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Shelley

The Chinese Typewriter

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Shelley

Hopefully this will be the next book I read - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chinese-Typewriter-Thomas-S-Mullaney/dp/0262036363

The Chinese Typewriter by Thomas S. Mullaney.

 

The review I read in New Scientist  (week 23 sept 2017) was intriguing and I have put it on my Birthday/Christmas list when it comes out in paperback.

 

It discusses the reasons why a chinese typewriter from around the turn of the last century became a racist joke and the implications and ideas surrounding the "crazy" idea of chinese typewriter. It discusses how Chinese was considered "more primitive than Indo-European Languages" mainly because it lacks an alphabet.  He points out that movable type was invented in China 400 years before Gutenberg's invention. There is more on the different aspects of the chinese language and writing it.

 

I have not read more than the review and my summary is only very sketchy. Try to read the New Scientist article and/or the book.

 

I am looking forward to reading this book.

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Publius

Typewriter! How quaint. I once owned an Olivetti. Perhaps would worth something had it survived till today. Good way to exercise one's fingers lol.

 

An interesting read, that New Scientist article (link here). A keyboard 3 meters wide.... Is it really a typewriter, not a typesetting machine?

 

Westerners were not alone in considering Chinese backward. Chinese revolutionaries believed hanzi was the main culprit that held China back in its pursuit of modernization. Lu Xun famously said "漢字不滅,中國必亡". Mao's ultimate goal in script reform (simplification & pinyin) was total latinization.

 

Yeah, it's been a long journey, considering how Chinese input is more advanced today than text input in the West. How do you speed up typing English on smartphones? By allowing the users to glide their fingers over individual letters. Or by adopting txtspk. Backward. Sad.

 

But not long ago, hanzi was no doubt quite awkward. I remember helping teachers to prepare 蠟紙 stencil paper and working the 油印機 mimeograph machine. For midterm exams, printing was not worth it and typing not an option. I remember writing programs in the arcane language of ASM just so Chinese fonts can be loaded into memory blocks beyond 640K. Also remember, as recently as in the early noughties, most mobile phones did not support Chinese input. People went to websites to send true Chinese SMS for special occasions and for everyday use we were just thankful that we learned pinyin in school.

 

I agree with New Scientist that the next book would be more fascinating and worth looking forward to.

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stapler
54 minutes ago, Publius said:

Mao's ultimate goal in script reform (simplification & pinyin) was total latinization.

I always thought Mao was huge into poetry, calligraphy, and all the other bourgeois literary pursuits. Hence all his books and poems on monuments etc. I assumed that latinisating didn't happen because of Mao rather than despite him. 

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evn108
6 hours ago, Shelley said:

It discusses how Chinese was considered "more primitive than Indo-European Languages" mainly because it lacks an alphabet. 

For more on this you might also be interested in The Chinese Language in European Texts: The Early Period by Dinu Luca, that goes through a lot of different early ideas about Chinese held by various Europeans. It's put out by an academic press so it's absurdly expensive, but maybe a library somewhere would have it.

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Publius
5 hours ago, stapler said:

I always thought Mao was huge into poetry, calligraphy, and all the other bourgeois literary pursuits. Hence all his books and poems on monuments etc. I assumed that latinisating didn't happen because of Mao rather than despite him.

Nah, the proponents of latinazation of Chinese, without exception, are all well-versed in classical literature. Many of them are great calligraphers, Lu Xun himself included. But that won't stop them from attacking the Chinese writing system. Just as Mao's 富農 origin didn't stop him from labeling 富農 as 黑五類 and banishing them to hard labor. They are true believers, these people. Besides, in a culture where you literally get away from murder as long as you hold high enough a position, there probably isn't much sacrifice to speak of. Children at school are being punished for failing to speak putonghua, while revolutionary leaders depicted on screen always speak regional dialects.

Latinazion didn't happen because: the breaking up of CCP with the Soviets; more important things to do than educating the peasants -- the re-education of the intelligentsia for example; and Mao's death -- which in my opinion contributed to the failure of the second round of simplification, and with the cultural revolution officially ending and the focus turning to economy, the illiteracy problem miraculously resolved itself.

I think this article might give you a clearer picture regarding Mao's attitude toward and the role he played in the script reform.

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Shelley

I had a few typewriters, a huge old Royal that you had to pound the keys to get anything, a small portable that had keys that kept tangling and a wonderful IBM golf ball, electronic keys, you could just tickle the keys and type a sentence. You could take off the ball and change the font or language so it was fun. It died just as I started to use my Commodore 64 to write business letters, so primitive you had to actually write a program for each letter.  Then a friend said what? here try this EasyScript yeah WYSIWYG true word processing. I have not looked back. 

 

Thanks @Publius for the link to the article, also you can read more of the book on the Amazon page.

 

I think its a fascinating subject, the place in the world and history of languages and for me especially chinese.

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Publius

Qwerty keyboard is ill-suited for small screen. Yet you are stuck with it. Looking from afar, we Chinese people cannot help but feel a bit of schadenfreude, hehehe.

