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Re: Chinese writing systems

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Sunday, November 3, 2002, 4:43
Florian Rivoal scripsit:

> >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?
bai2 hua4, plain speaking. That is, writing as you talk, rather than according to Classical Chinese conventions. Although this began in or even before the Ming dynasty, it didn't become the official manner of writing until the revolution of 1911. (Link to a picture of the characters:
> 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.
I think that refers to Sinitic and non-Sinitic languages alike. Exactly how many Sinitic languages there are is a question. The Ethnologue makes it 13 languages, and they are prone to recognizing more distinct languages than other people are. Their list: Gan, Hakka, Huizhou, Jinyu, Mandarin, Minbei, Mindong/Fuzhou, Minnan, Minzhong, Puxian, Wu, Xiang, Yue. Of course 205 dialects would be probably an undercount!
> a japanese reader generaly manages to catch the general meaning of a > chinese text.
I have heard Japanese people who agree with you, and then those who completely disagree, and say they understand almost nothing. Some of this may be due to extrinsic factors: Japanese people seem to have trouble dealing with kanji that are not quite in the standard school-taught form, even to the point of writing brief quotations from Chinese (in a dictionary, say) in Japanese style. Here's a quotation from a page (now deleted, but still in the Google cache) on the Chinese writing system: # In essence, the unity of modern Chinese is largely based on the fact # that the southern dialects have not developed satisfactory writing # systems. If the southern dialects were written much as they are spoken, # even with Chinese characters, they would be exposed as very different # languages. This would be a political and cultural disaster for China, # which is why the fiction is maintained that the dialects are simply # variants of a single language. The characters with their tradition of # dialect pronunciations help sustain this fiction. By providing a bridge of # vocabulary between dialects, they ease the transition for dialect speakers # learning to write Mandarin, which is in many ways a foreign language. -- Híggledy-pìggledy / XML programmers John Cowan Try to escape those / I-eighteen-N woes; Incontrovertibly / What we need more of is Unicode weenies and / François Yergeaus.