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Re: Chinese writing systems

From:Florian Rivoal <florian@...>
Date:Sunday, November 3, 2002, 4:15
>> >>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
As for noums, you are generaly right. Many (but not all) noums are compounds, so the diversity is strongly reduced. verbs, particles, adjectives, and pronouns are another problem. for example, the pronoun for he/she/it has the same pronounciation "ta" [tha]. Confusion in speech can easily occur, but you can ask to your interlocutor who he is talking about, which is something you can not do in written language. In oral language, when someone says a zi4 that the interlocutor can not identify, it is quite common to here :" which xx are you talking about? - the xx from the xxyy compound". Ambiguity is quite common. And the writen form can certainly not afford this kind of explanations. More over, now it is quite easy to create a neologisme without explaining it, because it explains its meaning by it self in writen form. In classical chinese most words are reduced to a single morphem, that is single syllable. If written with modern phonetic transcription, for sure, there is no way of understanding it. its mainly because mandarin phonetic is much more poor than classical chinese. For example, amongst other things, it does not allow syllalb-final consonants. Only an accurate phonetic writing as can be obtained through reconstruction would be usable. But it would be only to scholars.
>> 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.
Baihua? i don't know this. can you tell me more of what it is, and what was used before?
>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.
Actualy there are two different case to consider. When people are writing their own dialect in hanzi, and when they are actualy writing mandarin. Cantonese, for example is writen using cantonese word order, and includes some special charachter for morphems that do not exist in mandarin. They writen hanzi, but definitly mandarin. If they have to write official document, they will switch to mandarin writing, but not as a strange cantonese word order, as real mandarin. Cantonese is a rather strong language, and in the regions where cantonese is the native language, mandarin is considered as being a language from bejing, that is good to learn as an interlingua, but no more. On the other hand, shangainese (which is part of the Wu language group) has no clear written form. Most shanghainese speakers do not see the point of writing their language, which they considern only suitable for shopping, chatting, talking about the weather and so on. They consider that any more serious situation requires the use of mandarin, the "real" language (though most of the time they still do it in shanghainese, they will they it is unsuitable if you ask them). under those circonstances it is not surprising that shanghainese people don't try to write their language. They consider any writen language to be mandarin. But actualy it is not true. Some times, they will refer to texts in mandarin that do not use grammar(they mean it!). Although those kind of text do not use mandarin grammar, they obviously follow a grammar of some kind, which is, you'd have guessed, shanghainese. But this is still uncommon. Please do not blame comunist for opressing shanghainese people, they have nothing to do in this exotic language situation. I believe this situation has a rather simple origin. Shanghai is a very new city. Very new means that to hundred years ago, it was hardly a village, one hundred years ago it was a colonial concession, and nowadays, it is the biggest city in china. Shanghainese language is born mainly as a pigdin of other dialects from the Wu language family, when people moved to this new economicaly interesting place. Thus, none of the first speakers considered it as a correct form of expression, and even when it became a creole, the number of "imigrants" still maintained this impression. However, this is not conscient. Shanghai becoming a leading city, maybe the situation will change in the future. I have given example for two of the chinese languages, and the situation is completely different. Acording to a survey i read recently, there could be as much as 205 different languages in china (all having dialects). The situation might be different for each of them. Whatever the situation, i have never met any chinese who felt uncomfortable about writing.
>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.
It is not said that all sinitic language share the same writen language. They share the same writing system, that is hanzi, whenever they have a writen form. Mandarin is common language, but writen intercomprehension is possible even when using other languages, since the hanzi carry the meaning. Of course you will come across constructions that are not correct in your own language, but it is still the same language family, so guessing is not so hard. same thing for sino-japanese intercomprehension. Though the syntax has almost nothing in common, a japanese reader generaly manages to catch the general meaning of a chinese text. It is not much more obscure than the literal translations we sometimes give for our conlang on this list. Though the word order is not correct for your language, you can catch the meaning.
>> Be tolerant to diversity > >Absolutely.


John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Nik Taylor <yonjuuni@...>