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Re: Chinese writing systems

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Sunday, November 3, 2002, 2:46
Florian Rivoal scripsit:

> >>If you write english in ponetics, you will have the same writing for to two > >>and too. Ok, only three. But can you imagine the mess when not 3 but 40 > >>words have the exact same spelling?
I think the trouble here is that there may be 40 zi4 with the same pinyin spelling. There are not likely to be 40 different ci2 with the same spelling in modern language. (Written Classical Chinese is another matter, of course.) zi4 = syllable, morpheme ci2 = "word" in the Western sense
> Ideographic system does do that. there is perfect correspondance between > the written form and the oral form. every word match, every construction, > the word order, every thing is there.
That indeed was the big benefit from switching to baihua writing early in the 20th century: you didn't have to painfully reconstruct the spoken word from the text. However, this trick doesn't work for the other Sinitic languages: when reading written Chinese, you may be able to read it using the morphemes of your own dialect, but the word order will be wrong. Wu, for example, likes to put the direct object before the indirect, and Cantonese prefers adjectives after nouns. As you also say, the idioms of written text are those of Mandarin. Reading out loud a written text in Cantonese is a tricky exercise in on-the-fly translation; not as hard as reading a German text out loud in English would be, perhaps, but still difficult. I doubt that there is any great advantage except in marginal situations (washed up on the beach, etc.) for using exactly the same written form for multiple languages. There is a great advantage, and most countries use it, for having only a small number of official languages (most often one); there is a great advantage, and most languages that have written form use it, for having only one written form for a single language. But in practice, learning Mandarin writing amounts to learning Mandarin.
> Be tolerant to diversity
Absolutely. -- John Cowan Promises become binding when there is a meeting of the minds and consideration is exchanged. So it was at King's Bench in common law England; so it was under the common law in the American colonies; so it was through more than two centuries of jurisprudence in this country; and so it is today. --_Specht v. Netscape_