Why don't they quit (chinese writing ?)

This is a follow up to the other question about Chinese writing. Why don’t the Chinese just adopt a phonetic alphabet? Seems like the whole thing is so unnecessarily complicated

Same reason the Americans won’t adopt Metric, I expect. The current system works perfectly fine and they don’t want to abandon their tradition. It’s not as complicated as it looks; writing one Chinese character is no more time consuming than writing one English word. It has been a serious disadvantage when it comes to computers, but with today’s processing power it isn’t such a big deal anymore.

Isn’t it more likely that the Chinese disadvantage with computers is due to the fact that these machines were originally designed for people who use phonetic alphabets?

I asked this as there is a related post that says the Chinese have problems with filing due to no real alphabetical order etc.

It seems so dated.

actually a program was created a few months ago by the students of the University of Toronto that recognizes all type, including Manderine and Cantonese.
I’m not sure if it was a GUI OS or another type of program though.

I know however that it just went on the market to be sold, and that U of T will gain tremendous profit from it with in months.

Hopefully someone else will happen to have heard about it so that I don’t have to go through my school’s paper’s archives.

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I suppose you are referring to Reality Chuck’s post in “Chinese “alphabetic” order” http://boards.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum3/HTML/006886.html

As was posted in that thread, there are ways of ordering the characters, but what Reality Chuck seemed to be saying was, it was the people who filed things that tended to do it under their own system or how they pleased.

Anyway, the mainland Chinese have done some alterations to their script. Simplified Chinese characters are what communist China promotes (i believe). Taiwan still keeps to the traditional characters. I hear the simplification is arbitrary and not at all orderly. I read it’s more of a move to eventually get rid of the characters (I think the simplified characters look ugly, personally). Also China uses the Pinyin system for romanization, and Taiwan has a script called bopomofo (used to teaching children the characters I believe, correct me if I am wrong)

Also, the Chinese consider writing an art form. It’s also a part of their national heritage (the script goes back at least 3,000 years). You don’t easily get rid of something like that, that easy.

Also, in other countries that use these characters as well as a phonetic script (like Japan), they could easily get rid of the the characters, but they choose to keep it partly because it’s considered beautiful (there are other reasons why the Japanese still use kanji).

South Korea still uses the Chinese characters also, but I think they’re slowly moving towards just using hangul, like North Korea.

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No, I think it’s an inherent disadvantage. In English you can use a keyboard to input any character directly. Can you imagine making a Chinese keyboard which has a key for every character? The small number of characters also means it’s easy to make an output device. The display driver or printer driver must know the shape of every single character - trivial for English, but requires much more memory for Chinese or Japanese. My father’s old Japanese laser printer has an external 20-megabyte hard drive for storing fonts, when English printers could get by with ROM modules.

Then there’s the social (?) difference. In English-speaking countries, everyone havs been exposed to typewriters for many decades. But there is no such thing as a Chinese or Japanese typewriter, for obvious reasons. So for most Asians, the first time they touched a keyboard was when word processors became popular in the 80s. In fact most colleges in Japan still accept handwritten essays. This means computers were much slower to catch on in Asian countries, which is a serious disadvantage fo Asian countries when trying to compete with American companies.

I think there are enough “other reasons” to make it extremely difficult to switch. The problem is that there isn’t a one-to-one correspondance between the two systems. Writing everything in phonetic characters results in a lot of ambiguities, making most sentences incomprehensible or at least very time consuming to understand.

Come to think of it, I’m curious to know how the Koreans solved this problem. Can someone explain?

True, I didnt go into the other reasons because my post was long enough :). But, the kanji do serve a purpose in clarifying ambiguities that would result if they used a purely phonetic script (sort of like having to and too spelled differently). I suppose the north Koreans figure it out by context what a sentence means, if there is a word that looks like another.

Dominus ex equo descendit, villamque intravit.

Chinese writing is inherently much more difficult to learn than a phonetic alphabet.

The Chinese government (in the 50s I believe) with help from the soviets, designed a system of writing chinese using roman characters called “pinyin” with the idea that it would gradually replace traditional chinise characters… after trying for a couple of decades the idea has been abandoned… tradition dies hard. Foreigners (like me) learn and know Pinyin but it is not much help in communicating with Chinese.

One advantage of chinese characters is that they represent words and so all chinese languages share the same writing. Two people who cannot understand their speech because they speak different languages can communicate in writing. That’s about it. In every other respect chinese characters are at a disadvantage.

As far as representing them in computer memory it is quite easy and you can download the plugin any time. Two bytes are required instead of one and the system is called Unicode.

