User:Vuara/Characters vs phonetic writing systems

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to: navigation, search

+++

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 8:57 am    Post subject: Characters vs phonetic writing systems  

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

ChouDoufu wrote: Yes, learning Chinese characters are difficult. That's the only thing I agree with though. There are a lot of people who have a belief that writing systems should be phonetic (I find it incredibly ironic that a native English speaker is praising the English phonetic system. English phonetics don't make a lot of sense either--under pronunciation rules in english "ghoti" can sound like "fish). Well, obviously if a language had a phonetic alphabet, it makes it easier to write and read. But to say that All languages need to be phonetic is just ridiculous. What makes Chinese appealing to so many people are the characters. Without the characters, Chinese would be destroying thousands of years of history.

I don't think they should do that in order to appease people who want to learn the language. I've always found characters to be rewarding and intruiging.

Yes it's difficult, but it's the difficulties that make things interesting.

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 9:31 am    Post subject:   

I pretty much agree with Chou Doufu. Also I'd like to add that one advantage characters have over a phonetic writing system is that with characters, readers immediately get the meaning in his or her head. It's almost like looking at a painting rather than just text. Good examples can be found in Japanese where the writing system is a mixture of characters (Kanji) and phoentic letters (kanas).

However, a phoentic system is also extremely important and also has its advantages. This is why the Zhuyin Fuhao was first invented in the early 1900's and then later Hanyu Pinyin.

roddy Site Admin


Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 10:34 am    Post subject:   

Thanks for starting the thread wix, I hadn't had time to do it myself last night.

Quote: readers immediately get the meaning in his or her head

Sorry, but they don't. Nobody who hadn't studied Chinese (or any other simliar language could look at ? and think fish - it's only through repeated association of the symbol and the idea that the meaning comes into your head.

If readers immediately got the meaning in their head, we wouldn't need to learn Chinese - we would already know it.

Roddy

jwarriner

Joined: 27 May 2003 Posts: 10 Location: Arizona

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 10:57 am    Post subject: Characters by sight  

Kind of an interesting paradox here. Sure written language came after spoken language but the pictographic or ideographic nature of Chinese characters says to me that the effort to develop the written language wasn't based entirely on the spoken word but also attempted to pictorially represent the thing, concept, idea, etc. So once you know what a character means it seems to me possible that at least some of its meaning is taken in visually rather than aurally. Even with my limited knowledge of Chinese, there are times when I remember what a character means but not how to say it. And the use in China of certain characters in art of various forms suggests that much of its meaning is indeed transferred visually. There's a big difference between having a painting on the wall with DAO and one with ?

cheers, john

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:00 am    Post subject:   

roddy wrote: Thanks for starting the thread wix, I hadn't had time to do it myself last night.

Quote: readers immediately get the meaning in his or her head

Sorry, but they don't. Nobody who hadn't studied Chinese (or any other simliar language could look at ? and think fish - it's only through repeated association of the symbol and the idea that the meaning comes into your head.

If readers immediately got the meaning in their head, we wouldn't need to learn Chinese - we would already know it.

Roddy

Uhm, you're kidding right? Although I didn't specify but I assumed people would know that I was talking about people who know the characters. Of course the modern Hanzi won't look like anything but scribbles to those who don't know Chinese...

sudasana

Joined: 05 Jun 2003 Posts: 19 Location: Nanjing, Jiangsu sheng

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:21 am    Post subject: Written relics  

You can't say that characters have a natural association with the idea they represent: even the ideographic class of characters is opaque to anyone who hasn't learned their meaning. In both character and phonetic writing you have a sign which corresponds to an idea. With characters, you have a vast number of signs, the pronounciation of which is bascially arbitrary, and varies by dialaect and time period. With phonetic writing, you have a small set of signs that indicate sounds.

