Pinyin memoirs

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Chang Li-ching (my wife) wrote her childhood memoirs in Hanyu Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin):

Pīnyīn Rìjì Duǎnwén (Pinyin Diary Essays).

Li-ching specifically did NOT want her memoirs published in hanzi (Chinese characters).  She was passionately devoted to farmers and workers — like John DeFrancis — and she wrote her memoirs in Pinyin as a testimony of her devotion to them.

Aside from her commitment to farmers and workers mentioned at the outset, Li-ching was also in favor of Pinyin because — as a caring language teacher — she saw that it enabled her students to learn Mandarin far more quickly and less painfully than when great stress is put on characters.  And there were two other major reasons why Li-ching was a strong advocate of Pinyin.  First, she thought that Pinyin would afford Mandarin greater likelihood of becoming a widespread world language.  Second, she believed that Pinyin allowed people to write whatever they could say, whereas sometimes there just weren't characters around for writing favorite colloquial, topolectal expressions — expressions that people love to use but for which it's hard to tell how to write them in characters.

To this day, more than six years after she passed away, many of Li-ching's dearest and closest Chinese friends, going all the way back to middle school and college, have not read her memoirs — even though they love her very much and are intensely interested in what the memoirs say.  Her own brothers and sisters have not read Li-ching's memoirs, though they all figure prominently in them.

The memoirs are extremely well written, really exquisite, beautiful literature.  I think that they amount to a small classic of Chinese, nay world, literature — sensitive and poignant remembrances of her childhood and youth in China and Taiwan.

Anyone who is fluent in Mandarin and is familiar with the Roman alphabet can easily figure out how to read Pinyin texts in less than an hour, especially if given a key to the pronunciation of c, q, and x in Hanyu Pinyin, and that takes less than five minutes.  Those who know Mandarin and the Roman alphabet, yet claim that they cannot read Pinyin texts, do so out of prejudice or some sort of psychological bar, both of which — with the requisite incentive and will — can be overcome.

As I have mentioned before on Language Log and elsewhere, it is as easy for me to read well-written Pinyin Mandarin texts as it is to read English texts.  The same held for Li-ching.  We often wrote notes and letters to each other in Pinyin, and we had no difficulty discussing anything that came up.  For us, it was a truism that, if you could talk about it in Mandarin, you could write about it in Pinyin.

From time to time, people request a Chinese character version of the memoirs.  To honor Li-ching's memory, I cannot in good conscience accede to that request.  She really wanted people to read her memoirs in Pinyin.

Matt Anderson remarks:

Twenty years ago, I knew people in China who really couldn't read pinyin—but they hadn't learned the roman alphabet, and in some cases they couldn't even write their own names in pinyin (& of course I don't mean to say that they wouldn't have been able to learn to read it, just that they were really & completely—at that time—unable to do so). Nowadays, I think essentially everyone in China who is literate (in any writing system) knows the roman alphabet.

I believe that someday many people will read Li-ching's memoirs.  I truly hope that they will do so in Pinyin, as she wished.

Toward that end, Li-ching's friends are sponsoring a "Pinyin literature contest" (6/30/16), to encourage more people to write in Pinyin themselves.



80 Comments

  1. Joke Kalisvaart said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 6:41 am

    I think this line is missing its ending: "For us, it was a truism that, if you could talk about it in Mandarin"

    VHM: Thanks. Fixed now.

  2. Neil Kubler said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 7:20 am

    I couldn't agree more. In several talks to mostly Chinese audiences at language and linguistics conferences in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan the past two years, I have argued that if China is really serious about wanting to make Chinese a world language and supplementing or eventually replacing English in that role, the biggest stumbling block is unquestionably Chinese characters. Of course the Chinese people can retain Chinese characters within China if they so choose (that's their decision), but for Chinese as a World Language, why not write that in Pinyin? My comments have been received politely enough, and afterwards a small number of specialists have even remarked privately that what I said makes a certain amount of sense; but it's pretty clear that nothing will come of this, at least in the next few decades. I think many Chinese friends believe "we had to learn your illogical English spelling, so you'll have to learn our Chinese characters." Which is fair enough, except that if one is serious about the goal of promoting a language as an international language, one will probably have to "seek truth from facts" and take extraordinary measures…

  3. David Marjanović said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 8:01 am

    Anyone who is fluent in Mandarin and is familiar with the Roman alphabet can easily figure out how to read Pinyin texts in less than an hour

    Fluent reading, though, almost certainly takes longer, because that takes some getting used to no matter what the script. I find it hard to read English in any of the proposed reformed spellings that are lying around on teh intarwebz, or for that matter in IPA, because I'm not used to any of them. My native German dialect group is normally not written at all, and so I find any attempt to write it hard to read, because I'm not used to any of them. (Admittedly, none of them is as systematic as Pīnyīn.) It's all a matter of practice, which takes longer than an hour.

  4. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 8:55 am

    @Neil Kubler
    Professor Neil Kubler wrote, "but it's pretty clear that nothing will come of this, at least in the next few decades". However I believe pinyin will replace Chinese characters soon.
    I am a Chinese. The reason is that due to the cold war, China was blocked for about 30 years. Now most Chinese linguists in China mainland do not know much about English (alphabets language). If they realized the alphabets are more efficient than Chinese characters, they would use pinyin immedietly and nation-widely. As more and more young Chinese students are studying abroad, that day is coming soon.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 8:57 am

    That anyone can read pinyin once they have mastered it is a truism. But what about understanding, considering that a given syllable with a given tone can have multiple meanings represented by different characters?

  6. Ellen K. said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 9:28 am

    Coby Lubliner: "But what about understanding, considering that a given syllable with a given tone can have multiple meanings…"

    That's no different from speech. People can't see the characters when speaking in Mandarin.

    And, yeah, it's not that simple, because I know from reading English (I don't know Mandarin) that spelling differences (including capitalization of proper nouns) can help differentiate what in speech is differentiated by differences in stress & intonation on the phrase/sentence level. But most of the time context is enough to differentiate what meaning goes with a particular pronunciation.

  7. Francois said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 10:20 am

    "But most of the time context is enough to differentiate what meaning goes with a particular pronunciation."

    This might be true for texts that were originally written in pinyin – with the author intentionally avoiding certain misunderstandings – but try reading any work of modern Chinese literature converted into pinyin… I am afraid context will not be helpful.

    It is reassuring to see that these discussions – about replacing characters with pinyin – are limited to a handful of Western scholars and their supporters, and will never gain grounds among serious institutions in China, HK or TW, let alone among the Chinese population.

  8. Jon said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 10:38 am

    Mandarin may become a stronger regional language, but it has already missed the boat when it comes to being a world language. English was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, just when the world became a global village. Once that was the international standard, learned in schools around the world and widely used, it became very hard to displace. English is still advancing as more and more countries teach university courses in English. The difficulties of Chinese characters have only helped that process.

  9. JS said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 10:47 am

    The concern about homophony never seems to go away… not to be a butt, but this is human language we're talking about; three-year-olds understand bedtime stories.

    But Liuyao's comment in the other thread about the "annoyance" of "stopping to spell it out" when encountering pinyin parenthetical notations is all you need to know about how the average educated Chinese person interacts with pinyin ("puh… ahng… pang4"), so emend what David Marjanović said about reading fluently to "certainly takes much longer." Current applications don't require such fluency, so at present there's no appreciation of what "fluency" would even entail, let alone real opportunities to "practice."

