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Chinese writing systems

From:Mat McVeagh <matmcv@...>
Date:Saturday, November 2, 2002, 10:55
>From: Florian Rivoal <florian@...> > > >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?
>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.
>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.
>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.
>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?
>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.
>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.
>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.
>A country with thousands of year of history, a highly refined and advance >culture and civilistion is not likely to wake up one morning, and say: "our >writen language is primitive, let's ask Georges Bush junior to devise a new >one for us, because english writing system is so much superior to our"? >Personaly, I doubt.
Obviously George Bush jr. would be the last person you would ask to devise a new spelling system. If they did that, they would *not* have woken up. Mat _________________________________________________________________ Get faster connections -- switch to MSN Internet Access!


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