Sinitic languages without the Sinographic script

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[This is a guest post from a frustrated Chinese father in the PRC, written in response to the discussion in the comments that followed this post:  "The Sinophone" (2/28/19).  He doesn't mince words, but this is how he feels — passionately — about his fatherland.]

As usual, the more I learn the more am I convinced it's an idiotic script that has convoluted the natural evolution of the language.

I think about how, without pinyin and modern technology, the authorities would have accomplished changing the pronunciation nationwide.

Moreover, I've noticed the seemingly arbitrary, multiple pronunciations of many characters throughout these years.

I also believe that it is due to the limitations of the script that the troublesome issue of the multiple pronunciations developed.  Can you imagine if they had to come up with different characters back in the day for each different sound / word?  We're already drowning in a flood of characters as it is.

How many more unique characters would the people 500 years ago or now need to write over and over again and commit to memory? So they decided to use context to differentiate words and their pronunciations, but then, of course, how can people around the country know that for this or that word / character pair you pronounce the character differently according to usage?!  I'd have to assume the literacy rate would have been less than 1 percent back in the day before Pinyin (or other Romanization) and simplified characters or they would have needed to lower how many characters needed to be known to be considered literate.

The use of characters rather than phonics /alphabet has caused so many unnatural contortions and for the sake of face everyone including future generations will continue to suffer from the drawbacks of the clumsy script.

Burn it down (the script)! and start over to let the language try to "naturally" develop out of the mess created by the script by going Pinyin.

 

Selected readings



38 Comments

  1. Ricardo said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 8:32 pm

    Just my 2 cents here, but I think the author does himself a disservice by claiming that the reason the Chinese script continues to be taught is 'for the sake of face'. While I understand the arguments of its critics, I don't sense that the Chinese as a whole are calling for the abolishment of the script or that they feel it is holding them back. There has to be more to it than face and I think the views of those who are happy shouldn't be so summarily dismissed.

  2. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 9:27 pm

    Some years ago I read, probably on this blog, that Chinese authorities had taken a poll on eradicating characters and the majority averwhelmingly opposed. Furthermore, the average age of respondents was low as it was carried out online.

  3. Alex said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 9:48 pm

    I think face is one element of it. Part of the face is saying alphabet (western) is better.
    There are many other reasons and I will list them when I have more time.

    As for polls, I believe that if one explains the hows and whys and answers the questions of how it can be possible then the polls will change dramatically. I myself went through a short process of having my own questions answered. For me the biggest question answered logically by another was how to address homonyms.

    As for the others such as culture etc I'll list the answered i found reasonable when i have more time.

    Certainly the girl who bought the robot/machine to write her characters and essays and the people who invented the robots would be easily swayed, poll wise. If there wasn't a demand I doubt the inventors would take the time and energy to develop a prototype and then have that prototype made into a production product. One only need to go onto taobao to see all the different brands.

    Moreover how did the inventors figure out that there was a need in the first place? I suppose they are like the several middle aged mothers who have told me in their childhood they would tie pens together. So this is very common

    From my personal observations after speaking with maybe 80 or more parents, if one took the time to answer their doubts they would readily accept not having their kids tortured writing the same characters over and over again.

  4. Neil Kubler said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 10:32 pm

    I certainly agree with the general thrust of what this gentleman says, but I would point out that rather than one character having several different pronunciations or "readings," it's really a situation of several different spoken syllables that are written with the same character (to save characters, because Chinese characters are so difficult and there are already so many of them). This is much like the English words [pawlish] and [poalish] both being written as POLISH or [min'ut] and [mynute'] both being written as MINUTE. English, of course, is another language the orthography of which is badly in need of reform.

  5. Jenny Chu said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 10:49 pm

    Korea and Vietnam made the transition and everything seems fine.

  6. Alex said,

    March 5, 2019 @ 11:45 pm

    @Neil Kubler

    Totally agree that English has many issues that can pose problems to those who are non native and without a daily environment but its all relative.

    The issues with the Chinese reading and writing systems are not even in the same ball park.