  10. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 11:17 am

    @Coby Lubliner
    Four-tone is for distinguishing single characters only. When we speak, we do not always speak one character after one character. We often group two or more characters as a unit (multi-syllable word). Therefore when you listen to we speak, you will find we do not pronounce four-tone that marked in a dictionary.
    When Chinese characters are replaced by pinyin as a multi-syllable word, four-tone changes to stressed or unstressed syllables, very similar to English. Furthermore the meaning of a grouped two or more characters is no longer to relate to the meaning of the single characters represent.
    Practice makes perfect. I believe professor Mair wrote, "it was a truism".

  11. WSM said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 11:25 am

    One interesting aspect of this is China's recent drive to attract top-flight technical talent into China. A possible incentive for encouraging use of pinyin would be to reduce the amount of effort such talent would have to make in order to become familiar with the language. There are probably many other more important factors than language that make it unlikely such a drive will be successful – pollution and Internet censorship come to mind immediately – but such relatively unusual foreigner-friendly policies would certainly help the cause of the pinyineers.

  12. JK said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 11:37 am

    I find many pinyin fonts like the one used in this blog difficult to read on the computer because the tone markings are so small, so I end up squinting to try to make them out. If the tone markings were as big as the letters I think it would help.

  13. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    @JK
    Now most Chinese people regard pinyin as IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). Actually it is not. The tone mark will disappear after pinyin in use in writing.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

    @Francois. Perhaps you missed when I wrote, "That's no different from speech.". And note that the issue here is writing (Mandarin) in pinyin, not translating written Chinese into pinyin.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 3:41 pm

    Thank you, Ellen K.

    @Francois,

    You're not following the conversation, neither the one in this post, nor the one that has been running through scores of other Language Log posts.

    Who is advocating "replacing characters with pinyin"? That is a red herring, which we should no longer have to put up with.

    You need to acquaint yourself with the concept of digraphia, which we have discussed over and over again on Language Log.

    Also, as stated explicitly on numerous occasions, good writing in Pinyin should be intelligible when read aloud. As a matter of fact, the early proponents of báihuàwén 白话文 (vernacular writing), such as Hu Shi (1891-1962) and Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), stressed the clarity and straightforwardness of good literature, as well as the avoidance of the arcane and recherché even when writing with characters.

    Also to be considered is the celebrated late Qing early Republican dictum MSM wǒ shǒu xiě wǒ kǒu / Cant. ngo5 sau2 se2 ngo5 hau2 我手写我口 ("my hand writes [what] my mouth [says]").

    "It is reassuring to see that these discussions – about replacing characters with pinyin – are limited to a handful of Western scholars and their supporters…." "Reassuring" to whom? Where do you "see that these discussions… are limited to a handful of Western scholars and their supporters…"? It is the Western scholars who are supporting Chinese language reformers, who are following a more than century long tradition of proposals for alternative scripts and character simplification. For an introduction to the subject, see John DeFrancis' classic Nationalism and Language Reform in China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950). If you are interested in pursuing this subject in greater depth, I'd be happy to provide you with additional references.

    Chinese advocates of script reform tend to be far more radical in what they propose than their rather more timid Western supporters. For a taste, read An Outsider's Chats about Written Language by Lu Xun (1881-1936), who is generally regarded as the greatest Chinese writer of the twentieth century.

    This is a masterpiece of passion and learning, known to far too few people who claim to understand Lu Xun and his ardent devotion for the Chinese people. It deserves to be studied carefully by all who have a serious interest in the history of Chinese writing and literature. But if you're too busy to read the whole work, at least read section 10. If you're too busy to read section 10, at least read the last paragraph of section 10. If you're too busy to read the last paragraph of section 10, please at least read the last two sentences of the last paragraph of section 10. If you don't have time to click on the link I've provided and find those two sentences for yourself, I'll copy them for you here: "Therefore, if we want Chinese culture to advance as one, we must promote the language of the masses and the literature of the masses. All the more, our writing must be Latinized."

    That is Lu Xun speaking, not his Western supporters.

  16. JS said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 5:20 pm

    @Francois, I'm not sure what to make of your apparent claim that no work of modern Chinese literature can be understood when read aloud. I might suggest you give a listen to the Wei cheng 围城 audiobook here as soon as you're done learning Chinese.

  17. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 6:10 pm

    @Professor Mair
    Professor Mair asked, who is advocating "replacing characters with pinyin"? My answer is a handful of awakening Chinese people, not a handful of the Western scholars. It is none of the Western scholars' business, and it is only a suggestion from them.
    Decades ago in China, exactly before culture revolution, most intellectuals who studied alphabets writings advocated written Chinese reform, while many intellectuals who did not know alphabets writings fought against using alphabets.
    Now the mainstream of intellectuals especially the linguists in China does not familiar with alphabets writings, therefore the written Chinese reform is slow down. The reason is that they do not know why does written Chinese need to reform.
    I believe someday in the future the Chinese people will thank professor Mair and other western scholars who supported Chinese writing system reform.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 6:26 pm

    And Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged (Wei cheng 围城) is one of the most intellectually challenging and literarily complex of modern Chinese novels.

  19. Richard Futrell said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 7:14 pm

    It's quite refreshing to read Mandarin in pinyin! What is the reasoning behind spelling the particle de as d?

  20. Victor Mair said,

    August 13, 2016 @ 9:07 pm

    @Richard Futrell

    Very glad that you found reading Mandarin in pinyin to be refreshing!

    Writing "de" as "d" was just always Li-ching's habit. I suppose she did it for the sake of economy. Because that's the highest frequency morpheme in Mandarin, I think she felt that it would save her a lot of strokes in typing, plus one look at it and you would know its function.

  21. John said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 2:14 am

    For me the main difficulty with reading a pinyin text is that I have to read it word by word and try to sound it out if I am not sure what the word is. It also forces the Mandarin pronunciation on me, whereas when reading in characters I often don't sound out the words at all but just recognize the shape (something that is almost impossible in alphabetic languages), and if I do sound out the words they can be in any of the Chinese languages that I know. I suppose that if this became more widespread then it would become easier to skim-read or gather the gist from a glance at the page, as it's definitely possible in English.

    As for using "d" instead of "de", to me it feels a bit like deliberately not capitalizing "I"s or spelling "you" as "u". But of course one can do whatever one likes in one's memoirs.

  22. Bob Ladd said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 4:29 am

    I completely agree with David Marjanović and JS that attaining reading fluency in pinyin or any other alphabetic writing system is not just a matter of "less than an hour". At the same time, VM (like some of the commentators) is clearly right to say that the widespread adoption of pinyin would remove a major obstacle to literacy in Mandarin. I studied Chinese for two years nearly 50 years ago, and looking at the memoirs I was delighted to find whole sentences where I could understand every word and whole passages where I had a pretty good idea of what was being recounted. The same material in hanzi would have reduced me to a game of spot-the-character. I can still reliably recognize maybe 150 characters, but that is completely useless for practical literacy.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    For the record, this is what I said:

    "Anyone who is fluent in Mandarin and is familiar with the Roman alphabet can easily figure out how to read Pinyin texts in less than an hour, especially if given a key to the pronunciation of c, q, and x in Hanyu Pinyin, and that takes less than five minutes."