The Chinese writing system is ineffecient in that it requires a lot of investment in order to master written communication; in the past this helped keep the literati in power, by maintaining a monopoly on the creation and spread of texts. Regardless of its artistic or historical value, the character system has no benefits over a phonetic system. It's only the massive inertia of the character system that keeps it alive; Vietnam and Korea were successful in developing phonetic systems to write their languages, whereas in the past they used Chinese characters.

I was pretty excited about Chinese characters too until I read Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. If you strip away the exoticism that comes with a 'strange' method of writing, you may realize that, at best, hanzi solve many of the problems that they themselves cause.

roddy Site Admin

Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 12:10 pm    Post subject:   

Quote: one advantage characters have over a phonetic writing system is that with characters, readers immediately get the meaning in his or her head

This means readers of phonetic scripts don't immediately get the meaning in their head, which is simply not true - I can't believe reading ? is any more immediate than reading fish.

I'd also like to agree with what sudsana wrote - and thanks for saving me the bother of typing it all.

Roddy

confucius

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 273 Location: China

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 1:21 pm    Post subject:   

Using the Chinese character for fish is a horrible example to make a point for phonetics. The key to learning new words in Chinese is understanding the importance of compound meanings. This allows you to guess at the meaning of new words by immediately analyzing the two characters it's comprised of. For example, if I just write "nankan" in pinyin phonetics then a Chinese guy won't have any clue what it means. Yet when he sees the characters for "nan" and "kan" then at least he knows the new word means "something that is difficult to look at" and concludes that those two characters together mean "ugly"

roddy Site Admin

Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 1:30 pm    Post subject:   

Yeah, I agree that once you've learnt the characters Chinese isn't so difficult - and like the ugly example, Chinese vocabulary can be beautifully logical.

It's learning the characters in the first place that's the problem - not just for us, but for generations of Chinese people.

Roddy

roddy Site Admin

Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 1:41 pm    Post subject:   

And . . .(forgot this)

I've been told that it's impossible to create an adequate phonetic system for Chinese, as there are so few phonemes you have too many homonyns.

Sounds like rubbish to me. A phonetic script is simply one that includes all the information given by the spoken language - if you have a spoken language that works, then you can have a phonetic system. You just need a consistent orthagraphy - whether you do this with tone marks above vowels, numbers after syllables, or whatever, it'll work.

Sure, you might have problems with words in isolation - context won't help you - but how often do you have words in isolation?

Roddy

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 2:05 pm    Post subject: Re: Written relics  

sudasana wrote: I was pretty excited about Chinese characters too until I read Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. If you strip away the exoticism that comes with a 'strange' method of writing, you may realize that, at best, hanzi solve many of the problems that they themselves cause.

There is a sample chapter of Asia's Orthographic Dilemma available online for those who are interested. I strongly suggest that everyone reads it in order to be better informed about this debate. It also dispels many common myths about Chinese characters and Chinese languages.

Appropriateness to East Asian Languages -- sample chapter

=============

The first writing systems that evolved were ideographic or pictographic. These kind of writing systems probably were invented independently in two or three places, China being one of them. Subsequently the Sumerians invented the alphabet in about 3,000 BC(???). The idea of the alphabet then spread around the world. It was so successful that it was adopted almost everywhere. Only in East Asia did a character based writing system persist.

Even in East Asia there has been a trend towards alphabetic writing systems. Vietnam used to use Chinese characters, but abandoned them in favour of romanisation (although the French can probably take some of the credit for that). The Koreans invented their own alphabet (Hangul) and Chinese characters only have a very small place in modern Korea. The Japanese also invented their own alphabetic systems (Katakana and Hiragana) and also use Roman script (Romaji). They maintain the use of Chinese characters in a kind of half and half system. Only in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have Chinese characters persisted in a pure form.

There are probably a few reasons why characters survived in China. Namely, the conservatism of the society, the low levels of literacy in the general population until recently, and the myth about the unification of Chinese "dialects". i.e. that although people throughout China spoke many languages they were united by a single written language.