    It affects math as well. My child's first grade math work book which has numerous word problems requires parents to help. With English if I know phonics and see a word that I haven't seen before its relatively easy to look up and remember. Then upon seeing it again the ability to recall is simple. This is not the case in Chinese. I see a word I have to scan with my phone or hand write it into an app. Then its not so easy to recall when I see it again. The amount of time it takes young children to absorb and then self read kids books on science for first graders is far greater than equivalent first grade English science books.

  7. alex said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 2:34 am

    @Jenny Chu

    Yeah the loss of culture one is the easiest to convince. In fact by being able to read more and have more time due to using pinyin they could perhaps learn even more about Chinese culture or take up calligraphy.

    What's crazy is there are some who claim one doesn't get the same emotions reading a passage if it weren't written in Chinese characters. They say you cant fully understand the passage. I asked is that what the Taiwanese say to you because you use simplified?

    To me its about trade offs. I'm sure not using characters there is something lost but compared to the benefits its a no brainer.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 9:37 am

    Alex: "English has many issues that can pose problems to those who are non native"
    I am a "non native" (I would have written "non-native") and, unlike many "natives" I know, I have no trouble differentiating "there", "their" and "they're". On the contrary, "non natives" who learn written and spoken English simultaneously have far fewer problems in this regard.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 10:42 am

    From an anonymous correspondent in Beijing:

    I think the hot-headed character-huggers are in a minority. Whenever I mention this problem to the average Chinese people I meet, including my highly educated colleagues, they just shrug and agree completely that the script is ridiculously hard. "But what can you do?" is the usual end of the conversation.

    Nowadays the taxi cab drivers all use GPS on their cell phones, and almost invariably they use the speech-to-text method, just talking into the phone, to enter in the characters. And a great many WeChat users have just switched over to voice message instead of characters. Usually the pattern is, characters for the first few formal contacts, and then when the relationship becomes more casual, the choice is voice message.

    So at least many, many Chinese are not feeling the frustration and hassle as much these days.

  10. MikeA said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 11:40 am

    This musing about the future (or present) could be so much better with an alphabetic or syllabic writing systems than with (not really) ideograms or a sort of compressed rebus is common. It would be more persuasive if the last few decades had not demonstrated a human yearning for compact single glyphs with agreed meanings. OK, maybe in the case of computer icons it's only really the designers who have that yearning, while the users are all "Well, what can you do?", but emoji sure seem to have tapped a rich vein of cultural group signalling. Of course, most of this tech is described as "intuitive", when it's actually merely "familiar" (until a new designer comes on board), but that's hardly a new issue.

  11. TIC said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 12:03 pm

    That's a very interesting observation, Cory L… It never occurred to me that some pesky aspects of English that tend to bedevil some native speakers — such as there/their/they're (homophone) spelling confusion — might tend to be less problematic to non-native speakers because, unlike native speakers, they learn written and spoken English simultaneously… Makes perfect sense to me and, in the absence of push-back against the notion, I'll take your word for it…

    Also, as an aside, it occurs to me now that such homophone-spelling confusion might (pertinent to a debate in the recent "Sinophone"-post's comment thread) be a good argument for the position that, in the EL concept of what a word is, its sound/pronunciation might take primacy over its spelling… Very interesting…

  12. Chris Button said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 1:14 pm

    This comment should not be taken as an appeal for the continued use of Chinese characters, but rather simply to clarify the notion of what may be considered "natural". To quote what I wrote on an separate LLog thread:

    While I am sympathetic to the relative ease of using an alphabet in promoting literacy (and am not necessarily arguing here against its promotion), it is nonetheless an artificial abstraction that separates the user's inherent sense of syllable structure from the written language. As a result, it is English spelling with all its irregularities (conditioned by enormous foreign influence and by the ever-shifting spoken word, combined with a reluctance to modify spelling as appropriate to maintain a degree of "regularity") that is driving the reader closer to a syllabic usage of English writing. In essence, the English alphabet encourages people to read it in a similar manner to how they would read the Chinese script. In that sense, any notion of alphabetic superiority goes out the window as English writing has essentially already reverted back to a more "natural" Chinese system.