    That said, I do agree with Bob Ladd, David Marjanović, and JS that becoming a fluent reader of pinyin texts takes some time, and a lot depends upon how much pinyin text one is regularly reading.

    I was delighted to receive Bob Ladd's testimony about his experience of learning two years of Chinese nearly fifty years ago (at which time he probably passively recognized about 750 characters and maybe could actively produce around 500 characters — with effort). Now, almost half a century later, he can still recognize around 150 characters (quite a lot for such a long period of time!), which will not be of much use in reading connected text, but can read whole sentences of pinyin text. Marvelous! That is just marvelous! The language stays with one, control over the characters gradually atrophies.

    As I've said so often, maintaining the ability to write Chinese characters is a highly neuromuscular activity, sort of like playing a musical instrument. If you don't keep practicing the characters, the ability to produce them accurately will deteriorate, just as will one's ability to play a demanding musical instrument well if one sets it aside for many years.

    This accounts for the rise of character amnesia during the past couple of decades when the overwhelming majority of people have been using their brains and their fingers to enter Chinese characters into electronic devices via phonetic means (pinyin, romaji, bopomofo, etc.) and not with pen and pencil.

    This reminds me of studies of Japanese recruits in the military that Jim Unger told me about on several occasions. Presumably, when they graduated from high school, they should have known the standard set of kanji, somewhat less than two thousand characters. Yet, when they were tested in the army after a year or two, their ability to produce characters would drop precipitously down to as low as around 300.

    Reading pinyin text for me is as easy as reading English, and I can skim-read it the way I do English. I prefer the texts not to have tone marks, because I have to make an effort to block them out, just as I would have to make an effort to block out accent and stress marks if they were included in normal English text. In this sense, what Wang Yujiang mentioned in several of his comments is true (see especially his excellent response to Cory Lubliner): when Chinese speak or read out a text, they do not enunciate the tones one by one as they are marked in a dictionary. Rather, they develop a rhythm in their reading / speech / singing (for that matter) in which emphasis, stress, and overall "feel" of a sentence / utterance become dominant, rather than the canonical dictionary entry tonal categories of individual characters. This is a phenomenon that a few Czech phoneticians have observed, and Christoph Harbsmeier (the German-Norwegian-Danish Sinologist) has paid particular attention to. The problem is that it's virtually impossible to predict how this will turn out ahead of time for discrete characters. The flow of a sentence or utterance only happens in real time and under the emotions of the moment. Of course, if one is anal about it, one could devise means for notating such spoken sentences once they were uttered, but I don't know how useful that information would be for pedagogical purposes, and to what purpose one would put it other than for phonological research.

    Without mentioning names, I know non-native speakers who have astonishingly good mastery of tones for thousands of characters, some of them who even wag their fingers or bob their heads in the air when they pronounce the tones as they are speaking or reading Chinese (it's very painful to watch). The best speakers of Chinese that I know (and here again I'm not mentioning names, though it would be very easy to list a dozen or so of the best), almost uniformly, are not tied to the individual characters / syllables, but rather have developed the ability to grasp the overall sound pattern of whole sentences. It is very impressive (and satisfying) to listen to them do this, and some of them develop this ability very quickly, already within the first year of their study of Mandarin or Cantonese or Taiwanese, or whichever Sinitic language they are studying. In no case are such masters of spoken Chinese languages fixated on the characters.

  24. cliff arroyo said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    I thought one aspect of the Taiwanese approach to tone marks makes more sense than the PRC's.

    Namely the first tone is not marked and the zero tone is (IIRC). I don't know enough about Mandarin to know if marking the zero tone is necessary at all but I suspect it isn't.

    That said, there are more options than a) nothing b) marking tone on every single syllable with dogged persistence. I suspect the optimum would be somewhere in the middle.

  25. m said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    I would like to focus on your statement "The memoirs are extremely well written, really exquisite, beautiful literature. I think that they amount to a small classic of Chinese, nay world, literature — sensitive and poignant remembrances of her childhood and youth in China and Taiwan."

    As a person who loves literature and memoirs, but does not read (or speak) Chinese at all, I wondered if this memoir has been translated into English. I would love to read it! I hope that an English-language version would not violate her wishes, and would allow outsiders to gain insights that are evidently here.

  26. liuyao said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 2:33 pm

    I did try to listen to the Wei Cheng audiobook, and less than one minute in I already had trouble understanding two phrases (which made me want to see the original). One probably could follow the plot line just fine; it's the numerous literary expressions here or there, that do not come across when read aloud. Of course if Qian had written it in pinyin (assuming he knew the standard Mandarin pronunciations), he definitely would have made many different word choices. The point is, just the fact that someone made an audiobook does not necessarily mean that people found it just as easy to understand as reading it in characters. Wei Cheng is a difficult reading for anyone (and does not make a good argument here); David Moser has written about his serious effort in reading it, with the help of dictionaries.

    Generally audiobooks are not as popular as in the US, unless you count pingshu (traditional story-telling) and their modern equivalents (similar to Podcasts) in. In fact, most of the Chinese Podcasts were originally made as videos, which come with full subtitles, as well as showing the characters when necessary on screen, such as when discussing historical events full of personal and place names. VM has written about Luo Zhenyu's show, which is a good example. It does make a stark contrast with English documentaries. On the other hand, traditional pingshu does manage to include many personal and place names (the performer may have to pause and describe the character to clarify), as well as literary phrases.

    Overall, I'm still pessimistic that any real change will happen in my (or anyone's) lifetime.

  27. Bathrobe said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

    Just two points, which I'll illustrate from real-life experience:

    I recently met a young lady from Chaozhou in Guangdong province. For some reason we ended up discussing inputting Chinese characters on phones. She asked me: "Don't you have problems inputting pinyin, where you can't figure out the correct input?" After a while it became apparent that she meant differentiating syllables like sēng and shēng. Pinyin presents problems for speakers who do not maintain certain pronunciations in Mandarin due to their linguistic background. It is easier for such speakers to differentiate 僧 and 生 than sēng and shēng.

    Second anecdote: Last year a know-all young professional in the field of web software told me that the correct pinyin for 哪儿 nǎr was nǎ'ěr (or perhaps naer since we didn't discuss tones). I assured him that this was not correct, but he insisted that since the word was 哪 plus 儿, it should manifestly be written na plus er. Regrettably the hold of characters over the linguistic landscape is deeper than just an inability to function in pinyin. Another example in this area is the problem of word division, as seen in spellings like BeiJing or Bei Jing.

  28. JS said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 4:04 pm

    @Liuyao, I chose this example because of the great difficulty of the text. That more run-of-the-mill modern Chinese articles or books are just as readily understood by ear as on the page–with the occasional exceptional word or phrase–is a trivial point. You are definitely correct in this case about the "numerous literary expressions here or there that do not come across when read aloud" and the fact that the author may well have made different choices writing in pinyin. This seems to be a large part of VHM's motivation in sponsoring the Pinyin Literature Contest.
    —–
    P.S. Granted it would be better of me to design and conduct some serious experiments rather than claim the above point is "trivial"…

  29. David Marjanović said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 6:48 pm

    And, yeah, it's not that simple, because I know from reading English (I don't know Mandarin) that spelling differences (including capitalization of proper nouns) can help differentiate what in speech is differentiated by differences in stress & intonation on the phrase/sentence level.

