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CHINA: Different scripts

I would think that the confusion of scripts would discourage American students of Asian languages. Paul Simon writes:

"Good question about Taiwan: They use the traditional Fantizi characters. Only the mainland uses the simplified, at least officially. The truth is that the simplified ones are much faster to write, but the traditional ones have advantages too. Many find them faster to read once you are literate, and find that they open the door to learning many similar-appearing and phonetically similar characters.

In South and North Korea, they primarily use Hangul, a non-roman but masterful phonetic alphabet. Great King Sejong assembled a team of scholars to study the sounds of Korean and come up with an easy to read and write system in the 1400's. In South Korea, some Chinese Characters (called Hanja in Korean) are still used. Often they are found on store signs, business cards, and corporate logos (I suspect this is for a Cachet of being upper crust). Hanja are also often seen in newspaper headlines to make a topic jump out or to clarify which of several phonetically identical words is being talked about in the article. I suspect this is extra-important in Korean, because it is atonal, unlike the Chinese languages.

Taiwan has a system of phonetic writing called bopo mofo. They also have a horrid mishmash of romanization systems, something they have been working to correct. Thank heavens; I remember driving down Jian Guo (Build the Nation) expressway and every single exit had a different romanization. There was Chian Kuo, Chian Gwo, and Chain Go, among others! The mainland's Pinyin system works well.

Naturally there are reasons why the old Chinese romanization schemes don't seem to match the pronunciation. One is that they more closely match Cantonese (Yueyu) than Mandarin, because most foreign contact with China used to be through Canton (Guangzhou). Another reason is that Mandarin is extremely morphologically unstable precisely because it lacks a phonetic alphabet. Characters do not have fixed sounds, they evolve over time. So Beijing probably sounded more like Peking a couple of hundred years ago when some inspired Jesuit like Matteo Ricci first romanized the capital's name."

My brain's about worn out from this, so you'll pardon me not writing more tonight. Maybe there is another WAISer besides me who speaks Mandarin and Korean and would like to contribute?

Ronald Hilton - 12/23/01