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=25730#comment-1513560

  13. MonkeyBoy said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 2:02 pm

    I've noticed in displays of Chinese military equipment such as in parades that all of the missiles, transporters, etc. have large Latin character and number designations stenciled on them.

    I'm guessing that the Chinese military was one of the first organizations in China to adopt computers for inventory, logistics, and development and the early lack of Chinese character processing led to this Latin use.

  14. cliff arroyo said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 3:24 pm

    The best comparison isn't Chinese characters and (partly awful) English spelling, it's between languages that fundamentally reformed their script in the last century, especially cases like Vietnamese and Turkish (latin) and Mongolian (cyrillic).
    No one would seriously argue that the new scripts are ideal and don't have problems (including some loss of cultural… continuity). but for users the benefits seem clearly to greatly outweigh the problems and AFAIK there are no large groups of users of those languages promoting a return to the former scripts though they may still have decorative functions and be of interest to language historians…

  15. Bathrobe said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 5:27 pm

    @Chris Button

    the argument that vowels don't really exist beyond a schwa and a stressed variant

    Could you elaborate?

  16. Chris Button said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 6:29 pm

    @ Bathrobe

    I shouldn't have written "stressed" there and should have gone simply with a less specific term like "apophonic" or "ablaut" instead (although only in reference to the phonological shift).

    As for "ə/a" vertical vowel systems with schwa as the default "syllable" and /a/ as its ablaut variant (hence no real vowel system at all), it's something that I've written about in many comments on LLog over the past couple of years. Most recently, you might want to check out some of the comments on this thread starting here…

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=41832#comment-1560739

    and which then continue here…

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=41964#comment-1561097

  17. Jerry Packard said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 6:37 pm

    As my long-departed and much-respected friend Ron Walton used to say, it is up to the native users of the language whether their writing system should undergo reform, and if and when they so decide, I am there to help them.

    English orthography is sorely in need of reform — US children would learn to read much more quickly and easily with a regular phonetic script.

    And while we're at it, the irregularity in the spoken English numeration system starting from the number eleven through the teens causes them to fall radically behind their Chinese counterparts in early math learning.

    Author(s): Kevin F. Miller, Catherine M. Smith, Jianjun Zhu and Houcan Zhang (1995). Preschool Origins of Cross-National Differences in Mathematical Competence: The Role of Number-Naming Systems. Psychological Science, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 56-60.

    Should we change the English numeration system?

  18. Ricardo said,

    March 6, 2019 @ 11:40 pm

    One thing to note is that the countries mentioned above that have reformed their scripts (Vietnam, Korea, Turkey and Japan) had largely borrowed ones to begin with. This is not the case of China, which is probably another factor that adds to resistance to change.

    Someone commenting in other forum on the same issue mentioned that an advantage of the the Chinese script is that it poses no challenge to the dyslexic. This is probably worth taking into account when one considers that something like 75% of the prison population in the US suffers from dsylexia.

    I have to agree with the opinion of Ron Walton as expressed by @Jerry Packard. It's curious how the issue of the abolishment of the chinese script seems to arouse much more passion among foreigners than among the Chinese themselves. It seems like the former ardently want a revolution whereas the latter have been, for the most part, happy with reform.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 12:49 am

    We've said it before many times, the ones who want the revolution are Chinese themselves: Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhou Youguang, Ni Haishu…, and their forerunners go back to the late 19th century. Documentation exists in numerous previous LLog posts.

    And read the very first sentence of this post, where the author is identified as Chinese.

  20. cliff arroyo said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 1:37 am

    " It's curious how the issue of the abolishment of the chinese script "

    That's a bit dramatic, I certainly don't want to 'abolish' characters. But they require mountains of busy work to learn and mountains of busy work to maintain and mountains of effort to adapt to any kind of new or changing environment and still they lag in terms of efficiency, since even educated users tend to not know how to write many common characters (lots of examples on this blog).
    It would be more convenient for all concerned to carry out most daily business with a phonemic-based system (either something like bopomofo or pinyin) while those with an interest could maintain characters for their own sake.

  21. Alex said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 2:00 am

    @Coby Lubliner
    When I speak of non native, I am referring to those who don't have an active environment. Yes, the grammar of the local students is usually better than the average US natives who come here to teach.