It is also important to note that the vast majority of Chinese characters are phonemics (although phonetic shifts and variations in pronunciation mean they are not always reliable). They contain a radical indicating the sound and often a meaning radical. Very few characters express the meaning and even when they do it is usually quite abstract.

There is no reason why pinyin or some other alphabetical system should be more difficult to read than Chinese characters. In fact it should be easier. Even Chinese people sometimes forget how to write a character. With an alphabetical system the worst you can do is make a spelling mistake.

Basically I can see no good reason for the Chinese not to adopt some form of alphabetical writing system. This doesn't mean abolishing Chinese characters, but simply relegating them to a secondary role.

confucius

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 273 Location: China

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 2:36 pm    Post subject:   

Know what a "blenny" is? Betcha don't. Looking it up in your alphabetic phonetic dictionary, eh? Yet if you saw the Chinese word for "blenny" you would at least know from the left radical that it's likely a type of fish! Confucius says: "If you see how it's writ, then you must acquit"

roddy Site Admin

Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 3:09 pm    Post subject:   

Quote: Sure, you might have problems with words in isolation - context won't help you - but how often do you have words in isolation?

Like I said, you might occassionally have problems with words in isolation - like when a madman comes up to you on the street and says 'hey, d'you know what a blenny is?'

Roddy

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 6:29 pm    Post subject:   

confucius wrote: The key to learning new words in Chinese is understanding the importance of compound meanings. This allows you to guess at the meaning of new words by immediately analyzing the two characters it's comprised of.

For example, if I just write "nankan" in pinyin phonetics then a Chinese guy won't have any clue what it means. Yet when he sees the characters for "nan" and "kan" then at least he knows the new word means "something that is difficult to look at" and concludes that those two characters together mean "ugly"

Actually this was the point I was trying to express. I had a long day, couldn't really concentrate well earlier.

jwarriner

Joined: 27 May 2003 Posts: 10 Location: Arizona

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 9:33 pm    Post subject:   

roddy wrote:

Sure, you might have problems with words in isolation - context won't help you - but how often do you have words in isolation?

Roddy

I think we would also have to consider the effects of phonetization on the Chinese written word, literature. Passing down from the style of ??? (wen yan wen), modern literature still retains a bit of the flavor of ? ?. 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

ChouDoufu

Joined: 22 Jul 2003 Posts: 87 Location: Zai Beijing.. gei wo lianxi ba!

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 10:36 pm    Post subject:   

Some people on this thread have mentioned giving Chinese characters a secondary role in the writing system. This would kill them, making them available only to Chinese Scholars.

I'd be very sad to see the day when Chinese students studied a romanization system to the neglect of Characters. A newspaper in pinyin? Chinese ancestors would roll in their graves.

I won't argue the fact that Chinese characters are inefficient to learn compared to a phonetic system. That's true. But what I strongly believe is that the most efficient way, the fastest way is not necessarily the best way to do something. I take up this argument for purely cultural reasons. Removing the cultural legacy (in this case Chinese characters which have grown and changed over millenia) of something essentially turns it into something completely different.

Let me take a different tack to explain that last point. I'm a first generation American citizen (ie. my parents were born in a foreign country and came to the US, where I was born). Like many parents, mine had to decide how much of my cultural heritage they would teach their children (in my case, there wasn't a second language as my parents came from an english speaking country). Some parents make the decision not to teach their children about their heritage and language at all. So then you have a child who is XXXX-American (chinese/japanese/ghanian/polish/whatever) by name only. What does it mean to be a young a Polish-American if you don't know anything about Poland, don't speak Polish, and don't know any Polish History? All it means is that your parents came from Poland. But for all intents and purposes, you're just American. Contrasting that, someone who has learned about their heritage is much richer in that they have generations of history to look back upon as well as their knowledge of American Culture. I see the Chinese language in much the same way, by taking out characters, you're removing the history and the cultural legacy that took so long to create.