    Indeed, that's why all Nouns receive a capital Letter in german Orthography. :-)
    Ausländer, die deutschen Boden verkaufen = foreigners who sell German soil
    Ausländer, die Deutschen Boden verkaufen = foreigners who sell soil to Germans!
    This is a minimal pair for intonation; both examples are entirely unremarkable in their grammar and their style level, although talking about national soil is very much out of fashion for the usual obvious reason.

    I forgot to address this last time:

    if China is really serious about wanting to make Chinese a world language and supplementing or eventually replacing English in that role

    Is anything being done in this direction? (Can anything be done?) Or is this just foreign policy as domestic policy, like make America great again?

    when reading in characters I often don't sound out the words at all but just recognize the shape

    I think few people can really do this. It doesn't seem to come naturally to me. A Mandarin pronunciation always pops up in my head in the rare cases when I recognize Japanese kanji.

    At the same time, VM (like some of the commentators) is clearly right to say that the widespread adoption of pinyin would remove a major obstacle to literacy in Mandarin.

    Absolutely; I didn't repeat that because it feels obvious.

    It is easier for such speakers to differentiate 僧 and 生 than sēng and shēng.

    Well, it's easier now that they know the characters but not the Pīnyīn spellings. If they had learned the spellings the same way you learned to keep wine and whine apart, they'd probably find that at least as easy as distinguishing 僧 and 生.

    The point stands, however, that Pīnyīn is not first and foremost designed for most efficient use or any such purpose, but for the teaching of MSM pronunciation. This is why it marks several phonetic distinctions that are neither phonemic nor anything but tiny, like bo, po, mo, fo, wo vs. duo, tuo, nuo, suo, luo, why it marks the tones in an iconic way instead of by abstract symbols (e.g. letters or superscript numbers as used in other transcriptions), and probably also why it spells out the tones on the morpheme level instead of at the phoneme level* – I guess what sentence intonation then does to the phonemic tones at the phonetic level doesn't differ so much across the length and breadth of Sinitic as the morphemic tones and their phonetic realizations in isolation do?

    * E. g. uniform bù, yī, yǔ instead of bú shì, yí( )ge, yúsǎn.

    just as I would have to make an effort to block out accent and stress marks if they were included in normal English text

    Actually, including a few of those – as Dutch does – would be very helpful in parsing noun-pile headlines and the many occasions in normal texts where it's not clear which words in a chain are supposed to be nouns vs. verbs. But I'm sure there are fewer cases where stress (even at the sentence level) is phonemic in English than where tone (even at the word level) is phonemic in Mandarin.

  30. Alyssa said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 10:08 pm

    Victor Mair:

    When you speak of advocating for digraphia in Chinese, what exactly does that mean? Digraphia can take many forms. The one I am most familiar with is the situation of Japanese, where the use of multiple scripts is standard and uncontroversial. Yet if you gave a Japanese person a book of memoirs written entirely in hiragana, they would react much as your Chinese friends have. So it appears this is not the model you have in mind. In an ideal world, what kind of texts would you like to see written in Pinyin, and which in characters?

  31. Bob Ladd said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 12:57 am

    @ David Marjanović: Is it really true that pinyin is "first and foremost designed … for the teaching of MSM pronunciation"? My understanding of the history is that Mao Zedong really thought that alphabetisation was the way to achieve mass literacy, but got talked out of it by various more traditional advisors. Perhaps VM or another commentator knows more about this.

    As for the representation of tone, the use of "letters" is found (I think) only in YRChao's National Romanization, and exactly the pinyin set of diacritics was used in the Yale romanization; also, plenty of other tone languages use diacritics, not numbers or letters. The biggest problem with diacritics is the tendency to omit them, but that applies to diacritics used for any purpose, not just tone.

    About not representing tone sandhi ("spell[ing] out the tones on the morpheme level instead of at the phoneme level"): this is exactly what many languages, German included, do with final devoicing (i.e. writing das Kind instead of das Kint). The basic alphabetic principle really doesn't give much guidance about what to do with regular morphonological alternations, and different languages deal with them in different ways; this is not just a problem of how to write tone.

    And finally (admittedly irrelevant to the topic of the thread): there are still some of us around for whom wine and whine are not homophonous!

  32. Kan Zhi Hong said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 5:16 am

    I can't agree more with everything you said.

    Hanyu Pinyin can be used to write living Mandarin, period.

    You can never convince the people of the world about the possibility. You will fail.

    But you can put pinyin material where people can have access. If the content is ineresting enough they will come and read.

    I would be a regular visitor and contributor if there is a Pinyin Field.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 7:58 am

    @Kan Zhi Hong

    You have stated the matter well and clearly. I agree with everything you said.

    @Alyssa

    Whatever kind of digraphia is emerging right now, that's what I'm in favor of.

    I really like the way Kan Zhi Hong put the matter.

    Whatever you can say intelligibly and clearly and interestingly in Mandarin can be written in Pinyin. Shucks, you could even write boring stuff in Pinyin, but I'm certainly not advocating that!

    Li-ching's Memoirs are a very good example of the sort of thing that could be written in Pinyin.

    A regular Language Log reader, who is too timid to post directly in the comments section, and who is an educated reader of Chinese character texts but had never before read anything in Pinyin only, started to read the first few stories in the Memoirs. She sent me a detailed list of the types of problems she encountered, and it was hard going at first, but basically she could understand what was happening in the stories.

    I wrote this note to her:

    =====

    Thanks for making an effort to read the memoirs. I'm not surprised that you had the types of problems that you did. Rather, I am surprised that you read them as well as you did. Of course, it is not easy for you to read pure Pinyin texts, because you have no practice in doing so.

    =====

    BTW, the mother tongue of the reader in question is not Mandarin, which she learned in school, but another Sinitic topolect.

    @m

    Thank you for your interest in an English version of Li-ching's Memoirs. I'm pretty sure that one will appear in the not too distant future, but I'm still hoping that her friends and relatives and others who are fluent in Mandarin will read them in that language first. It would be so ironic if those MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin) speakers who are close to Li-ching would read the Memoirs in English first before making an effort to read them in Pinyin.

    One of Li-ching's closest friends (who speaks MSM and is highly educated in Chinese and English) wrote exactly these words to me yesterday:

    =====

    I am very moved by your loving memory of Li Ching. We miss her too.

    Her writing is exquisite— sincere , warm and touching, like Chekhov. [VHM: Here's she's talking about some of the many things that Li-ching had written in characters.]

    Thanks you for sharing this.

    For some readers, pinyin is just as hard as a foreign language. Even if they are taught the pronunciation of c q x, if they don't speak perfect or near perfect Mandarin, they just cannot figure out the content by pinyin.

    I think Li Ching's siblings would like to read her memoirs . Since none of them majored in Chinese language and literature, it might be a bit difficult for them to read pinyin.

    Li Ching was enthusiastic in promoting pinyin because she had great sympathy for farmers, workers and underprivileged people.

    =====

    Li-ching's Memoirs are written in straightforward, pellucid MSM. They represent the crystallization of fifty years of teaching Mandarin to grade school kids in Taiwan and students at some of the best colleges and universities in America. They are not complex like Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged. You don't need to be learned in Chinese language and literature to understand the Memoirs. All you have to be is a fluent speaker of Mandarin.

    As my college basketball coach, Doggie Julian, used to say, it's all a matter of AT-TEE-TOOD.

