Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

mungouk

The Secret History of Writing (BBC, 2020)

Recommended Posts

mungouk

I just watched the third and final episode of "The Secret History of Writing" on BBC4, which you may enjoy if you're a writing systems enthusiast like I am.

 

The series has a lot on Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese hanzi, the Arabic abjad (or alphabet — discuss) and a few other bits and pieces.

 

There were some surprises for me, and some stunning footage that really made me want to visit Uzbekistan at some point!  

Without giving too much away, I thought Ep 3 was particularly interesting, dealing as it does with the political motives and cultural impacts of changing a writing system, such as Turkey moving from Arabic script to the Latin alphabet in an incredibly short time.  I'm sure scholars and experts will find fault with the discussion of Pinyin here, but hey — there's a lot of ground covered in only 3 hours of content in total, and some over-simplification was probably inevitable. 

 

Presented by Lydia Wilson, "an academic and journalist who is also the editor of the Cambridge Literary Review". (inews)

 

Edit: a proper bio on Dr Wilson now I found one.

 

Since this is on the BBC website, you will need to be in the UK (or able to pretend that you are) to watch the episodes, but I suppose they may also be available in other locations too.  Arte France is a collaborator, so it's probably also available through that channel?

 

Episode 1: From Words to Pictures

 

Episode 2: Words on a Page

 

Episode 3: Changing the Script

 

General programme website (short clips might be viewable outside the UK?)

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

Shelley

I also watched part 3 and now am going to go back and find 1 & 2. very interesting. Uzbekistan going through 3 writing systems in less than 100 years. And Turkey's change too, all very interesting.

 

Thanks for the link @mungouk reminded me to go look for the paperback, should be out by now, I hope.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
889

VPN or not, you'll still have to register for an account first, with a UK postcode. Try something easy to remember, like SW1A 2AA.

 

By the way, if you are in the UK, is it a criminal offence to watch these on your phone if you don't have a TV License?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shelley

Yes, technically you do need a TV license, but I believe it is no longer a criminal offence or soon to not be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
amytheorangutan

I just watched Ep 3. Thank you @mungouk I love hanzi! Even though I'm still struggling my way through it and have abandoned handwriting for now but it's by far the most interesting part of Chinese for me. If Chinese just uses latin alphabets or phonetics alphabets like kana or hangul I think I wouldn't be as interested in it as a whole. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mungouk

Absolutely, @amytheorangutan... Hanzi are such a fascinating part of learning Chinese, and of course the history and culture are inseparable from them.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
889

Anyone else been attracted to Arabic for much the same reason: the beauty of the written language? And much like Chinese, it's often used for decorative purposes.

 

(Not that I've yet started on the language. But one day.)

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Shelley

Yes but I choose Chinese.

Some of you might remember that my grandfather was a language professor who spoke, read and wrote 7 languages and could read and write another 7. He translated Shakespeare into Arabic and translated many 10s of Arabic proverbs into English (I am honoured to have inherited his first draft of this) and many other important works of translation.

 

When I was about 10 years old he sent me a letter for my birthday and included a little lesson on how to write my name in Arabic, this I think started me on the journey of loving languages. 

 

I choose Chinese becuase although the writing is beautiful the sounds of Arabic sounded unpleasant to my ears and I much prefer the almost musical sounds of Chinese.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mungouk

I was swinging either way with Chinese vs Arabic when I decided to start learning Chinese 3 years back.  Both of them felt like some kind of ultimate challenge of language learning.

 

Since I was living in Singapore at the time, Chinese was the obvious choice. Plus having learned a few Kanji in basic Japanese studies had piqued my interest.

 

Funny how our aesthetic judgements affect our decisions like this... I always used to maintain that German sounded ugly and harsh, although I didn't really know any. Then I found myself with a German girlfriend so I had a reason to learn, and discovered many unexpectedly joyful things about the language. The grammar is still fairly hellish, but my attitude to the aesthetics of the language completely changed.