    @MikeA
    I have yet to have heard of cases where people were made to draw emoticons and I'm willing to bet if you had to recognize precise definitions of 5000 emoticons and draw them rather than input them you might not do too well. People like emojis because they are easy. That said there are interesting articles that discuss how the same emoji means different things to different groups of people.

    @MonkeyBoy
    Yeah I am sure IT pushed many things to use the English alphabet I have seen that via my IT firm.

    Parking lot levels are A B C D etc and license plates use the alphabet. Elevators still have L, G PH and B. I'm willing to bet the next generation drivers use pinyin to recognize street names, its that or the authorities will need to make sure the names are within the common 1000 characters. Thank god for gps. People wont even listen to make a right at x y z. They will just hear the make a right in x meters. I often ask taxi cab drivers what street signs say during slow moving traffic. I also ask my company driver (he knows I ask because Im studying this topic so he doesn't feel shame) often enough the taxi drivers might say I cant see it (which could be as many don't wear much needed glasses but one learns quickly via body language if they just don't recognize street names.

    @cliff arroyo
    "No one would seriously argue that the new scripts are ideal and don't have problems (including some loss of cultural… continuity). but for users the benefits seem clearly to greatly outweigh the problems and AFAIK there are no large groups of users of those languages promoting a return to the former scripts though they may still have decorative functions and be of interest to language historians…"

    Totally agree, Im willing to bet after one generation of pinyin no serious group would be promoting a return to Chinese characters.

    @Jerry Packard
    As mentioned, its all relative. A good analogy to your learning numerals is the English measurement systems. After moving here I totally agree its ridiculous. I learned this as I had to teach my son as its our goal to have him go to school in the US for 8th or 9th grade. That said, perhaps it took only a few hours to teach him and another few hours to review spread apart a month. Perhaps 15 hours in all as there were many workbooks.

    When I think about it, I say to myself its worth the 15 hours to keep an unique aspect of American culture. Is the system efficient? No. but to me the trade off of 15 hours is worth it to keep football in yards etc.
    Learning an entire vocabulary with an non efficient script is not worth it given the trade off. Yes that is my opinion.

    As for Professor Mair's anonymous correspondent in Beijing ""But what can you do?" is the usual end of the conversation." Yeah I hear that a lot mei banfa.

    I hope after my kids are a little bit older to dedicate some more resources and time to building a pinyin based web learning platform because I believe in response to Ricardo the change might start with the tens millions of Chinese like me who grew up outside of China and it will drive China to accelerate the change. As the locals will see more Chinese outside of China speaking Chinese and knowing more history and culture than those within China on a percentage basis.

  22. dainichi said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 2:20 am

    > Someone commenting in other forum on the same issue mentioned that an advantage of the the Chinese script is that it poses no challenge to the dyslexic.

    That's a statement just asking to be fact-checked. According to Wikipedia

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthographies_and_dyslexia

    shallow orthographies tend to cause less problems for the dyslexic. About Chinese characters it specifically says:

    "Chinese children can exhibit a more severe form of dyslexia as opposed to those learning literacy using an alphabetic script"

  23. Chris Button said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 3:10 am

    English orthography is sorely in need of reform — US children would learn to read much more quickly and easily with a regular phonetic script.

    When I was teaching pronunciation classes to non-native English speakers at a community college, I was given the opportunity to teach English spelling as well. I accepted with trepidation and yet ended up being amazed by its regularity. Sure, it's not without many irregularities too, but with (quite) a few rules in place covering possible variations, it's surprising how much the majority of spellings do slot neatly into one place or another. What in fact surprised me even more was that I couldn't find an actual "Spelling Dictionary" as a complement to my trusted "Longman Pronunciation Dictionary". As a result, I now have the compilation of such a volume as one of my many pipe dreams to compile after I've completed my "Derivational Dictionary of Chinese and Japanese Characters"…

  24. Ricardo said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 4:18 am

    @Victor Mair

    I'm aware that many leaders and intellectuals have proposed replacing the Chinese script with a phonemic-based one. I also know that there are many individual Chinese, such as the author of the post, who have their own objections to it. For this reason I chose my words carefully when I referred to the 'Chinese as a whole' calling for such radical change in the writing system.

