Re: Chinese writing systems
|From:||Tim May <butsuri@...>|
|Date:||Saturday, November 2, 2002, 14:16|
Mat McVeagh writes:
> >From: Florian Rivoal <florian@...>
[about homophones etc]
> 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.
Speech and writing aren't the same thing. I know I can read faster
than I can speak - the process of clearly producing phonemes takes a
certain amount of time, and unless you're reading from a script, or
have your speech memorised, so does the process of deciding what to
say... Suppose that in chinese, ambiguity caused by homophones is not
the limiting factor in rate of comprehension of speech, but might be
in reading, if represented alphabetically? Also consider that writing
may involve short phrases - as on
> >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.
One related point - the more phonetically your writing system records
speech, the faster old texts become incomprehensible.
> >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.
I don't think that you can say neither is 'superior' and then claim
one is 'better'. They both have advantages - a phone(t|m)ic system
would be easier to learn, and require a smaller inventory of symbols,
while the logographic* system allows intelligibility across
mutually-unintelligible though related spoken languages, more compact
writing and faster reading (possibly). It's not clear to me which, if
either, is ultimately better.
Also... there's a certain intangible sense of a character embodying an
idea - a direct link from written form to meaning, that doesn't exist
with an alphabet. I don't fully appreciate this, as I don't speak
Chinese, and have only a very little Japanese. There are religious
monuments in China that consist solely of a calligraphic rendering of
a phrase carved in rock. I remembera book on Japanese which described
it as the difference between a flag with the hammer and sickle** on
it, and a flag with the words "Hammer and Sickle" written on it in
English. I don't know whether this is strictly a benefit of the
logographic system, but it's something I don't think they'll want to
* Morphosyllabic is really a better term, as it is syllabic morphemes
rather than words which are uniquely represented in the script. It
certainly isn't ideographic in a strict sense of the term.
** That is, the communist insignia.