As far as typing it is another story. My girlfriend is chinese and her english is limited but she would not dream of typing in chinese when she is chatting online so that she chats in her limited english with her chinese friends just because typing is so much easier.

common systems of ordering chinese characters are by radical and by number of strokes.

I have a dictionary oredered by Pinyin sound which is most useful to me as I know pinyin but it would be useless to most chinese. They learn pinyin in school and soon forget it (like metric measures in the USA)

I know type writers did exist although I have never seen one. I understand they were huge machines with several hundred characters in each tray and the trays could be changes when more unusual characters were needed… definitely cumbersome

There is one very good reason for keeping the current system, which is that Chinese consists of a group of spoken languages with a single written form.

Because the characters are ideograms, representing a thing rather than a sound, they can be written and read by speakers of a variety of languages. Think of the glyphs on lavatory doors; everybody can “read” them though if you asked a Frenchman what the symbol meant, he would say femme where the English speaker would say woman.

Because the spoken sound that corresponds to each character is different in different languages, a phonetic script would only be capable of being read by speakers of the same language as the person who wrote it.

Actually not quite true. Last I read, Chinese is now classified as a Logosyllabic script. Only several hundred characters actually represent pictures of things. The other characters are made up of a phonetic element, plus a radical, which helps give an idea as to the meaning (there are actually six classifications, the example I gave is how most characters are created). Most Chinese characters actually represent a sound/word, rather than a representation of a thing.
www.zhongwen.com has a good FAQ on Chinese characters.

Also Mark Rosenfelder has a good explanation of the way Chinese characters are put together with a page on what it would be like if we wrote English the way the Chinese write Chinese: http://www.zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm

Dominus ex equo descendit, villamque intravit.

I’m studying Chinese now. According to my textbook, the Chinese gov’t is aiming towards eventually eliminating the character system, and switching over to pinyin (the romanization system).

Whether that actually happens or not I do not know. Vietnamese did it ( a while ago ), so I suppose Chinese could. A previous poster pointed out that the writing is language independent, which is not really true. The writing (simplified and complex) really refers to only Mandarin. A Cantonese speaker may read the characters “xie xie” but even though there are two alike characters, they would read the Cantonese equivalent which is not two similar characters (I can’t rememver what it is, though…). Anyway, it’s close enough, though.

At any rate, so China may go totally to Pinyin. They’ve already simplified the character writing, so they’ve shown the willingness to do so. Taiwan and Hong Kong probably will have no part in it, though, so I would guess the Chinese writing would always be around. I certainly hope so, because it’s be a shame to learn all that stuff for nothing!

Avumede: My book says that too. But my book is from the 80’s. Check the copywrite date on yours; I think www.zhongwen.com said that the plan to phase out characters was cancelled.

On typing in Chinese: Actually, not that difficult if you have the rights stuff. There are several possible systems.

For instance, all characters are made up of an arrangement of 26 different strokes. If you know the right stroke order (And most Chinese do) that can be used to input characters.

There’s also a system using a 4 digit code that **Monty{/b] knows more about than me.

As to why haven’t they given up: Chinese doesn’t have verb conjugation, which means vocabulary can be picked up quickly. English does use verb conjugation, which makes it difficult to learn. Does that mean we should stop using verb conjugation in English?


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Did gyre and gymble in the wabe.
Mimsy were the borogroves,
And the momeraths outgrabe.

An addendum to Doob’s posting above:

Chinese is classified as a logosyllabic script insofar as Mandarin Chinese is concerned. The other languages (Cantonese, etc.) which also use those characters in writing are not pronounced the same as Mandarin.

Might be just a minor point technically, but it really matters here.

I’m do type Chinese on a word processor on a fairly regular basis, and I can tell you that it’s not too much harder than typing in English; whatever difficulties I run into are more attributable to my language ability rather than the writing system.

The reason it’s easy now is that you only have to type in one character, and the program will prompt you for an entire phrase. That, combined with the fact that characters and idioms are usually much more succinct than their English counterparts (i.e., they pack in more meaning per word) allows a skilled Chinese secretary to type a document about as fast as her Western counterpart could do for the English translation.

To directly address the OP, I think that advanced wordprocessing software, e-mail, and fax machines actually help guarantee the continued survival of Chinese characters. If we were stuck with mid-20th century mechanical typewriters and typesetting machines, it might be a different story; note that it was just at that time that academics were proposing to eliminate characters.

And one more point–I’ve tried reading long passages in pinyin, and it invariably gives me a headache; not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because Mandarin is filled with so many homophones that it’s sometimes impossible to discern a word’s meaning in isolation. You have to depend on context to figure out the meaning, and on paper that can be, as I’ve mentioned, a headache. Once you’re thoroughly familiar with characters, they actually provide a convenient shortcut.