    What I wished to say is: Can anyone point to a poll which shows a majority of Chinese people in favor of replacing the character-based system? If not, while one can point to certain Chinese individuals who are in favour of it, it's not very accurate to say that the Chinese want their own Alphabet Revolution .

    On this score, one notices that the list of prominent Chinese who called for doing away with the sinographic script are largely historical figures. They were mostly reformers and revolutionaries who felt that the modernization of China was being held back by a script that was not fit for purpose. Now that modernization has been achieved (or, at least, is well on course) without the need to revolutionize the script, can anyone make up an similar list of present-day leaders and intellectuals who feel that this is pressing issue? I suspect not, largely because that historical moment has passed.

    @cliff arroyo

    You are right to say that 'abolish' is too strong a word. But without regular use, it seems obvious to me that knowledge of the script would effectively die (outside of academic and other small circles). I also think that the issue of forgetting how to write characters is somewhat overstated, since what is required in most cases is just some quick brushing up rather than a starting again from scratch.

    I would also like to know whether the exertion of learning the characters, especially at a young age, doesn't have some positive benefits for cognitive development, a kind of mental weight-lifting, as it were. I read or heard somewhere that there is a measurable increase in IQ associated with the process, which wouldn't surprise me. If one can memorize a few hundred characters, then the 12-times table must be relatively easy.

  25. Ricardo said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 4:27 am

    @dainich

    Fair point. While I have not investigated the claim myself, I think the key issue then would be the numbers involved. In other words: What percentage of Chinese children exhibit dsylexia when dealing with the current script? What percentage of these children would exhibit dsylexia when dealing with a phonemic-based script? My uneducated guess is that the first percentage would be smaller.

  26. Alex said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 4:52 am

    @Ricardo said

    "Now that modernization has been achieved (or, at least, is well on course) "

    For whom? For half the first tier and second tier city kids? What about the vast majority of rural kids? I'm willing to bet that less than 25 percent of the children could tingxie the 3000 characters needed to read 5 years after 8th grade. If thats the case why make them learn it? I suppose because there is "some" benefit.

    I guess I should take the stairs up the 20 floors a day and hand wash my clothes as I'm sure there is some benefit to that too.

    Are you in China? Do you see how the kids suffer? Can you hand write Chinese? If so how many characters at your max could you tingxie?

    As far as polls I'm willing to bet the majority of kids 1st through 12th would eliminate tingxie. Im also willing to bet the majority of the parents would vote to replace it with read the character and write the correct pinyin.

  27. Ricardo said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 7:27 am

    @Alex

    My individual case is probably not very relavant to the issue at hand. But to answer a few of your questions:

    I have lived in China for almost 9 years. Yes, I can hand write Chinese, and at my peak strength, could probably write 3000 characters, though not particularly beautifully.

    Do you dispute that China is on course to modernizing? In a generation it has gone from 30% to 51% urban and that trend is likely to continue. There are fewer and fewer of the kids you claim are suffering which, as I pointed out in my previous post, makes the problem less and less urgent.

    >> As far as polls I'm willing to bet the majority of kids 1st through 12th would eliminate tingxie. Im also willing to bet the majority of the parents would vote to replace it with read the character and write the correct pinyin.

    I don't really see anything in support of your assumption here. While the kids might like to get rid of the tingxie in the same spririt in which they might also like to get rid of their math's homework, I'm skeptical that this is true of the parents. In any case, show the me the numbers and I will happily the concede the point.

    >>I guess I should take the stairs up the 20 floors a day and hand wash my clothes as I'm sure there is some benefit to that too.

    I think you misunderstood my point here. I was asking, objectively, whether there is any benefit to the mental effort required to learn the characters. However, I don't think that the answer to this question should on its own decide the issue.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 7:27 am

    For those who are still not clear on this point, "Alex" is the Chinese author of this guest post who lives in China with his Chinese wife and whose Chinese children are enrolled in Chinese schools.

  29. Alex said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 8:31 am

    @ricardo,

    So at your height you could tingxie 3000 characters, how long ago was that? how many years did you study or what is your history with Chinese? Was that your major?