  34. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 11:15 am

    @Bob Ladd, @David Marjanović
    Is it really true that pinyin is "first and foremost designed … for the teaching of MSM pronunciation"?
    No. Definitely not. Pinyin was originally designed for Chinese writing only. Duo to many ignorant conservatives are against if, the government had to come to a compromise, using it as IPA in Chinese first.

    David Marjanović wrote, 'As for the representation of tone, the use of "letters" is found (I think) only in YRChao's National Romanization, and exactly the pinyin set of diacritics was used in the Yale romanization; also, plenty of other tone languages use diacritics, not numbers or letters.'
    Many linguists regarded Chinese as a tone language, but it is wrong. We read a single Chinese character with tone. That is true. However when Chinese people speak, we do not follow the tone marked in a dictionary. So it is a tone character only, not a tone language.
    I even think there is not any tone language in the world because nobody speaks a single syllable after a single syllable. Speaking is continuous sounds. Four-tone does not work in normal Chinese speaking.
    Besides, every English word has a stress syllable, why we do not regard it as stress language.

  35. JS said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

    @Wang Yujiang
    English employs (variably positioned) word stress. Sinitic and many languages of SEA have phonemic tone. The fact that utterance-level intonation can affect surface realization doesn't change that.

    To be honest I'm not sure what to make of the idea that Pinyin should be written without indicating tones. This possibility presents itself, obviously, because Pinyin tones happen to be expressed with diacritical marks over the standard Roman vowel symbols. It has nothing to do with tone being less "important" than other aspects of the Mandarin sound system.

  36. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

    @JS
    The single Chinese character needs four-tone, and the spoken Chinese does not need four-tone. Even a group of Chinese characters (a phrase 词ci) do not need four-tones either. For example: 氨1铵3胺4. They are three different tones in dictionary, but when we speaking 氨水, 硝酸铵, 氨基酸, everybody pronounce them the same tone.
    When we read Chinese characters individually, we use four-tone to distinguish them. Most homonyms are single syllable word. The Chinese characters are single syllable words.
    When we use pinyin, most words are multi-syllable, and then we do not need four-tone anymore. As I said before Chinese is not a tone language. The intonation of Chinese is same as other language including English.

  37. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 2:59 pm

    How about Pinyin and characters go hand in hand?

    The most obvious benefits would be:

    1) For kids to focus on critical training in listening, speaking, reading, writing and thinking. It's a crime not to give them the tool of pinyin! At the moment, the time it takes for a Chinese school kid to write a line of characters might be enough for a kid anywhere else to complete an essay. Imagine putting into tiny squares 鬱鬱寡歡臺灣龜!

    2) Narrowing the gap between spoken and written Chinese, thus making the language more user-friendly.

    3) Making texts easily understandable to listeners when read out. A must in this mass media age.

    4) Talking with words, not characters.

    5) Removing the killer barrier for people around the world who want to learn Mandarin out of interest or necessity. It will be the No two language tomorrow literally.

    Why is it not happening?

    1) Xenophobia.

    2) No material, especially nothing in pinyin to read. Who is to blame!

    3) Nobody uses pinyin, why should I? I wrote this and I want an huge audience, no kidding.

    Two cats can certainly have a peaceful coexistence. They would do a better job together to catch mice and would not necessarily bite each other to pieces.

  38. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

    @David Marjanović
    I agree what Mr. David Marjanović wrote, "Fluent reading, though, almost certainly takes longer, because that takes some getting used to no matter what the script. "
    My native language is Chinese Mandarin, and I studied pinyin when I entered into elementary school in China mainland. Nowadays the most students in China study pinyin for several months before they study Chinese characters. At the beginning they read and write pinyin fluently. Several years later the students can read and write Chinese characters. Then they do not read pinyin anymore because there are no pinyin newspapers and magazines in China now.
    I read the Pinyin Diary Essays by Ms Zhang Liqing in pinyin.info. I can read it. No any problem, but it is not as quick as I read Chinese characters, because I do not use pinyin to read everyday.
    I believe the Basic Rules for Hanyu Pinyin Orthography中文拼音正詞法基本規則 are not enough for read and write pinyin. It is imperative to compile a pinyin word-list for public.
    I was planning to write a basic pinyin word list in the Internet, and at last I gave up for some reason. I am hoping somebody will do it ASAP. Chinese people really need it. It will become a pinyin dictionary in the future. That is a must of the advocating written Chinese reform.

  39. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

    I forgot to mention and must add that I read the memoir with ease and great appreciation. Beautiful and meticulous in every detail and respect.

    I will sread the word.

    As regards reading efficiency, well, I would say that if you are in a bar and meet someone you encountered once before, it might take a while to figure out who this person is, if at all;however, if Mrs. Wang your neighbor passes your window, you just know it's her even without rasing your head from your laptop to look.

    Practice makes perfect.

  40. Bathrobe said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 4:17 pm

    I started reading Dàshuǐ Guòhòu. There is no doubt that it takes a while to get used to reading pinyin, even when you are reasonably familiar with it.

    Some sentences caused me to stumble. For instance,

    Wǒmen bān bìbào shàng Guóyǔ lāoshi xuǎn d mófàn zuòwén dōu yóu tā chāoxiě.

    First, I'm not really familiar with Chinese schools and bìbào caused me to stumble in a way that 壁报 would not have. This is especially so since shàng, written independently with full tone marking, differs from the way I internally understand it. Bìbào-shang might have given me a clearer feeling for the structure and meaning. Coming after this, Guóyǔ lāoshi added to the confusion.

    The addition of tones might in some way even hinder the reading process (as in shàng and lāoshi above). Would it be better to omit them unless they were absolutely necessary?

  41. JS said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 4:29 pm

    @Wang Yujiang
    In 氨/铵/胺 you have noticed an entirely different but very interesting phenomenon I've called "orthographical leveling" in a recent paper — these relatively obscure forms tend to shift to an1 based on an orthographical relation to common an1 安 (with the forms mixing in writing too). This has no bearing on the fact that Chinese languages are tonal. It is essential that those who want to build arguments for the utility of Pinyin begin from a clear understanding of the linguistic facts.

  42. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

    @JS
    The reason for pinyin written with indicating tones is most Chinese use it as IPA now. If they know pinyin is not IPA, they will give it up immedietly. In Chinese writing, tone indicator is overdoing 画蛇添足.

  43. David Marjanović said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 5:18 pm

    About not representing tone sandhi ("spell[ing] out the tones on the morpheme level instead of at the phoneme level"): this is exactly what many languages, German included, do with final devoicing (i.e. writing das Kind instead of das Kint). The basic alphabetic principle really doesn't give much guidance about what to do with regular morphonological alternations, and different languages deal with them in different ways; this is not just a problem of how to write tone.

    Of course.

    (BTW, there's regional variation within Standard German: the Austrian and Swiss standards, and the Bavarian one to the extent that there is one, lack syllable-final fortition entirely. Devoicing isn't even available, because all obstruents are already voiceless. But I digress. :-) )

    And finally (admittedly irrelevant to the topic of the thread): there are still some of us around for whom wine and whine are not homophonous!

    That's why I picked this example. The mentioned sēng and shēng are homophones in the (broadly defined) south, but not in the north of China.

    @Bob Ladd, @David Marjanović
    Is it really true that pinyin is "first and foremost designed … for the teaching of MSM pronunciation"?
    No. Definitely not. Pinyin was originally designed for Chinese writing only.