Language is about so much more than efficiency. It's culture; it's history; it's communication. If efficiency and simplicity was truly what was important in a language, then everyone in the world would be speaking Esperanto--the easiset language in the world to learn. I think the governments that use Chinese characters should protect that use at all cost...

sudasana

Joined: 05 Jun 2003 Posts: 19 Location: Nanjing, Jiangsu sheng

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:07 pm    Post subject: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

ChouDoufu wrote: Some people on this thread have mentioned giving Chinese characters a secondary role in the writing system. This would kill them, making them available only to Chinese Scholars.

I'd be very sad to see the day when Chinese students studied a romanization system to the neglect of Characters. A newspaper in pinyin? Chinese ancestors would roll in their graves.

By that logic we should all be using Latin instead of English on this board, because of its long history and cultural significance. I don't think any Chinese ancestor would fault a modern person for trying to make things better for themselves or other Chinese-speaking/writing peoples.

I think the only arguments in favour of the character system are emotional in nature. That said, these emotions are powerful enough that characters aren't going anywhere for a while. I don't hate characters, I just hate the effect they seem to have on the people who are forced to use them. You've got to wonder if a more widely availbile written system of Chinese wouldn't bring with it social change.

But isn't that one reason why even the CCP didn't banish characters? There are hundreds of dialects in China, different enough to be considered separate languages, but they can all be written using the same set of characters. If you start writing phonectically, you've just removed a unifying factor. Not something which the CCP would relish.

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:18 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

sudasana wrote: By that logic we should all be using Latin instead of English on this board, because of its long history and cultural significance. I don't think any Chinese ancestor would fault a modern person for trying to make things better for themselves or other Chinese-speaking/writing peoples.

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. Also Hanzi and the whole Chinese writing system has received a great deal of "improvements" over the years. The three most significant "updates" were, in chronological order, the switch from Wenyen Wen to Baihua Wen, the invention of Zhuyin Fuhao (and later Hanyu Pinyin), and finally the simplication of Hanzi (Simplified Chinese). Note that Zhuyin Fuhao and Hanyu Pinyin were invented to work as aids to Hanzi and not to replace them. So in fact the modern Chinese has made things better for themselves. They have made improvements and updates to the Chinese writing system but not completely change it.

Quote: But isn't that one reason why even the CCP didn't banish characters? There are hundreds of dialects in China, different enough to be considered separate languages, but they can all be written using the same set of characters. If you start writing phonectically, you've just removed a unifying factor. Not something which the CCP would relish.

I don't believe *ANY* Chinese person (in their right mind) would like to see China disunified, whether they're from the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or the oversea Chinese community.

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:25 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

sudasana wrote: There are hundreds of dialects in China, different enough to be considered separate languages, but they can all be written using the same set of characters. If you start writing phonectically, you've just removed a unifying factor. Not something which the CCP would relish.

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. This is discussed in the chapter of Asia's Orthographic Dilemma that I linked to in an earlier post. 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.

ChouDoufu, 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.

While language is an important part of culture it is also something that, like culture, is continually evolving. Nobody is complaining that typewriters have been superseded by word processors or oil burning lamps replaced by electric lights. 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.

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:44 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

wix wrote: The differences go far beyond simplified/traditional characters. Indeed there are many characters that are not even used in standard Chinese.

There are actually about 100+ characters that were "invented" just to "write" Cantonese. However, the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese (in writing) is still *MUCH* closer than the difference between Mandarin and other languages that use/used characters, Japanese for example. I've actually been to Shenzhen and saw a Hong Kong magazine that's "written" in Cantonese and I understood it much better than a Japanese magazine I read on a plane.

Quote: ChouDoufu, 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.

Actually I have. I live in Houston, TX. We have one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the U.S. (second only to L.A. I believe). I have many Vietnamese friends, some of them even took Chinese at the University of Houston. Many of them took pride in that their culture is so close to the Chinese culture and that they once used Hanzi as well. Almost all of them either learned how to write their names in Hanzi or wish they could. However, I've never seen any of them as ethusiastic about their own language as they are with Chinese, not saying that they aren't proud of their culture in general (which they are). Also there's an Vietnamese organization based in New York who is trying to preserve and hopefully revive the Ngu Nam (sp?) writing system. The Ngu Nam writing system is pretty much Hanzi modified to fit the Vietnamese language.