    Finally more importantly how many characters can you tingxie now?

    On the note that kids aren't suffering, feel free to ask any parent you know if they every yelled at their child about bihua and handwriting and the practice of writing characters ask them if they were ever yelled at? I certainly know my wife has done it.

    I assume watching paint dry isn't torture either but for children it is. The time used to write characters over and over again denies them opportunities to learn other things, play, and sleep.

    As for subjects such as math I'd have to imagine not many children would say no more math or any other subject.

    I work for free as a consultant when needed with the school systems here. I founded an IT enterprise with locations in 8 cities with over 800 staff members. I never hesitate to ask them these issues or spot ask any of them if they can write a character. Ive even printed out 50 copies of words in pinyin and asked the sz staff to fill out to see how many characters they can get right. Now the majority have bachelor degrees in comp sci and many have masters degrees.

    I also teach children and adults for free in my garden complex and have donated a free library of over 3500 English books. So when I asked 35 parents and 2 elementary school Chinese language teachers in the public primary school to test them if they are able to hand write the word 毽 of 毽子 an object they all know since childhood and not a single person including my wife who was a People's Representative and an ex board member of a HK listed public company could do it, then I know there is an issue if they expect children to.

    As for modernizing yes. That's a sensitive subject since I live here so I wont respond.

    Do you think its a good thing kids here are forced to turn in hand written reports all the way through 12th grade? Just so they are forced to hand write in the hopes that it slows down the process of forgetting? Do you think its pretty stupid that kids type their reports on a word processor so they can easily edit and make stylistic changes and then print it out and then copy it by hand word for word so they can satisfy the turning in a hand written report?

    I guess yes, they are not "suffering" but wasting time copying by hand the several hundred character to 5000 character papers that they just printed. Does that not seem idiotic to you?

    Perhaps I am too close to this as I see my kids must constantly make trade offs such as not learning more programming which they enjoy or enjoy learning more of Bach's Goldberg Variations on the piano which my younger son enjoys. The constant lecturing about poor penmanship is also insane.

    I am not the only parent who complains. Many had to give up piano or an activity after many years because there just wasn't enough time.

    Modern kids here are packed unlike the generations before who had the leisure to spend hours on hand writing characters.

    These days many learn English since preschool, then they have art classes, dance classes, instrument class, sports class. so what goes is sleep or dropping things they enjoy. No one would consider dropping those things to learn how to wash things by hand or take the stairs is worth it. People can understand if you had to drop something for science or math, anything but writing characters 20 times to learn it just to forget it 10 years later.

    Sorry for the stream of conscious writing. Very busy these days.

  30. Ricardo said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 9:33 am

    @Alex

    I'm not going to answer your above points one by one. I don't think you read my post carefully enough. But to reiterate my general point:

    I don't deny that there aren't many good reasons to switch to a phonemic-based script. But to actually effect such a change, you need to show that there is a popular will for it, that it is something that the broad majority of Chinese people want. Anecdotes and arguments from authority are no substitute for that. I can only assume there nobody here has such data in their favor or they would have surely made use of it by now.

  31. Jerry Packard said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 10:46 am

    Re: dyslexia in Chinese, there is no demonstrable benefit being a reader of Chinese. Some references (I would post the docs to LL but don't know how):

    Shu, H., McBride-Chang, C., Wu, S. and Liu, H. (2006). Understanding Chinese Developmental Dyslexia: Morphological Awareness as a Core Cognitive Construct. Journal of Educational Psychology 98, 2006, 122–133.

    Wu, S., Packard, J.L., Shu, H. (2009). Morphological Deficit and Dyslexia Subtypes in Chinese. In Law, Sam-Po, Weekes, Brendan and Wong, Anita (Eds). Language Disorders in Speakers of Chinese. New York: Multilingual Matters. 112-137.

    The parameters for dyslexia in the two languages are largely the same — the biggest difference between dyslexia in Chinese and English is that in English it is primarily phonology-based while in Chinese it is primarily morphology-based.