Now the funny thing called "swipe typing". What you really do is draw a shape using your finger. Said shape is determined by an arbitrary arrangement of letters based on the principle that those most often occur together must be separated as far apart as possible. So this sun.png.a2aa966ebd931b171431f419bcb1500e.png means 'sun'. Primitive much? I submit that this 59c64e50a9302_-bronze_svg.png.3e41f515d44f42b951075f8b051b64aa.png looks better. :mrgreen:

 

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Shelley
20 minutes ago, Publius said:

that those most often occur together must be separated as far apart as possible.

And this, I am sure you know, comes from typewriters whose original alphabetical layout meant these keys tangled up and slowed typing down.

 

Now there is no good reason for it apart from that's just how it is and any transition will be difficult. I have a label maker whose keyboard layout is alphabetical and its odd, at first its problematic but soon you get used to it.

 

One layout that does bug me is the numerical layout on phones and then its upside down on calculators and computer keyboards, drives me up the wall.

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realmayo
Quote

Now the funny thing called "swipe typing".

 

hehe it's a lot quicker swiping 'ai' than drawing 鬃毛三趾樹懶 :nono

 

But it's a good point, I hadn't thought how the tables are turned somewhat at the moment, with the predictive aspect of pinyin input. Perhaps it'll swing back and forth a few more times. Sub-vocal speech sensors for text input might not pick up tones properly!

 

Meanwhile, any chance that heavy users of predictive pinyin input end up limiting their range of expression just so it's more likely to be predicted quicker?

 

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Shelley
1 minute ago, realmayo said:

predictive pinyin input end up limiting their range of expression

Not good enough yet with pinyin to input without checking or knowing for certain what I want so "on the fly" composition doesn't happen in chinese But it does in English...I like predictive text and find myself adjusting what I am saying to fit the choices presented to me.

 

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Angelina

From New Scientist 

 

Quote

QWERTY keyboards and “typing” are now dead in China, replaced by smart input systems: predictive text, autocomplete, and “cloud input”, where ever better suggestions are produced by comparing your keystrokes with other Chinese users, pulled from the internet as you write.

 

 

Is this true, though? 

 

There is predictive text, but how is this at odds with the QWERTY keyboard? I do use predictive text when typing Chinese, but I still use a QWERTY keyboard to type pinyin. 

 

3 hours ago, realmayo said:

Meanwhile, any chance that heavy users of predictive pinyin input end up limiting their range of expression just so it's more likely to be predicted quicker?

 

A bit like spell-check, it might leave you depending on the tool too much. I would be more worried about certain terms being promoted. E.g., you type "big" and it gives you "big brother" as your first option, would not that encourage the use of this term? So not really users limiting their range of expression, more about censors influencing what language is used more frequently. 

 

 

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realmayo

Maybe it'll only get scary if you start typing "tush....." and it autocompletes as 事件!

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Publius
7 hours ago, Angelina said:

Is this true, though? 

 

There is predictive text, but how is this at odds with the QWERTY keyboard? I do use predictive text when typing Chinese, but I still use a QWERTY keyboard to type pinyin. 

The declaration of death is premature. But more people use 九键 than 全键 is a fact.

 

Part of the reason is historical. Before smartphones there were dumbphones. Before touchscreens there were physical keyboards. 3x4 numeric pad takes less space. Early phones all used it.

 

Another factor has to do with the language. With Chinese, one-to-one keyboard mapping is impossible. Well, impossible without a 3-meter-wide keyboard at least. Qwerty keyboard holds no practical advantage. There's always an extra step to convert what you type to what's sent to the screen.

 

With the right software support, touch typing is possible on a physical T9 keyboard. But it's not possible on a Qwerty keyboard, because it's just too crowded and not designed for this kind of device. With physical keyboards you can say you like the touch. But with touchscreens? Qwerty has no need to exist actually if you type exclusively in Chinese.

 

On a T9 layout, keystroke sequences are more ambiguous but also less error-prone. With the algorithm getting better and better, and the age of first cellphone use lowering, the decline of Qwerty is predictable.

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Shelley

I listened to a BBC Radio four program, one of the topics was a talk with the author about his book http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096gjwg

It is the last article which starts at about 28:15.

 

I also found a lecture he gave on his book here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdT-oFxc-C0

 

I haven't listened fully to the lecture, but will later.

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mungouk

I'm just watching* a more recent talk by Mullaney on the typewriter book which promises to also connect to his next book on the Chinese computer (which may or may not be Your Computer is on Fire, MIT Press, 2021.)

 

https://youtu.be/KSEoHLnIXYk

 

He mentions IMEs and typing competitions in there, which made me think of @Tomsima's recent posts on Cangjie.

 

*Actually I've had to take a break half-way through because he talks so quickly and I'm worn out!

 

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889

" . . . and a wonderful IBM golf ball, electronic keys, you could just tickle the keys and type a sentence. You could take off the ball and change the font or language so it was fun."

 

The IBM Selectric was indeed a magical machine, both in terms of its mechanics and its feel; it really did practically do the typing for you. The later models with the auto-correct feature were particularly cool.

 

IBM stopped making them in 1986, but you can still find them along with the golfballs on ebay.

 

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Tomsima

Damn this sounds fascinating, on my to watch list when ive got some time to spare, thanks for the tag @mungouk

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