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Re: Chinese writing systems

From:Florian Rivoal <florian@...>
Date:Saturday, November 2, 2002, 13:36
>> >How much is the Roman notation for Chinese being used these days? >> >>It is used for teaching chinese to foreigners, and to sort characher is >>some dictionaries. Allmost nothing more. And actualy, chinese written in >>the roman notation is hardly readable. >> >>There are too mainy homophones in chinese, you never know which characher >>you are talking about. my dictionary has an average 10 characher for each >>sillable. This is average, so many ones have much more. > >So how do they manage in speech?
The chinese language is pretty much analitic. That means out of its context, a word is very dificult to understand. Including in oral form. The thing is that oral language contain many information usable as context stressing of words, pauses and so on. Also remember that writen language is not only to be use in long texts.just look at your screen, and you will see many words that are not included in sentence "File" "edit" "help" "start" ... have a look to the back of a pack of cereals, on the indredient part, is there any sentence here? Go on the road, and read the road signs. open you dictionary. go to the cinema and check the last movies title. All those are not sentences. Without any context, understanding is hard, and sometimes almost impossible.
>>if you consider that most electronic or informatic systems do no handle the >>diacritic notation of tones, multiply this figure by 4. > >Obviously the tone notation is necessary.
It is.
>>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? > >Same point about speech. If there is no problem with comprehension of the >spoken form, there should be no problem with comprehension of the written >form if it accurately records the spoken form. The thing is, the ideographic >system *doesn't* do that. Yet people understand it anyway - after their >difficult learning process.
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.
>>More over, all chinese dialects (which could sometimes be considerer as >>separate languages) share the common wrighting system, thought phonetic is >>considerably different. Or to be more specific, Cantonese uses the chinese >>charachers plus specifics charachers (based on the same system) for words >>that do not exist in mandarin, while most other dialects (languages) do not >>have a written form of their own, an only use mandarin. > >That is a good point, and one of the main arguments in favour of keeping the >hanzi I suppose... > >>This is not difficult since writting only caries the meaning, and not >>pronounciation. Would you remove any possibility of writing to those >>languages, > >That wouldn't happen because every form of Chinese language could have a >Roman system. And they are not that different, so they could all be >variations on the same model of writing system.
They are that different. I don't only speak of the various accents of mandarin when you go to other regions, but of actual other language. Mandarin is the second language for Shanghainese people. And shanghainese in not understandable to a mandarin speaker. Hangzhou, suzhou, nimbo, are not more than 250 km away from shanghai. Still they do have distinct dialects, partly understandable to each other, but not to native mandarin speaker. And remember this country is quite big. The towns i mentioned are considered neighbours. on the whole china is as big as europe, from UK to russia(not including russia), from sweden to spain. the "similar dialects" are as diferent as can be French spanish italien portugese roumanian latin, german english dutch... Though obviously related, and not allway so closely, those languages are different. they are diferent in phonetic system vocabulary, and flexion, only (vaguely) sharing word order. Chinese being isolating, the dialects are not different for the inflexions, since there is no inflexion. The word order betwen the various languages is generaly the same. the vocab is usualy diferent, idioms are too, and the phonetic system can be very different. vowel, consonants, tones and phonological constraints are different. try to explain an italian that his language is so similar to french that he should use french spelling.
>>or create hundreds (not less, knowing how many dialects ans languages) of >>different complex spelling systems? > >That is the point again, re the spoken language: if there is that much >variation in the spoken language, there is already that much common >unintelligibility. Why does no-one think of all these Chinese languages as >cultural forms in their own right, with the right to individual expression?
As i said, there is no common intelligibility. Because chinese is not one language. Mandarin is one language, an lingua-franca understood by most people in china. But quite often it is their second language. and when it is the first, people still speak the local language. And people still have the right of to have their own form of expression. Have you ever see movies from hong kong (most chinese movies seen in western countries are from there). They are not in chinese, if chinese mean mandarin. They are in cantonese. People are free to use whatever language they want, it is just that official language is mandarin, it does not mean that every other language is prevented from existing. Yes, every one shares the same writing. Ok but what is wrong with that? Do you feel restricted in your freedom of speach because you use latin letters, and not english letters? Do french english and german need to devise independant writtings to feel independant from each other? Some chinese languages have their own use of the chinese script, so other do not have writen forms. There is no problem to this. remember the vast majority of human languages do not have a writen form. Having the right to individual expression is a excenlent idea. Why don't you want to let chinese people have the right to use their own form of written expression, and replace it with a foreign system?
