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Re: PinYin - Reformed Latin-script Mandarin writing

From:DOUGLAS KOLLER <laokou@...>
Date:Sunday, May 7, 2000, 21:32
From: "Jonathan Chang"

> >I certainly wouldn't dispute this. I am a Chinese character fiend, and
> >be transported to fits of ecstacy just mulling over some obscure
> >character. I wouldn't want to overplay it, but the sheer age of the > >characters affords them a mystico-symbolic aura like the "gua" of the I > >Ching or the arcana of the Tarot, even though one might overlook it
> >the front page of "Renmin Ribao".
> aiyah! I find everyday poetics even in the local Chinatown signage &
> little difference 'tween the mystico-symbolism of the I Ching, the
> beauty of T'ang Dynasty poetry and everyday poetics of Chinese signage. > Example of signage: > for a music store (English gloss)=> beautiful/Star(s)//Music(also > means Joy)/Trade-Shop
Well we might debate the poetics of the "Clinton Karaoké" or the "Tennessee Motel"...but, I'm not talking poetics or coinage of catchy phrases (perhaps a blend of the aural and visual?). What I meant here was that each character has a history and therefore a depth and layering of symbolic meaning. Focussing on any character, say, "cao3", "grass", one can contemplate the aesthetics of the character, the stroke order, the historical resonance, in a way I do not when looking at the letter "A". Nevertheless, despite all this New Agey attachment to the characters, there is also the plain fact the characters are also an everyday writing system, and there comes a point where you've just got to sit down and read the text in front of you. So I can read through a newspaper article without sitting in a contemplative stupor, until some arcane 30+-stroke character comes along (preferably one I don't already know) and throws me out of the text, sending me to the dictionary for several minutes of etymological bliss. This for me has nothing to do with the poetry of the language; that's a different issue. It's the physical shape of the character, the history, yadda, yadda (I also enjoy the romantic concept that my first year Chinese teacher posited: "In Chinese, you are always learning how to read."[meaning, in your lifetime, you're always going to encounter characters you do not know and may not be able to guess how they're read aloud]). When I first moved to Japan (after having formally studied Chinese for four years and living in Jiangxi for an equal amount of time), I knew zilch about how to read the characters in a way that made me comprehensible. Still, the characters spoke to me "through the ages" and as old, familiar friends. (That it weirded out grocery clerks that I couldn't speak Japanese but could write decent characters [in the palm of my hand] to get what I wanted was merely an added bonus :)) Perhaps, despite my many years there, I'm still susceptible to the "Exotic East Syndrome" (though I hope not). And, alas, I'm still not above taking great glee in parading esoteric charcters which no one else knows in response to that constant barrage of claims that "Foreigners can't 'really' speak Chinese/Japanese (and, we've heard, Korean)". But I would hope it is clear that I have a deep emotional investment in and attachment to the characters.
> True, I like the Roman alphabet a lot myself. I have a fondness for
> alphabet languages without accents, diacritics, etc.. Now only if English
> less confusing & convoluted ... & closer to a fonetik, pidjin-spelin.
Me, I like the diacritics (perhaps the exotica rearing its head again). Barring languages with simpler phonologies, you ditch the diacritics, you've gotta employ tortured digraphs and trigraphs, which you claim makes English convoluted. How else to map twenty-six letters to languages with over twenty-six phonemes? And what of your argument that replacing characters (a *major* tax on memory) with pinyin is a sell-out to the West; why wouldn't streamlining English's morpho-phonemic spelling system for something more phonetic be a "sell-out"? Kou