2 syll3-1 ...

syll1-2 syll2-2 syll3-1 ...

syll1-3 syll2-2 syll3-1 ...

syll1-1 syll2-3 syll3-1 ... and so on, so all in all 90 combinations for the first 3 syllables.

Of course, many of them have no sense and others come easily from the context.

Conversely, in English or Russian the same word has less possible "solutions" or meanings and therefore the possible combinations of the entire phrase or just the first three are much less.

E.g. The dog is sleeping by the fireplace.

The has only one meaning (Article, either singular or plural but this determined by the following word)

dog has a clear meaning also non ambiguous

is has only one meaning (Verb to be)

sleeping has a clear meaning (Verb to sleep, continuous tense)

by This could be a source of ambiguity given the many meaning of the preposition but is solved by the combination by the fireplace.

fireplace has a clear meaning

How do Vietnamese people manage to disambiguate such strings of monosyllables (although also many words but particles are composed of various syllables which reduce the number of combinations) ?

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I don't think anyone is arguing for Chinese to be written in a phonetic script, just whether or not it's possible.

Lists, such as shopping lists, lists of animals etc, will become more difficult to write quickly etc, as you'd probably have to include all the measure words etc, but it's not impossible.

The problems occur when you just want to write one word. e.g. If I wrote 猪 everyone would think pig. If I wrote zhu1, no one would know what I meant. But then again if I just said zhu1 no one would be sure what I meant either.

In the same way that moving from classical to modern Chinese meant you had to write a few more characters to get across the same meaning, the same probably will be true for a phonetic system, but then more people would be able to read it.

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I thought this was an old thread for some reason...

The problems occur when you just want to write one word. e.g. If I wrote 猪 everyone would think pig. If I wrote zhu1, no one would know what I meant. But then again if I just said zhu1 no one would be sure what I meant either.

No, you're wrong on that. Because, unless you're just spouting off words for no reason (which people rarely do), you'll have a context to what you''re saying. E.g. You're outside with a friend. And you see a pig, and then say zhu1! 9 times out of 10 they won't be thinking of 蛛 or 珠. But if you wrote someone a letter, then you wouldn't have that context, and chinese would have to become terribly disyllabic just to clarify one's meanings. So you have characters, which convey meaning and sound, which would give you the necessary meaning.

But with jus the conveyance of sound,i.e. pinyin, you will lose the meaning.


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I think we're at crossed purposes here, I was arguing that it's very difficult to convey short lists phonetically. e.g. shu, niu, hu, tu, long, she, ma, yang, hou, ji, gou, zhu. If you read it aloud it should be easy to figure out what it's referring to, even though it's just a list of nouns, but if you mix the order of the nouns, how difficult would it be for people to realise what it's a list of?

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Mandarin Chinese have far more homophones than most languages? I suppose Vietnamese comes close, but I was under the impression it wasn't nearly to the same degree.

I think part of the problems with using a pure pinyin method with so many homophones, it that all of the entymology is lost. When I read chinese, I haven't studied a lot of words that I come across, even though I recognize both characters. But because I've studied the characters, I can guess, based on these and the context, the meaning of the word to a pretty high degree. In my mind, its the same thing as studying Latin and Greek roots for English -- you'll be able to guess unfamiliar words a lot more easily. I think the radical system in Chinese was a brilliant method to encapsulate these "roots", and losing them would do a lot more damage than good.

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Does anyone think writing law documents in pinyin would be a good idea?

We often require a much higher degree of precision in writing than in speaking.

Pinyin will work, so will 1/0, but is it a good alternative compared to characters? no.

I am sure we can be trained to read in 1s and 0s as well.

Pinyin is easier to learn but harder to read. Since reading is a lifetime activity and learning is just a one time endeavor, wouldn't it make more sense to make reading easier?

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I can image a kind of Chinese in purely phonetic script. Purely phonetic script can damage Chinese culture. Please, don't think like this. :shock::evil:






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