USAGE: Language revival
|From:||David G. Durand <david@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, November 23, 1999, 17:58|
>On Mon, 22 Nov 1999, David G. Durand wrote:
>According to my Chinese language professor (now emeritus), the
>script has little to do with level of literacy. Literacy in Japan
>is quite high, despite them having four separate scripts, and there
>is no appreciable difference in the length of time needed to learn
>Simplified Chinese compared to Traditional Chinese. I don't think the
>rise in Turkish literacy rates was brought about by the script reform,
>but rather by the spread of education.
This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't actually go that far. Both
educational access and writing system affect literacy rates. For Turkey,
the change was important because the old Arabic writing system was very
poorly adapted to the phonology of the language, and preserved many archaic
spellings that needed to be learned. The new writing system took less
education to acquire fluency -- people literally taught themselves to read
the new script in a matter of weeks in some cases.
This is different from a system like English spelling or Han characters
that require a longer period of intensive training to acquire fluency or
There is an English method of teaching reading via the ITA (International
Teaching Alphabet) -- a phonemic notation for english. Children can be
taught to read ITA fluently in a very short time. They are then switched
over to the regular orthography later on. The one person I know who was
taught this way claims that she doesn't even remember the transition. She
is very smart however (professor of Sanskrit, Master's degree in Math,
computer programmer on the side), and may not have had as much trouble with
the change over as others might.
There are reasons to preserve writing systems that are hard to learn, but
that doesn't make them easy. There are also hints that the iconicity of
non-phonetic writing systems like Han characters actually affect reading
speed positively. The only measure of this that I've seen is in film
subtitles: I have read (and casual inspection confirms) that they are
longer (in words) and displayed for a shorter time than English subtitles.
Assuming that filmmakers tune the quantity and timing of subtitles for
comfortable comprehension by their audience, this confirms the notion that
people can read Chinese faster.
David Durand email@example.com \ david@dynamicDiagrams.com
http://www.cs.bu.edu/students/grads/dgd/ \ Director of Development
Graduate Student no more! \ Dynamic Diagrams
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