Quote: The Koreans invented their own alphabet which is a source of cultural pride.

The Korean culture has become pretty much what you described the Chinese culture should become. While Hangul is used in everyday life, most scholars still learn Hanzi. Also, I heard from a couple Korean students I met in Beijing that they teach Hanzi, or what they call Hanja, in school as well. However, this is only happening because Hanzi is still in full use in Chinese-speaking nations (China, Taiwan, Singapore, oversea Chinese communities... etc.). If China dropped the usage of Hanzi, I seriously doubt that Korea would even bother with it. In the end, Hanzi would just be lost completely.

Quote: 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.

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).

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:51 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

kulong wrote: 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.

ChouDoufu

Joined: 22 Jul 2003 Posts: 87 Location: Zai Beijing.. gei wo lianxi ba!

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:53 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

wix wrote: ChouDoufu, 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.

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.

Quote: 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.

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Jul 29, 2003 11:57 pm    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

wix wrote: 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.

jwarriner

Joined: 27 May 2003 Posts: 10 Location: Arizona

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 12:32 am    Post subject: Re: ai hanzi, ai Zhongguo  

wix wrote: 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

sudasana

Joined: 05 Jun 2003 Posts: 19 Location: Nanjing, Jiangsu sheng

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 1:00 am    Post subject:   

Quote: 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.

Quote: 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; ?????????? Or something like that; it's been a while.

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Wed Jul 30, 2003 7:53 am    Post subject:   

sudasana wrote: Quote: 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 ? 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.

jwarriner wrote: I think we would also have to consider the effects of phonetization on the Chinese written word, literature. Passing down from the style of ??? (wen yan wen), modern literature still retains a bit of the flavor of ? ?. 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

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.

wix

Joined: 25 May 2003 Posts: 177 Location: Australia

Posted: Fri Aug 08, 2003 11:08 am    Post subject:   

This website is about the Japanese language, but it contains many references to Chinese and is very relevant to the topic being discussed.

Japanese in the Age of Technology

kulong Guest

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2003 2:56 am    Post subject:   

channamasala wrote: 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.

Last edited by kulong on Tue Aug 26, 2003 7:36 am; edited 2 times in total

jwarriner

Joined: 27 May 2003 Posts: 10 Location: Arizona

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2003 7:17 am    Post subject: Re: Characters vs phonetic writing systems  

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


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.

channamasala

Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 93 Location: Not at home, which is the important part

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2003 10:17 pm    Post subject:   

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.

kulong Guest

Posted: Wed Aug 27, 2003 2:42 am    Post subject:   

channamasala wrote: 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.

jjcox

Joined: 22 Aug 2003 Posts: 3

Posted: Thu Aug 28, 2003 1:43 am    Post subject:   

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

kulong Guest

Posted: Thu Aug 28, 2003 1:53 am    Post subject:   

jjcox wrote: 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, 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.

Quote: 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.

roddy Site Admin


Joined: 24 May 2003 Posts: 798 Location: Beijing

Posted: Sun Aug 31, 2003 10:44 am    Post subject:   

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

Last edited by roddy on Sun Aug 31, 2003 11:11 am; edited 2 times in total

+++

[MUD-Dev] Phonetic and Ideographic languages (was Hangul) From : "Nathan F. Yospe" <yospe@kanga.nu> To : <mud-dev@kanga.nu> Subject : [MUD-Dev] Phonetic and Ideographic languages (was Hangul) Date : Wed, 31 Jul 2002 20:08:34 -0000


Travis Casey <efindel@earthlink.net> said: > On Thursday 25 July 2002 3:01, Damion Schubert wrote:

>> I don't know exactly what the language font for Korean is, but if >> you go into any Korean Lineage server, you'll see a lot of >> symbols above the heads of characters which aren't latin >> Characters by any stretch of the imagination.