 

I'm a big fan of world music, and Arabic for me would win hands-down in that department, notwithstanding its many forms... and I guess a lot of artists sing in local versions rather than Modern Standard Arabic. But there are many artists whose songs I would love to sing and understand. 

 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim

Agree about Arabic, bought a teach yourself book once but that's as far as it got. Did some foundational Tibetan years ago and can still make out words just about enough to then look them up, that's a really enjoyable script too and love the way it piles up letters into phonemes, think other scripts from the same family do similar but no expert. Never mastered the "headless" cursive script that's actually more common outside of printed texts though, looks very different.

Have quite a few Mongolian friends and one does calligraphy in their trad script which is also very appealing. Finally, worked in an area with a large Yi population for a bit so tried picking up some of their characters which are based on the old bimo shamanic texts but again not really much past owning a teach yourself book.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
amytheorangutan

My next long term project is Japanese haha imagine that! Doing hanzi/kanji twice. In term of sound I love Japanese more than Mandarin, maybe I’m biased 🤔

 

I haven’t looked into Arabic but I like the sound of Farsi more. 

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim

Thinking on the beauty of Arabic, IIRC Hui calligraphy executed using Chinese techniques is very popular internationally, certainly seen some hefty coffee table books of it.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mungouk
37 minutes ago, amytheorangutan said:

My next long term project is Japanese haha imagine that! Doing hanzi/kanji twice.

 

You can get by with a lot fewer Kanji though... even for JLPT level N1 (the hardest) you only need to know 2000 of them.

 

Plus Furigana (kana over the top of unknown Kanji) makes for very good scaffolding while you learn.

 

I would love to go back to Japanese again, but I wonder what it would do to my poor shrivelling brain after force-feeding it Chinese... 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
amytheorangutan
33 minutes ago, mungouk said:

I would love to go back to Japanese again, but I wonder what it would do to my poor shrivelling brain after force-feeding it Chinese... 

A couple of months ago I tried to start Japanese, managed to learned the kanas and basic sentence structures/grammar and then felt super overwhelmed because my Chinese is nowhere near good enough. I suppose once my Chinese is good enough so that I can maintain it by watching TV/Films without English Subs and read novels then I can start again and focus on Japanese. 
 

I read such a great explanation of how kanji works in Japanese and I’m really happy I read it before I start Japanese https://www.italki.com/question/351156?hl=en also made me understand why RTK books don’t include pronunciation of the kanji. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mungouk

I used wanikani.com for a while (for learning Kanji) and liked it... a good supportive community too. Not sure how well it works if you already know hanzi though. 

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moshen

If you're not in the UK, the videos are on YouTube - but maybe not for long!

Episode 1: From Words to Pictures
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbmyXjqXlEY


Episode 2: Words on a Page
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJwqp_Z9lYo


Episode 3: Changing the Script
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb8EBaVwDuQ

Thanks for posting about this. I listened to a course on the history of writing from The Great Courses and found it not so good about Chinese.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mungouk
17 hours ago, Jim said:

Did some foundational Tibetan years ago and can still make out words

 

@Jim that's so cool!  Tibetan is a really distinctive and beautiful script, it would be great to read some. Asia is so rich in writing systems, it's really fascinating. 

 

I used to be able to read Hindi—very slowly—in the Devanagari script when I was living in India. Blew my mind slightly when I discovered I could also read some prayers written in Sanskrit. Sadly it's more or less gone now... "use it or lose it" is so true when it comes to reading.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Moshen

Wow, what a terrific documentary. I watched the whole thing and learned a lot! Thanks for posting about this. Episodes 2 and 3 were eye-opening, Episode 1 not so much.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Takeshi

Wow, this was an amazing series to watch.

 

I found it really interesting that they attributed the prosperity of Europe to the coincidental accident of how their writing tradition was, and how Gutenberg managed to take advantage of this to push European civilization into new frontiers.

 

Which makes me wonder what the next step is. Could another coincidental accident about the properties of a language/culture/tradition means someone gets a headstart on another future technology? AI perhaps? I wonder if some languages are just fundamentally better suited to AI or machine learning.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...