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Chinese writing (was: Language comparison)

From:Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Saturday, January 8, 2005, 18:55
On Saturday, January 8, 2005, at 02:28 , Mark J. Reed wrote:

> On Fri, Jan 07, 2005 at 05:44:40PM -0800, Sai Emrys wrote: >>> That's not the aim of writing narrowly considered, but of graphics >>> in general (as my art teacher was fond of saying). We do have methods >>> of conveying specific meaning outside of speech; they're called icons, >>> the use of many of which are just as standardized as ordinary grammar. >> >> Then would you consider writing that only incidentally conveys speech >> - like Chinese - to be "real" writing? It's not phonetic; it cannot be >> said to be "writing down" speech any better than speech could be said >> to be "speaking out" the writing.
{Sigh} - how many times on this list have we discussed urban myths surrounding Chinese writing!
> What does phoneticity have to do with it? One Chinese character = one > word of the spoken languages. The order of the characters is determined > by the order in which you say the words. There's an exact > correspondence.
More precisely, it is one character = one morpheme - tho there are a few exceptions, with the handful of ancient borrowing of monomorphemic disyllabic words (see my recent email in the 'tonal languages' thread)*. The reason is simply that for the most part in Chinese one morpheme = one syllable; so it was easier to treat these disyllabic words as consisting of two pseudo-morphemes. *as well as some modern borrowings - but they are special caesa. It is simply mistaken to say that "Chinese writing only incidentally conveys speech". Speech can be symbolized at the phonemic level (alphabet - at least in theory, but not in English!), syllable level (syllabaries), or at the morphemic level (Chinese). Let me quote yet again (for the umpteenth time) what the Chinese linguist, Yuen Ren Chao, wrote: "It is making a false dichotomy to say that Chinese writing represents meaning and that syllabic and alphabetic writing represents sound. The written symbol ⼈ represents as much the word _jén_ as the meaning 'man'; the written form _man_ represents as much the meaning 'human being' as the sound [mæn]. The important difference is that of size and variety of the units." Y.R. Chao "Language and Symbolic Systems" (A book I thoroughly recommend). Note: Y.R. Chao wrote this before the Pinyin transcription became general. His _jén_ is written _rén_ in Pinyin (or _ren2_ in 'ASCII Pinyin'). But what does an L1 Chinese speaking linguist know about it? {irony} It is also mistaken to say that "it is not phonetic". In fact by far the most common type of Chinese character are those known as 'phonetic compounds'. Each character consists of two parts, a _signific_ ( or _radical_ or _determiner_) and a _phonetic_. The former gives a very general clue to the meaning of the character and the latter suggests the pronunciation.
> It's not one-to-one, because there's more than one > language whose words you can use, but it's nevertheless the case that > Chinese writing is written language.
It is one-to-one within a given "dialect" of Chinese - and it most certainly is a written form of the language. As Mark observes, the order in which the characters are written is the exact same order in which the morphemes (and pseudo-morphemes) are written.
> Which is very different from other forms of pictorial representation of > meaning. the Bliss Symbolics. Yes, it most certainly is. Chinese writing is real writing, so is the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic system. Neither 'incidentally' represent speech - they both actually do write down the spoken language. ==============================================
> On Saturday, January 8, 2005, at 02:44 , Sai Emrys wrote: > >> It's not one-to-one, because there's more than one >> language whose words you can use, but it's nevertheless the case that >> Chinese writing is written language. Which is very different from >> other forms of pictorial representation of meaning. > > How?
See above.
> Seems to me that the only "difference" is that it's serial, and that > it has a known way to translate into speech. The latter is irrelevant
Sorry, but that is nonsense. It is _extremely_ relevant. It will be be found, if you investigate its development, that Chinese writing, like all other known human writing, developed as a _method of encoding speech_. Chinese speech is known to translate into written characters and vice-versa the characters translate into speech.
> - one can always devise one, relatively easily, for a serial code.
Of course - but in the case of Chinese one did not have to *devise* one!!!
> So > is a written form that does not yet have a manner of speech not a > "real" form of language? How about one that is hard to code into > speech, like a thoughtweb-style branching design?
It may possibly represent a 'formal language', that is one generated by a 'formal grammar', which is a grammar that specifies, for a given set of elements (the 'vocabulary' or the 'alphabet') the complete set of strings of those elements which are in the 'language' defined by the grammar. Computer 'languages' are examples of such formal language. But such a written form is certainly not a 'natural language'. A natural language is quite simply one that either is or once was the mother tongue of a group of human beings. (IMO much of the confusion in the 'language comparison' thread derives from failing to distinguish between formal language and natural language.) Chinese writing is real writing and is the secondary representation of a natural language. PS - Sorry, Maxime, I have a reply to your 'rare sounds', but I have used up my Conlang mail quota for today :=( I will mail it tomorrow. Ray =============================================== =============================================== Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]