Of toads, modernization, and simplified characters

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Considering the fact that we've had a lot of traffic on spelling bees, character amnesia, simplified characters, and whatnot on Language Log recently, it's not surprising that the following article by Dan Kedmey would appear in Time yesterday (Aug. 15, 2013), though without any mention of Language Log:  "What the Word 'Toad' Can Tell You About China’s Modernization".

At first I was going to just write a short note about this article and add it as a comment to this post from a week ago.  But the more I read through the article, the more annoyed I became by how riddled with errors it is.  So I've decided to write this post listing some of the more egregious mistakes, lest innocent readers be led astray.  After all, Time still commands a substantial readership, so the magazine needs to be held accountable for the accuracy of its statements, even when writing about something so supposedly quaint as Chinese — which, by now, certainly should no longer be viewed as exotic at all, since China has become very much a part of the global economy.

Where to start?  I get a headache just thinking of all the misstatements in Kedmey's article.  Well, let's begin with the "toad" business.

In Mandarin, the word for "toad" can be written with two syllables or three syllables, háma or làiháma.  As you will soon see, both characters of the two syllable form have the "bug / insect / worm / serpent" radical (#142 in the Kangxi system).  The three syllable variant of the word adds a character signifying "leprosy, scabies, mange" (note the "sickness; disease" radical [no. 104 in the Kangxi system]) at the front to suggest the warty skin of the toad.

Here are the simplified and the traditional forms of the three character word for "toad" in Mandarin, which also covers the two syllable word (the last two syllables of the three syllable variant):

simplified:  癞蛤蟆

traditional:  癩蛤蟆

You probably won't be able to tell them apart because the strokes of the first character are so jammed together as to be virtually indistinguishable to the naked eye.  The only difference between the two forms is that the bottom right component of the first character is 贝 in the simplified version and 貝 in the traditional version, a savings of three strokes (4 strokes versus 7 strokes).

This gives a total of 18-12-16 = 46 strokes for the simplified form and 21-12-17 = 50 for the traditional form (although the simplified and traditional versions of the third character look identical, when written properly by hand, the traditional version has one extra stroke).

I've gone through this so laboriously because it is necessary to set the stage for one of the biggest flubs of the article.  Namely, Kedmey cites Shi Dingxu, the head of Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies, as tallying up "the number of pen strokes it would take to write the two traditional characters that make up the word. 'Nineteen strokes,' he concludes."

Lots of things wrong here.  Whether Shi was talking about the two character variant of the word (29 strokes) or the three character variant of the word (50 strokes) as written in the traditional form, there's no way he could come up with only 19 strokes!  Moreover, Kedmey, perhaps following Shi, talks about the two character variant of the word for "toad", but all of the reports I've seen from the mainland about the writing contest cite only the three character variant, and it would surely make sense that the sponsors of the program would want to try to catch the contestants with the difficult first character, since the last two characters are relatively easy for students who are diligent about practicing their handwriting.

Since the Guójiā yǔyán wénzì gōngzuò wěiyuánhuì 国家语言文字工作委员会 (State Language Commission) is the co-sponsor of this show with China Central Television (CCTV), it would be unthinkable for the producers to make the traditional forms the standard for correct writing.  In the PRC, the simplified forms are the standard; the traditional forms are viewed as something out of the past that are simply no longer current.

I have watched films of the two shows that hold such character writing contests in China.  The names of the shows and everything else related to them are strictly in simplified forms.  Although upon rare occasions the judges will discuss the construction of the traditional forms of the characters, the students are not expected to know them.

For instance, on Hànzì yīngxióng 汉字英雄 ("Chinese Character Heroes"), I saw fénmù ("grave") written as 坟墓 (simplified) instead of 墳墓 (traditional).

On Zhōngguó hànzì tīngxiě dàhuì 中国汉字听写大会 ("China conference on Chinese character dictation"), we can see jiànxiē ("intermittent") as simplified 间歇, not traditional 間歇, and diānqié ("belladonna") as 颠茄, not 顛茄 (one of the contestants miswrote the first character as chàn / zhàn 颤 ["quiver; tremble; shake"]).

Kedmey quotes Zhang Longxi, a professor of comparative literature at City University of Hong Kong, to the effect that Chinese characters aren't really as hard as foreigners make them out to be, particularly when we are talking about the simplified characters.  But that begs the question because: 1. it isn't the foreigners who are complaining about how hard the characters are but the Chinese who have written the reports about these character writing contests, and 2. the contests were strictly on simplified characters, and still the contestants and particularly the audiences bungled them.