    Chinese, yes – it was designed to teach the pronunciation of, specifically, Standard Mandarin to the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who natively spoke something else! I do agree it was not designed for foreigners (the way the Yale Romanizations of Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean were, to some extent, designed for Americans).

    Besides, every English word has a stress syllable, why we do not regard it as stress language.

    We do. There are many cases in English where the position of stress within a word is phonemic! Take record – if stressed on the first syllable, it's a noun, if stressed on the second, it's a verb.

    In Mandarin, too, the most unstressed syllables lose their tones. I think the rules of Pīnyīn are inconsistent about this: my textbook had "teacher" as lǎoshi, acknowledging the fact that the second syllable is toneless ("neutral tone", "light tone"), but spelled "bike" as zìxíngchē, ignoring the fact that the second syllable is toneless.

  44. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 12:01 am

    Just drop by to say hellow to everyone. Can I just leave my thoughts about a few points mentioned here.

    1) A different approach has to be taken when writing pinyinwen. Largely visual character words might not be the best diction.

    Multi-syllable words are more suitable than mono-syllable ones for pinyin writing. Compare "ban" and "banji".

    "Bibao", without context or explanation, would be incomprehensible even when spoken. Also this word might have long been obsolete, which can explain the difficulty experienced. I would use "heibanbao", if it refers to the same thing.

    2) Personally, I prefer not to use tone marks except when needed. Most people can't get the tones right anyway.

    3) I always write xuci separately and use them generously, as they play an important grammatical role, making relationship between units clearer. Like " women banji de heibanbao shangmian…"

    4) "Guoyu laoshi" to me is no problem, although it can be changed to "gei women shang guoyuke de na wei laoshi"

    5) A new word should be coined to replace any exclusively visual word.

    6) English and other foreign words should be imported freely to enhance the richness and vitality of the language.

    As said, just a little random thoughts.

  45. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 12:09 am

    Forgot to conclude:

    With character writing you need to" ximorujin" whereas with pinyin writing you need to "buyanqifan"!

    乡8,丿

  46. John, not the one above said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 1:45 am

    Bibao seems like just a local terminology issue, since bibao bisai were a mainstay in Taiwanese elementary schools when I was growing up and a cursory Google search shows that schools and universities all over Taiwan are still holding them. This being a memoir I think the author should certainly be using the words that were familiar to her in her youth!

  47. Bathrobe said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 1:59 am

    Actually, the problem with laoshi is that the tones as written are incorrect.

  48. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:32 am

    You're right. I didn't pick it up as I usually ignore all tone marks. Then it seems to be a typing mistake.

    "Qiangbao" can serve as a replacement for " bibao". That for me can't be anything else than what it is.

    "It is obvious to me that "xx shang" = "xx de shangmian".

    If I use tone marks, I would write " zhuōzǐ shàng" instead of "zhuōzi shang", but pronounce those syllables perhaps with no "accent". A lot of Chinese don't know or ingnore the silent sound rule.

    The French don't pronounce all their letters and accents. They just need the look.

    The most interesting thing is that I realised that even English relies on visual elements to differentiate words. And I imagine we can create letter combinations to make homonyms look different : tou, teu, tow, tew,touh,teuh, tteu,ttou,ttow,etc.

    Now I really believe that a letter based system for mandarin is possible.

  49. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 5:30 am

    @David Marjanović
    David Marjanović said, Chinese, yes – it was designed to teach the pronunciation of, specifically, Standard Mandarin to the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who natively spoke something else!
    Only the phonetic alphabets are designed to teach the pronunciation. Pinyin is not phonetic alphabets. So pinyin was not designed to teach the pronunciation of, specifically, Standard Mandarin to the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who natively spoke something else!
    Who was English designed for? British, American, or Australian? Pinyin is similar to English. As I wrote before, pinyin was originally designed for Chinese writing only.

  50. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 6:00 am

    @David Marjanović
    David Marjanović said, In Mandarin, too, the most unstressed syllables lose their tones. I think the rules of Pīnyīn are inconsistent about this: my textbook had "teacher" as lǎoshi, acknowledging the fact that the second syllable is toneless ("neutral tone", "light tone"), but spelled "bike" as zìxíngchē, ignoring the fact that the second syllable is toneless.

    Why do most unstressed syllables lose their tones? Because of we cannot talk about stressed or unstressed syllables in a single Chinese character or a single syllable pinyin word. No two syllables to compare.
    Four-tone is only effective in Chinese characters. When we Chinese speak, we do not care about four-tone. The intonation of Chinese is sane as other language including English. That is why I said Chinese language is not a tone language. Only the Chinese characters are a tone written language. Pinyin is not.
    For example, 自行车no stressed or unstressed syllables, because they are three single syllable words (units). "zixingche" no four-tone, but stressed or unstressed syllables, because it is a multi-syllable pinyin word.

  51. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 6:24 am

    @ Victor Mair
    Professor Victor Mair said, Writing "de" as "d" was just always Li-ching's habit. I suppose she did it for the sake of economy. Because that's the highest frequency morpheme in Mandarin, I think she felt that it would save her a lot of strokes in typing, plus one look at it and you would know its function.
    For the sake of economy. I couldn't agree more. And I also believe in the future, "d" will be connected to the word in front of it to become an adjective word, which is a little bit similar to English "'s". At that time "d" will be a real morpheme. Now it is a single letter word.

  52. Bathrobe said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 6:46 am

    Four-tone is only effective in Chinese characters. When we Chinese speak, we do not care about four-tone. … no four-tone, but stressed or unstressed syllables, because [zixingche] is a multi-syllable pinyin word

    If it's just a matter of stress, not tone, how can Chinese hear a difference — and they can — between 或者 and 活着?

  53. John, not the one above said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 7:04 am

    @Zhi-Hong Kan: I'm not sure why you're so fixated on the word bibao. In Taiwan, where the author of this memoir grew up, 壁報 is a fairly well-known word; 牆報 is not a word at all. In fact if I were to encounter it in pinyin form I would at first think the word is 強暴, which is obviously incredibly inappropriate.

    Think of it this way. In Taiwan the vast majority of us would not know what a dazibao is until we learn about the Cultural Revolution in school and find out about the role that they played in the movement. Would you suggest that a hypothetical memoir of someone who lived through the Cultural Revolution change all references to dazibao to a word that's more understandable to Taiwanese readers (which, ironically, would likely be "bibao")?

    There are many different varieties of Mandarin and I doubt that the intention of Professor Mair would be for pinyin literature to force everyone to write in one single variety of it.

  54. Bathrobe said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 7:27 am

    I was under the impression that 老师 is lǎoshī. 老是 is more likely to be lǎoshi.

  55. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 8:01 am

    @Bathrobe
    It is difficult or we cannot discuss something of speaking and hearing directly through writing. Actually what we discussed is writing. So your question is how to distinguish the或者 and 活着 in pinyin. In pinyin, 或者 "huozhe" is a word, 活着 "huo zhe" are two words, a phrase.
    Now it is imperative to compile a pinyin word-list for public. I believe the Basic Rules for Hanyu Pinyin Orthography中文拼音正詞法基本規則 are not enough for reading and writing.

  56. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 8:09 am

    @Bathrobe
    In my opinion, 老师 is one word "laoshi". 老是should be "lao shi", two words.
    Again, it is imperative to compile a pinyin word-list for public.

