Archive for Writing systems

Fusion food ad featuring fusion script

[This is a guest post by Bernhard "번하드" Riedel from Munich]

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The complexification of the Sinoglyphic writing system continues apace

Many innocent observers have been snookered by the Chinese Character Simplification Scheme and the relatively small amount of characters that were reduced in the number of strokes with which they were written or were abolished outright.  Indeed, celebrated professors of Chinese are calling for still more characters to be added to the humongous total (at least 100,000) that already exist (e.g., see here).

There were about 5,000 different characters on the oracle bones, the first stage of Chinese writing roughly 3,300 years ago, but only around 1,200 of them have been identified with any degree of confidence.

The first major dictionary of individual characters, Shuōwén jiězì 說文解字 (lit., "discussing writing and explaining characters" [there are different interpretations of the title]), completed in 100 AD, contained 9,353 glyphs.

The Kāngxī Zìdiǎn 康熙字典 (Compendium of standard characters from the Kangxi period), published in 1716, which was the most authoritative dictionary of Chinese characters from the 18th century through the early 20th century, had 47,035 glyphs.

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Kanji of the year 2022: war

Here are the ten top places in this year's event:

1. 戦 (ikusa / tatakau)* Conflict; war 10,804 votes
2. 安 (an / yasui) Contentment; peace; inexpensive 10,616 votes
3. 楽 (gaku, raku / tanoshii) Enjoyment; ease 7,999 votes
4. 高 ( / takai) High; expensive 3,779 votes
5. 争 ( / arasou) Strife; dispute 3,661 votes
6. 命 (mei; inochi) Life 3,512 votes
7. 悲 (hi / kanashii) Sad; sadness 3,465 votes
8. 新 (shin / atarashii) New 3,070 votes
9. 変 (hen / kawaru, kaeru) Change; strange 3,026 votes
10. 和 (wa / nagomu) Peace; harmony 2,751 votes


*VHM:  Instead of a slash, there should be a comma between ikusa and tatakau, plus three more Japanese-style readings:  ononoku, soyogu, and wananaku.  There should be a slash before ikusa, preceded by the Chinese-style reading sen in front of the slash.

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"O wawa nu Pangcah" – Kolas Yotaka

Photograph of a political billboard in Taiwan (from AntC):

(more images here)

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"Why I think the Chinese writing system is TERRIBLE"

That's the title of this YouTube video (12:39; 4,572 views  Nov 18, 2022) by ABChinese (34K subscribers):

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The invention of an alphabet for the transcription of Chinese characters half a millennium ago

The Latinization of Chinese characters will ultimately prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of writing.  We usually attribute this epochal achievement to the Italian Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), but he was assisted in that monumental endeavor by several individuals.  One of the most important of these was the Jesuit Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628), whose Xīrú ěrmù zī 西儒耳目資 (An Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati) helped to establish the alphabetization of Sinitic on a solid footing.

In "Printed Editions of the Xiru Ermuzi", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, no. 79 (2021), 1-32, TAKATA Tokio has carried out a detailed codicological study of all editions and copies of Trigault's text.  In the process, he has brought to light two hitherto unknown editions of Xiru Ermuzi, greatly enhancing our understanding of the development of this vital work.  Takata's study is extremely detailed and heavily footnoted.  Here I present his Introduction and Concluding Remarks.

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Ancient Greek and Roman shorthand

Inasmuch as we recently puzzled over modern shorthand, it should be fun to take a look at what shorthand was like two millennia and more ago.

There Are Still Codes Throughout Ancient Roman Literature

For centuries we’ve ignored the marginalia writing of slave stenographers, but focusing on it now could give fresh insight into their lives, and into military and literary history.

By Candida Moss, The Daily Beast (11/5/22)

What happened is like a rediscovery of a century-old discovery of a cultural practice that was common two millennia and more ago.

Several years ago, Ryan Baumann, a digital humanities developer at Duke University, was leafing through an early 20th-century collection of ancient Greek manuscripts when he ran across an intriguing comment. The author noted that there was an undeciphered form of shorthand in the margins of a piece of papyrus and added a hopeful note that perhaps future scholars might be able to read it. The casual aside set Baumann off on a new journey to unlock the secrets of an ancient code.