  32. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 1:17 pm

    Chris Button: What's a spelling dictionary, if it's not the same as current dictionaries? One where you input or somehow look up a transcription of the pronunciation and see the spelling or the possible spellings?

  33. Alex said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 3:57 pm

    @Ricardo

    "you need to show that there is a popular will for it, that it is something that the broad majority of Chinese people want. "

    You're right! Perhaps we should ask the Confucius Institute to administer the poll and let us know the results!

    I heard there's a place where there are an eager million people ready to learn Chinese characters, that should help the results.

  34. David Marjanović said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 6:39 pm

    That's a very interesting observation, Cory L… It never occurred to me that some pesky aspects of English that tend to bedevil some native speakers — such as there/their/they're (homophone) spelling confusion — might tend to be less problematic to non-native speakers because, unlike native speakers, they learn written and spoken English simultaneously… Makes perfect sense to me and, in the absence of push-back against the notion, I'll take your word for it…

    I can confirm it, too. And not just for English, but also for French, where native speakers confuse e.g. the homophonous endings -er and é(e)(s) all the time while nonnative learners tend not to.

  35. Chris Button said,

    March 7, 2019 @ 8:49 pm

    @ Jerry Friedman

    Hah – good question. I was thinking along the lines of looking up words in the usual way but then the entries allocating spellings to specific rules (e.g "live" as /lɪv/ with final "e" being present since "v" cannot end a word, or as /laɪv/ with final "e" in its more general use of designating "i" as /aɪ/ rather than /ɪ/), or to their etymological backgrounds (e.g. linking "know" with "acknowledge" to bring out the "k" sound now lost in the former).

  36. Philip Anderson said,

    March 8, 2019 @ 8:25 am

    @Ricardo
    You say that a change of script would need to be wanted by a majority of the Chinese people. But that's not script changes, or even spelling reforms come about. They are almost always government initiatives resulting in government diktat, possibly even multilateral agreements between say the German-speaking or Lusophone countries; Unified Cornish is an exception, being a non-state language.

    Would a government push through unpopular changes? It might be difficult in a western democracy, but would the Chinese Government really let its people veto its decision? I don't think that is how decisions are made there. I don't think it would negotiate with other Chinese-speaking countries either. But if it mandated newspapers and publishers to publish in a different script, they would.

  37. Ricardo said,

    March 8, 2019 @ 9:40 am

    @Philip Anderson

    This is a good point, and I can't say for sure what would happen if the Chinese government mandated a change of script. But it's worth noting that the Chinese government is in it's own way is very sensitive to public opinion. For instance, the second round of character simplification was withdrawn because of its unpopularity despite the support of the press, which shows that there are limits to how far the government can go if the people refuse to accept the changes:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_round_of_simplified_Chinese_characters

    The other thing to note is that there presently is no real push for this from any influential sector of the Chinese society. As I said earlier, although it was once thought by several leaders (Mao, Lu Xun etc) that radically changing the script would be a key step towards modernization, that has proved not to be case. While some people continue to think the change is desirable, it's difficult to argue that it's urgent.

  38. Victor Mair said,

    March 10, 2019 @ 10:05 am

    For those who think that Sinitic languages are strictly determined by morphosyllabic Sinographs, here are just a few things to consider:

    "OMG moments induced by allegro forms in Pekingese" (1/26/12)

    "Surprising Transformations of a Beijing Street Name" (1/29/11)

    "Russian Loans in Northeast and Northwest Mandarin: The Power of Script to Influence Pronunciation" (1/23/11)

    "Variant pronunciations of the word for "brothers" in Mandarin" (9/25/13)

    "Pekingese vs. Putonghua" (3/15/15)

    "Pushing Pekingese" (11/10/13)

    "Pekingese put-downs" (11/7/13)

    "Kiss kiss / BER: Chinese photoshop victim" (7/22/14)

    "Sayable but not writable" (9/12/13) (see particularly the last few comments)

    Etc., etc.

    It would be wonderful if we had a similar level of knowledge and studies of the thousands of other spoken Sinitic topolects. Instead, the vast proportion of scholarly energies is devoted to Sinographically determined, regularized, standard language. We really know very little about Sinitic languages in the wild.

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