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CHINA: Different scripts



Standardization of alphabets or scripts is a major communication problem. Countries which got their literacy from Western Christianity use the Latin alphabet, and the tendency is to adopt it elsewhere (Turkey did). To study how it is being adopted around the world would be a good WAIS topic. in Chinese, the problems are different, as Paul Simon points out: "Guwen are the ancient (gu means classical or ancient) characters; handy for reading oracle bones but not for Modern newspaper reading anyplace. [I have read about Chinese oracle bones; i must learn more. RH].

The Mainland uses Jiantizi, simplified characters, and has since the 50's; Not all 47,000 characters have a simplified form, but the more common and complex ones do. The purpose was to make Mandarin faster to write and easier to read, thus expand literacy. [Sounds like basic English. RH]. To this day, the People's Daily tries to keep its character set relatively small so that ordinary mailanders can read the paper. Pre-revolution Fantizi (traditional characters) are still used elsewhere, including Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea (that is when Chinese characters are used at all there). [What about Taiwan? Do I gather that in South Korea a Romanized alphabet is used, but not in North Korea? RH]. It is a universal writing in some senses; I can often read Japanese signs, though I can't speak ten words of Japanese. And I can read signs and papers in Hong Kong, though I can't speak Cantonese (Yueyu). But the grammar is different in different tongues, so the utility is limited.

A danger is pointed out by John DeFrancis in The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy in which he notes that a boob like me would probably go into a shop in Tokyo, read the Chinese characters that said; "Put on food" and eat the box of rat poison I'd bought because I didn't know the grammar or the Japanese phonetic characters for "absolutely do not".

Romanization of Chinese is another can of worms entirely; there are many systems. Only Pinyin works, but that doesn't stop seat-of-the-pants folks, readers of older texts, etc form using other systems. A great example is Canton. In Pinyin, it's "Guangzhou" and guess what, it SOUNDS like "Guangjou" to an English speaker; yet many persist in saying "Canton".

My comment: We have just scratched the surface: What about typewriters, computers? Incidentally, our apologies to the humble worm, which performs an essential function. i imagine WAISers are divided as to the morality of keeping them in cans. Or do we? Does it mean that we have opened a can of food and found it eaten by ...what? A long article on worms begins "a descriptive term for a great many unrelated animals..." To whom exactly are we apologizing?

Ronald Hilton - 12/23/01


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