> The major writing system in Korea is called Hangul. It is a > syllabary -- each symbol represents a particular syllable. This > means it has a lot more characters than English (which builds > syllables from multiple characters), but nowhere near as many as > traditional Chinese writing, in which a symbol corresponds to a > particular word.

> Hangul has exactly 140 characters. Each of these is a consonant + > vowel combination. There are also separate symbols for the > consonants (of which there are 14) and the vowels (of which there > are 10).

The unicode standard provides, for Hangul Jamo (the consonant and vowels combined to make the 10K plus Hangul) 96 noncombinable, of which only 51 are in use as modern letters, and what's called the Hangul Jamo combining alphabet, with 60 (0x1100 - 0x1159) initial consonants, 66 (0x1161 - 0x11A2) vowels, and 82 (0x11A8 - 0x11F9) final consonants...

The standard states that the compatibility section is the portion of Hangul Jamo that cannot be algorithmicly decomposed to normal, standardized Jamo.

Of the Hangul Jamo letters, 19 leading, 27 trailing, and 21 vowel characters are listed as being in common modern use. That's much more than 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and results in a total set of 11,172 complete Hangul in modern use. That's not counting the Hangul produced by the less standard 51 Jamo or the degenerate or unused products involving one of the remaining other 140 odd Jamo in the normal block. The Johab set (the 11K formed sylables) are unquestionably going to be typed using combined keystrokes. With a shift or control key, I'm sure all modern Jamo could easilly be typed with one stroke. It may even be possible to automate parts of each Hangul in sequence - initial jamo, vowel jamo, and final, if present, spacebar (maybe) to move on if not. I don't know how it's actually done, but that would seem a sensible approach...

What you describe sounds closer to Hiragana, which has (really) a total of fourteen consonants (five accessed only by accents added to similar sounding consonants, eg ka -> ga, ha -> ba -> pa), but only five vowels, with a few others formed by combining vowels to get long forms ("yaw" would be ia -> "eee" + "ah") and a few sets of combining sounds are neglected (y is only "yah", "yoo", "yoh"; w is only "wah, "woh"; tsu replaces "too", chi replaces "tee", ji replaces "zee", and there is a vowelless "n" that doesn't start a new word, but can end one), and the vowels exist as unadorned but seperate characters. There's also a rare case of a plain u "ooh" getting accented to become a vu "vooh", but I've only seen it one or two times, ever.

Mind, there's also a complete parallel alphabet, Katakana, with a slightly different, less fluid shape, used for foreign words, and a majority of Nihongo is written in Kanji, which is analogous to, and ultimately derived from, Han ideographs, the chinese writing. Clasical writing is in Kanzi, which retains archaic flourishes, a bit like gothic scripts in english.

Korean was, until sometime in the last century, also written with a Han derived ideographic form. Several of the nonstandard Jamo, ultimately, reflect that root. Purely Han derived characters are called Hanja and look just like Han.

Again, I don't know how that would be handled in Korean typing.

What gets particularly complex is the integration of dictation in a combined phonetic/ideographic typed environ. Worse still, when dealing with Han (pretty much the last pure ideographic language) there are actually multiple spoken languages mapped to one print, and the only phonetic standards format is something refered to as BoPoMoFo. It isn't used in writing, but does provide for a basic standard mapping from phonetic (keep in mind that this includes a set of tonal elements used for differentiation of meaning) to Han for a given language.

If a MMOG were to attempt to support, on the same server, a large set of languages, written and spoken, it would have to overcome a great deal of incompatibility between languages. Were the goal a more modest portability - single release of software, but servers for each language supported - it would simply be a case of having operating system support tie-ins and (probably) internal unicode, or at the very least multilingual encoding, support.