  57. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 8:54 am

    @John, not the one above
    Don't worry about "qiangbao" is墙报 or 强暴,because one is a noun, and the other is a verb. There are many same situations in English.

    John, not the one above said, There are many different varieties of Mandarin and I doubt that the intention of Professor Mair would be for pinyin literature to force everyone to write in one single variety of it.
    There are many different varieties of English in the world, so don't doubt that the intention of Professor Mair would be for pinyin literature to force everyone to write in one single variety of it.

  58. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 9:16 am

    Wang Yujiang wrote:
    "I even think there is not any tone language in the world because nobody speaks a single syllable after a single syllable."

    What, then, to say about a language like Swedish, in which tonal contrasts cannot be made in isolated monosyllables, but only in strings of two or more syllables?

  59. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 11:38 am

    @Andreas Johansson
    The isolated monosyllables in Chinese characters are almost open syllable, Therefore the quantity of the monosyllables of Chinese characters is much smaller than English. Consequently in order to distinguish characters we have to use tone contrast (four-tone).
    When we write Chinese characters in pinyin, many two Chinese characters (词ci) will become a closed syllable monosyllables word at last. For example, 桌子 "zhuozi" become "zhuoz". Then the quantity of Chinese isolated monosyllables will increase greatly. We will not need tonal contrast (four-tone) anymore.
    The tonal contrast (four-tone) is a product of Chinese characters with limited monosyllables. If pinyin are in use, nobody will regard Chinese as a tone language.

  60. Bathrobe said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

    @Wang Yujiang

    I can see your point, but I don't think that tonal distinctions would disappear completely in polysyllabic words. Take 熊猫 and 胸毛, for instance. In spoken Chinese these are clearly distinguished. In writing, of course, context would be sufficient to disambiguate a panda from chest-hair, but the tonal contrast is still there.

  61. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

    @Bathrobe
    I think the tonal distinctions in speaking are not necessary to be marked in Chinese writing. Strictly speaking, we cannot discuss tonal distinctions in speaking unless we face to face. What we talked are all about the distinctions in writing. For example, 熊猫 and 胸毛 in pinyin are "xiongmao" and "xiong mao".

  62. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

    @Wang Yujiang
    I can't judge your claims as they apply to Chinese, but the suggestion that there are no tonal languages at all, because real speech isn't in isolated syllables is surely shown wrong by the existence of languages where tonal contrasts only exist between polysyllables.

  63. Bathrobe said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

    Strictly speaking, we can discuss phonological distinctions, whether they involve differences in aspiration and differences in tone, even if we are not face to face. The whole point of pinyin is that it is a phonological representation of Mandarin. The distinction between 怕 and 爸 (aspiration vs non-aspiration) does not disappear merely because we are not facing each other in speech, any more than the distinction between 亮 liàng and 凉 liáng (fourth tone vs second tone).

    Dividing 胸毛 xiōngmáo into two words as xiong mao seems somewhat arbitrary. Why is 熊猫 xióngmāo "bearcat" one word while "chest hair" is two? It appears to be an artificial device designed to avoid word pairs distinguished by tone.

  64. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

    Hey, nobody was suggesting that Professor Mair was playing god Cāng Jié here, certainly not me.

    Personally I didn't have any difficulty recognising that word at all, even in the limited contxest.

    I was simply addressing the issue of "stumbling" over the word, and believe that words like that would not have been coined or adopted in the first place if we had had pinyin as our writing tool.

    In my perfect world I would call it "qiangbi shang de baozhi", abandoning the custom of using concise,say, movie titles,etc.

    If our kids focus on listening, speaking, reading, writing and thinking instead of drawing characters, miscommunication would not be so prevalent.

  65. JS said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

    Yes, what Bathrobe said. That phonemic tone is a syllable-level feature of the Mandarin Chinese language is a linguistic fact. This has nothing to do with word length, or with orthography. So yōu 'excellent' is distinct from yóu 'oil' is distinct from yǒu 'have' is distinct from yòu 'again', so yōuyù 'melancholy' is distinct from yóuyú 'because' (or 'squid') is distinct from yóuyù 'hesitate' is distinct from yǒu(-)yú 'be in excess'.

    It is possible to argue, for instance, that the fact that the average Mandarin word is ~2 syllables in length means that indication of tones is inessential in Pinyin texts. Or that certain more-or-less arbitrary orthographic conventions regarding word division might make such indication still less essential. It is even possible to argue that word length, among other factors (word stress?), could ultimately bring about changes in the nature of Mandarin tone — compare Shanghainese and its word-level contours, predictable based on the underlying tone of the initial syllable. But you definitely don't want to claim that the use of Pinyin itself will necessarily lead to change of this kind ("[i]f pinyin are in use, nobody will regard Chinese as a tone language").

  66. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

    I read Professor 's meticulous work with great admiration. The only thing I find funny is the use of adjective "d" and complement "de". I don't think it necessary to differentiate the two for grammatical or economical reasons.

    Of course, that's my opinion.

  67. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

    "Ta de xiongbu zhang le hen duo mao" is all good for me.

    1) "Ta" indicates a person.

    2) "de" suggests what follows would be something to do with "ta".

    3) So, my imagination will block the possibility of "mao" being cats.

  68. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 16, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

    @Bathrobe
    You are right. We can discuss phonological distinctions ……even if we are not face-to-face. However it is not necessary to do it when we are discussing pinyin replacing characters.
    Dividing 胸毛 xiongmao into two words as xiong mao is truly arbitrary. On the other hand, combining xiong mao into one word xiongmao is the same thing. The reason is that the Basic Rules for Hanyu Pinyin Orthography中文拼音正詞法基本規則 are not enough for writing pinyin. It is imperative to compile a pinyin word-list for public.

  69. Thomas Bartlett said,

    August 18, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

    A very interesting subject, indeed, and thanks to Victor for his reminder of Li-ching's remarkable devotion to the subject, and for her memoirs produced in pinyin.

    Who in China has proclaimed the eventual goal of making Chinese a world language to replace English? I haven't noticed that. Hanban? Not my idea of a credible partner for globalization of Chinese language.

    Many complacent assumptions about China's potential have been shown since 春節 1973 to have been gross underestimations; that should put us on guard about future prospects. There's no question that many educated Chinese have a global perspective and are, individually, very active in pursuing it. I agree entirely that Chinese written in pinyin is definitely conceivable, and would be a major asset for 對外 usage. Presumably that would require widespread digraphia among Chinese, who would then deploy the pinyin dimension when dealing with foreigners. Very feasible practice, I think, that can be stabilized at two levels of the written language: 內部 Chinese, aka 我們的中文 or "real Chinese"; and 對外 Chinese, yet one more mass export product. This psychologically fits the deep commitment to the pervasive belief that Chinese culture is fundamentally not fully accessible to foreigners. One may think of this as a defense mechanism prominent since the Neo-Confucian rejection of Buddhist universalism. But it has authentic roots, I think, in elite literati conceits, and in the strong intramural orientation of much traditional lore. To envisage a future China, on the model of openness characteristically descriptive of the Tang dynasty, is not part of the "China Dream". I think the psychological 內外 boundary zone will not disappear at any time early enough to be worth our considering. This has important implications for language use.