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Japanese Romanization: they still haven't decided, part 2

For a country that already has Chinese characters (kanji) and two syllabaries of its own (hiragana and katakana; see also furigana), judging from the ubiquity of romaji across the country, it would appear that they are well into the process of turning Latin letters into an integral component of their quadripartite writing system.  Some may argue that they already have done so.

What's going on?

Why hasn't something similar yet happened in China (Vietnam's writing system is already clearly based on the Latin alphabet)?

"Akasi or Akashi? Hepburn Most Established of Japan’s Different 'Rōmaji' Systems", newsletter (11/2/22)

Signs on highways and at railway stations in Japan show place names in both Japanese and Roman letters, although the rōmaji system employed can vary. The Hepburn system dominates, but the Kunrei and Nihon systems are also seen around the country.

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Vandermeersch on the morphology and teleology of writing and thinking

As promised, here are the additional paragraphs from Vandermeersch on the roots of rationality in the earliest levels of Sinitic script.  They come from John Lagerwey who will be awarded the 3rd “Prix Vandermeersch” on November 18.  John explains:

I don’t have the time right now to give the full answer JPL deserves, but I am attaching the quotes from VDM’s Wangdao that I commented on recently during the day in his honor. This gives a number of key quotes from his work on “teleological” vs “morphological” and therefore constitutes the best answer to JPL at this time.

For the convenience of readers, I [VHM] am alternating Google translations with the original French text, section by section.  I have made a few small modifications that are marked with my initials, and a few tiny ones for idiomaticity that are not marked.

For the latest study and lexicographical material touching on the subject of this post, see below at the very bottom.


Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao ou La voie royale II Recherches sur l’esprit des institutions de la Chine archaïque, structures politiques, les rites

Léon Vandermeersch, Wangdao or The Royal Way II Research on the spirit of institutions in archaic China, political structures, rites

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World record gathering of people with same name

"Hirokazu, meet Hirokazu: 178 Hirokazu Tanakas set record for gathering of people with same name", Kyodo (10/29/22):

A 178-strong group of people all named Hirokazu Tanaka broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people with the same first and last name in Tokyo on Saturday.

The Tanaka Hirokazu association organized the successful attempt in Shibuya Ward, which saw them outdo the 2005 record set by 164 people called Martha Stewart, who were brought together by the famous American businesswoman of the same name.

A representative of the association, Hirokazu Tanaka, 53, said it was the group’s third try after two failed attempts in 2011 and 2017, when 71 and 87 Hirokazu Tanakas turned up, respectively.

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Léon Vandermeersch (1928-2021) on the differences between Western and Chinese rationalities

Received today the newsletter of INSTITUT RICCI – Centre Sèvres, Paris.

Actualités de novembre 2022
Le 19 octobre dernier, l'Institut Ricci a rendu hommage le temps d'une journée au grand sinologue disparu il y a un an, Léon Vandermeersch. A partir de son étude de la divination et de la naissance de l’écriture en Chine ancienne, il a mené une réflexion de fond sur les différences entre rationalités occidentale et chinoise, qualifiées respectivement de « téléologique » et « morphologique ». La journée a permis d’évoquer son apport à la compréhension de la Chine et, surtout, de convaincre les participants qu’il faudrait un colloque plus substantiel qui permettrait une évaluation approfondie de cet apport.

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Words: Too many? Too few?

In Dinosaur Comics for 10/17/2022, T-Rex seems to encounter a lexicographical problem:

Mouseover title: "i'll be communicating entirely through glances and MAYBE raised eyebrows from now on"

Archive description: "words were a mistake, an error, a blunder, a blooper, a fault, a folly, a gaffe, an oversight, a misjudgment, a slip-up, a mix-up, a trip-up, a series of errata,"

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The difficulties of “cursive script” are “old news”

[This is a guest post by J. Marshall Unger]

Responding to "Reading kanji in cursive script is devilishly difficult" (10/18/22), Jim Unger writes:

My only comment, which is just a reminiscence, is that one of the first books I bought when I started studying Japanese seriously at 18 was a guide to “grass-script” characters.  I still have it.  It had been produced in the early 1940s (cheap paper, thin binding) in the U.K. for military use in reading Japanese intercepts; to be useful, it includes forms that are calligraphically incorrect but common.  I recall that “airman” Edwin McClellan, by then the chair of East Asian at Chicago, which I entered that year, was among those acknowledged for their help by the compiler (Otome Daniels, about whom see "How the UK found Japanese speakers in a hurry in WW2", BBC News (8/12/15).

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