>>Or make every body use the same one, and make it completely loose it's >>phonetic value? > >Consider this: Chinese will continue to change. Of course these days it >could be argued that languages will not all divide and become many daughter >languages because of standardisation and mass communications. But otherwise >that is what would happen: as all 'Chinese' languages are in the Sinitic >group, they come from a common ancestor. They have reached the stage you >describe, where there are hundreds of local variant dialects. But this is >masked by a common writing system which pretends they are all one language. > >Eventually they will split off and become so divergent the common writing >system will not be comprehensible to all any more.
No one pretends chinese is one language. Mandarin is one language, pretty much uniform, with its dialects not much more divergent that british english and american englsih. But cantonese is another, shanghainese is anohter, the language of Wenzhou is an other... All having dialectal forms. The writting system is inteligible because is does not represent sounds. let's write french english and german with small ideogrames. let's say @ means "I" $ means "to see" # means "a/an" % means "horse" the english sentence "I see a horse" is "@$#%" the french sentence "je vois un cheval" is "@$#%" the german sentence "Ich sehe ein pferd" is "@$#%" Any reader of one language understand the writen form of the other, yet the languages are different, and not mutualy understandable in oral form. You can criticise my small ideograms, because they do not include the verbs, article or noun flexion. But chinese do not have to indicate these, since they do not exist in the sinitic language family.
>>I do not think an kind of writing is superior to the others. It is just >>more appropriate for a language or another, and linguistic is not the only >>criteria, socio-politic also have a strong impact. > >I agree that none is 'superior', and that there can be different things >appropriate in different situations. But I also see speech as primary, and >writing as secondary. Speech is organic; language change is basically change >of speech. Writing is artificial, and based on speech. Except... in the >example of Chinese, evidently it is not. That is not wrong, and it certainly >affords the world an interesting comparison, an example of a much-used >system where the writing is mainly based on meaning. But it seems to me the >function of writing should be to accurately represent speech, and as easily >as possible. While the ideographic system enables comprehension amongst a >wider group than a phonetic system would, it is extremely difficult to >learn, as we have seen.
It is not different in chinese. Writen language still folow oral language. Long ago, when new vocab is used in oral form, new hanzi is used in writen form. paterns of the language are writen in their actual form, and reading ancient or middle chinese text would show you that the syntax evolved. Chinese writing does acuratly represent the speech, it just does not acuratly represent the phonetics. And it is not difficlt to learn. It takes time, but no special difficulty. One could say that after years of studing, you can still not write every word of the language. Ok. But after years of studying, i still don't know every words of english, and for the words I know, i can still be uncertain of the orthography.
>>Chinese writing is a factor of unity in the country, and has been used so >>in early history. >>More over, roman writing is perceived as english(or american). Can you >>imagine the humiliation for china if they had to abandon a whole part of >>their culture, to addopt a foreign system? > >Again, I can see these things, but I don't think they are the point. They >would not be 'abandoning' anything, they would be moving to a new, better, >faster, easier, more accurate way of representing their language, one which >would bring the country closer to otehr countries and make it easier to >teach their language to foreigners and communicate with them.
They would be abandoning something. hanzi is an object of cultlure. The most prized for of art (caligraphy) would be dropped, most poems would loose half of their beauty, since they do not only have a poetic meaning and a poetic sound, but also poetic visuals. Acient text, which are readable only through the semantic value of hanzi would not be understandable anymore... the system would be new, ok. Better, it is your point of view. not faster. chinese writing is as fast (maybe faster, since words are reduced to one or two charachers, and the curvilinear handwriting form does not produce so complex charachers) as english. Not easier: if the spelling is straight forward, it is hard to understand, if not, you have to struggle with spelling. I don't see how this should be considered more accurate. As for international understanding, i find your point of view quite imperialist. To get closer to others, chinese should write in english (or roman, that's the same). Why don't you learn chinese to get closer to them? It would get them closer to you, but not to all the countries using arabic writing, devanagari and its variant,.... and it would make them more distant to some other countries like taiwan, Japan or korea, who do share (even if only partly) this writing system, and many other countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and Thailand) have a strong chinese speaking comunity, enventualy writing chinese characters. Mandarin chinese still has nore native speaker than any other language in the world, and is being used as a lingua-franca by many people, most of who have an other chinese language as mother tongue but not all. When i was in university in japan, chinese was as popular as english amongst students. So do! n't be too hasty to destroy the chinese writen language because english is popular. It has been lingua franca in asia long before the time english became an international language, and to a certain extend, still is. "The world is american and speaks english, so every body who isn't not writing in roman letters should, and anyway, should learn english since they are children. If english was the official language of all countries in the world, and local langauge only coexist, it would proove that every one wants to work together, and get closer to other countries." You see how stupid it sounds? That's because of this way of thinking that america is hated in many part of the world. Be tolerant to diversity Florian


John Cowan <jcowan@...>