If it also had voice input support, or even worse, mixed mode and unified presentation (recipient chooses to see text or hear voice independant of what originator chose to use), something better in the way of phoneme encoding would have to be developed, and there would have to be a pretty advanced context-aware mapping resolver figuring out what each phoneme-set was *supposed* to mean... just as much, figuring out which _word_ a given ideographic symbol was meant to be, not to mention unmangling typos and horrific typing, u know, 2 b kewl?

I'd like to propose now, should anyone ever do this, that l33t be translated to a spoken form that resembles an especially retarded hillbilly just after a run-in with a large mallet. Or Elmer Fudd just after getting shot with his own rifle.

--

Nathan F. Yospe - Programmer, Scientist, Artist, JOAT with a SAK yospe#kanga.nu Home: nathanfyospe#mac.com Work: nyospe#a2i.com

https://www.kanga.nu/lists/listinfo/mud-dev

From : "David Kennerly" <kallisti@tahoesnow.com> To : <mud-dev@kanga.nu> Subject : RE: Hangul (was Re: Réf. : RE: [MUD-Dev] Mass customization in MM***s) Date : Wed, 31 Jul 2002 19:18:04 +0900


Korean is the easiest alphabet in the world to learn. It's phonetic. With a few exceptions, it's logical and sounds exactly like it's written. Each one of those blocks contain King Sejong created it around the 1500s in order to improve literacy rate, because Chinese language is too hard. In many people's opinion, he (or whoever he's taking credit from) did a good job. It has nuances too. It's vowels have yin or yang, each one is male or female. Some of the consonants are ideograms related to the position of the mouth to make the syllable.

The standard Korean keyboard map is intuitive. Korean has more like 40 common characters when practically used, so all can be typed on a western keyboard using only the letter keys and the shift key. The shift key combos are intuitive. If you wanted to try the keyboard map, you could try AsianSuite (http://www.unionway.com), or install Korean language system if your OS supports it. However, Korean language, beyond the alphabet, is a monster for a Westerner to learn (and vice versa), because it shares no roots. Western language has an alien philosophy, grammar, and alphabet from Korean.

Incidentally, I'm ending a four month business stay in Korea, and a four and a half year job with a Korean company, tomorrow. For the last four months, I've seen and typed a lot of those funny symbols.

)

David

From : Sean Kelly <sean@hoth.ffwd.cx> To : mud-dev@kanga.nu Subject : [MUD-Dev] =?X-UNKNOWN?Q?Re=3A_Hangul_=28was_Re=3A_R=E9f=2E_=3A_RE=3A_?==?X-UNKNOWN?Q?=5BMUD-Dev=5D_Mass__customization__in_MM***s=29?= Date : Wed, 31 Jul 2002 09:35:25 -0700 (PDT)


On Tue, 30 Jul 2002, Travis Casey wrote: > On Thursday 25 July 2002 3:01, Damion Schubert wrote:

>> I don't know exactly what the language font for Korean is, but if >> you go into any Korean Lineage server, you'll see a lot of >> symbols above the heads of characters which aren't latin >> Characters by any stretch of the imagination.

> The major writing system in Korea is called Hangul. It is a > syllabary -- each symbol represents a particular syllable. This > means it has a lot more characters than English (which builds > syllables from multiple characters), but nowhere near as many as > traditional Chinese writing, in which a symbol corresponds to a > particular word.

However Chinese is monosyllabic and the base part of each symbol represents the phonetic sound. This is the same, so far as I know, for all words represented by this sound. The rest of the word (some added bits in the upper right, I think) represents meaning or context modifiers to the symbol to differentiate each word from its generic phonetic base.

Japanese is odd because it is a polysyllabic language but they adapted the Chinese writing system for their use, so they have multiple symbols per word (even for the non purely phonetic writing form... I can never keep the names straight).

Interestingly enough, the Mayan language is much like Chinese. There's a book out about the decipherment of Mayan that's fascinating, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Sean