  70. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 18, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

    @Zhi-Hong Kan
    Zhi-Hong Kan asked, "how about Pinyin and characters go hand in hand?" it is an interesting question.
    Firstly, we need to know why we Chinese have to use pinyin to replace Chinese characters. The reason is that pinyin is more efficient than Chinese characters. Chinese characters restrict people thinking far more than alphabets, for example, English. Frankly Chinese is a backward language.
    Zhi-Hong Kan wrote, two cats can certainly have a peaceful coexistence, and they would do a better job together to catch mice. However the pinyin and characters are not cats. They are the tools of communication and thinking. Tools could not go hand in hand. For instance, color TV eliminated black and white TV. LED TV eliminated CRT TV.
    In spite of this, during the transition time pinyin and Chinese characters will go hand by hand for a period time. That is digraphia.

  71. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 18, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

    @Wang Jujiang

    1)The reason for retaining characters is manifold. For example, the artistic value in calligraphy, artistic treatment in wrting, diversity 白花齐放, and heaps of others!!!

    2)urgency of a digraphic system-liberating children from the shackles of character, free writing, thinking. Early socialisation.

    3)双轨,两条腿走路 is not a new idea. Cenceived in 民国.

    一一一
    I have discussed this topic on a website and I paste my comments below. Forgive me and feel free to delete it if found messy or out of place. The tone is a bit hysterical: I was neally called a traitor, abolitionist…! Got to to work.
    一一一一
    Thank you for your comment.

    I don't advocate abolition of characters. I think pinyin and hanzi going hand in hand will benefit the whole world.

    Although the computer has made it easier to input characters, it does not address other issues, such as:

    visually oriented characters
    Words incomprehensible or hard to identify when heard
    Gap berween spoken and written language
    Custom of favouring shorter words
    Langguage not user friendly
    Translated words (lables) often misused. Definition, usage, etymology nowhere to be found
    Universal practice of direct word import rejected
    Ci (not words) is not clearly defined
    No gap between ci, thus no sense of grammar
    Ancient bamboo characters used in text and talk
    Too much liberty in forming words
    Trash words prevalent
    Xenophobia in terms of alphabet application
    I repeat : Chinese in caracter form suits us perfectly on paper, no reform necessary for that, but we can certainly do better with pinyin in this era of mass media . Sory I can't get rid of that last dot.

    I think it's a sin to ask kids to write 鬱鬱寡歡臺灣龜 渾渾噩噩何時歸 into tiny squares of their composition pads. Whatever ideas, inspirations, artistic instinct would be annihilated confronted by this monstrosity of a task.
    We need to be more compassionate . Please donate pinyin to our little friends .

  72. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 18, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

    @Wangjuping. Short answer as I have to leave for work.

    Reason for retaining characters is manifold. Aesthetical superiority, 鬱鬱蔥蔥vsLUSH, you be the judge. Diversity 百花齊放. And heaps of others.
    一一一
    Urgency of 双轨,两条腿走路:early socialisation.
    一一一
    Feasibility: education. promotion. Show money, kick off the gold rush!
    一一一
    My comments made on another site. BTW I was nearly named a traitor, which explains the hysterical tone. So please forgive me and delete anything deemed out of place. Ciao!

    Thank you for your comment.

    I don't advocate abolition of characters. I think pinyin and hanzi going hand in hand will benefit the whole world.

    Although the computer has made it easier to input characters, it does not address other issues, such as:

    visually oriented characters
    Words incomprehensible or hard to identify when heard
    Gap berween spoken and written language
    Custom of favouring shorter words
    Langguage not user friendly
    Translated words (lables) often misused. Definition, usage, etymology nowhere to be found
    Universal practice of direct word import rejected
    Ci (not words) is not clearly defined
    No gap between ci, thus no sense of grammar
    Ancient bamboo characters used in text and talk
    Too much liberty in forming words
    Trash words prevalent
    Xenophobia in terms of alphabet application
    I repeat : Chinese in caracter form suits us perfectly on paper, no reform necessary for that, but we can certainly do better with pinyin in this era of mass media.

    I think it's a sin to ask kids to write 鬱鬱寡歡臺灣龜 渾渾噩噩何時歸 into tiny squares of their composition pads. Whatever ideas, inspirations, artistic instinct would be annihilated confronted by this monstrosity of a task.
    We need to be more compassionate . Please donate pinyin to our little friends .

  73. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 8:22 am

    @Zhi-Hong Kan
    After I bought a new LED TV several years ago, I recycled the old CRT TV immediately. Nobody will keep two TVs in a living room.
    Actually pinyin is not for us. It is for new generations in China. If they regarded Chinese characters as a tool, they will abandon it in the future. If they regarded it as a historical relic or a cultural relic, they will put it in museums.

  74. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 9:39 am

    @Wangyujiang

    寥寥數語 言簡意賅 字字珠璣 熠熠生輝

    Ta de huar suiran bu duo, danshi yisi que hen shenke; rang wo ting le xin limian yi pian liànglang, yixiazi huorangkailang qilai.

    Different styles.

    Characters won't hurt you, trust me.

  75. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 9:46 am

    Oops,a mistake. Should be: yi pian liangtang, or yi pian tòuliàng

  76. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 4:35 pm

    Words are powerful, sometimes more powerful than nuclear weapons. How many people were killed because of their being labelled niuguisheshen!

    Therefore, 對外拼音文 is a brilliant 提法! Those guānfǔ would say「你這樣說就好了 為什麼你不早說呢」.

    DP will pave the way for 那些老外 to swarm in 蜂擁而至 with their 家小 and investment, so that China will benefit, 國家興旺發達百姓安居樂業江山不改固若金湯.

    Try that in pinyin.

    DP will change China.

    We should perhaps organise a petition 聯名上書 习大大 to promote the notion.

    I agree that future generation is most important and so is clear thinking and writing which are interrelated.

  77. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

    I have been wondering if I should start learning programming so as to enable me to compile a dictionary with pinyin word entries.

    I just found this kind of work is already underway. Fascinating!

    We need another 白球恩 to carry the revolution through to the end.

    I don't blame Mao though for recoiling at opposition. It was not time to impose pinyin on the nation when the majority of people were not fluent in Mandarin. How would they read 毛主席語録 if they became illiterate overnight?

    Now foudation has been laid, all the hard work done; it is time.

    Still I don't think characterexit would be a good idea.

  78. Wang Yujiang said,

    August 19, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    Do not worry about "it was not time to impose pinyin on the nation when the majority of people were not fluent in Mandarin" because it was still time to impose written English on the nation when the majority of people were not fluent in spoken English.

  79. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 1:48 am

    You should have told the emperor himself.

  80. Zhi-Hong Kan said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:51 am

    I have just read an earlier post about John DeFrancis and feel obliged to express my gratitude for his dedication and conviction in relation to Chinese language.

    I didn't know anything about him until now and haven't read any of his books. I must say that a layman as I am, learning language for me being only a hobby, I don't find it hard at all to see he that is correct about every single point that was mentioned in the brief account.

    One comment mentioned his hostility towards characters, but I guess that his honesty might be a more justified description.

    As to ill will among certain communities, I would say it was due to nothing else but ignorance and xenophobia.

    We must remember that people's eyes are snow bright; however, they failed to see that niuguisheshen were all haoren.

    To me, this gentleman was another Bai Qiu'en daifu. He has done a lot for us, which we appreciate and will never forget.

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