I personally find the simplified characters much more difficult to write than the traditional ones, not just because I was trained first for about twenty years on the traditional forms before being exposed to the simplified forms, but more importantly because the simplified forms lack many of the historical phonological and structural clues of the traditional characters.  (I or someone else can give an example or two in the comments if anyone is interested.)

Kedmey goes on to say, "The simplified characters were introduced by a group of academics at the turn of the century who launched a campaign to strip the complexity out of the language, pruning the characters of superfluous strokes."  Whether he means the turn of the 20th century or the turn of the 21st century, Kedmey is far off the mark to assert that this was when characters were officially simplified (unofficially people have been simplifying the characters for thousands of years).  In actuality, the official promulgation of simplified characters took place after the founding of the PRC in the middle of the 20th century.

If you read the rest of the long paragraph where Kedmey makes this blunder, you will find that it is premised upon an even more colossal misconception whereby Kedmey confuses language and script.  By mentioning the May 4th Movement of 1919, which included strong and successful advocacy of the replacement of classical by vernacular for written Chinese, which had nothing to do with the replacement of traditional characters by simplified characters, it is evident that Kedmey has confounded language for script.  This makes everything he says about Beowulf and Chaucer, Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare, and so on in the next paragraph totally irrelevant.

Near the beginning of the third paragraph, Kedmey claims:  "The Chinese call these occasional slips of memory 'character amnesia,' and it happens often enough that they have an old saying for it: 'The moment you take up the pen, you forget how to write the character.'"  He's got it all backwards and upside down.

It's true that Chinese have an expression to describe the feeling one has when one can't remember how to write a character, and that is indeed “tí bǐ wàng zì 提笔忘字" ("picking up a pen and forgetting how to write a character").  Though the phenomenon has certainly been around for a long time, probably since just after the invention of the script, I don't know how old this particular expression is (why must Chinese sayings always be old?).  One thing I do know for sure, and that is that it is not the Chinese who have called these not-so-"occasional" slips of memory "character amnesia".  It was yours truly who invented the term, and he did so right here on Language Log on July 22, 2010.

The Chinese do not yet have a fixed translation of the term "character amnesia", though I've seen many different attempts to render it.  I hope that they'll settle on something like hànzì jiànwàngzhèng 漢字健忘症, since jiànwàngzhèng 健忘症 is the technical term for "amnesia" in Chinese.

Meanwhile, I checked Bǎidù fānyì (百度翻譯), the online translation service of Baidupedia, for "character amnesia" and this is what I found:

Definition:  tí bǐ wàng zì 提笔忘字 ("picking up a pen and forgetting how to write a character"; N.B.:  that is an adequate explanation of "character amnesia", but it is not a translation of the term per se)

Explanatory example:  Victor mair, professor of chinese language and literature at the university of pennsylvania, said character amnesia is part of a "natural process of evolution".

Wéikèduō-méiěr shì Měiguó Bīnxīfǎníyǎ dàxué Hàn yǔyán wénhuà jiàoshòu, tā shuō, wénzì jiànwàngzhèng shì yī zhǒng zìrán de jìnhuà guòchéng 维克多-梅尔是美国宾夕法尼亚大学汉语言文化教授,他说,文字健忘症是一种自然的进化过程。

Wéikèduō-méiěr 维克多-梅尔 is the PRC-style transcription of my name; my real Chinese name is Méi Wéihéng 梅維恆 (first character is for "Mai[r]", second is for "Vi[ctor]", and the third is for "Hen[ry]").

wénzì jiànwàngzhèng 文字健忘症  is an ad hoc translation for "character amnesia"

Much could be said about the relationship between characters (simplified versus traditional), information technology, vernacularization, etc. and modernization, but Kedmey, in essence, has said nothing of significance in this regard.

Kedmey doesn't mention computers and cell phones (and their concomitant pinyin [romanization] input methods) at all, which are indubitably a primary cause (arguably the chief cause) of character amnesia.  Instead, he strangely seems to attribute the decreased ability to write characters to simplification.  Perhaps a case might be made for that, but Kedmey hasn't shown how simplification has had an adverse impact upon the ability to write characters or upon modernization in China.  After all, modernization — judging from the title — was the mission he set for himself in this article, so he should have taken it upon himself to demonstrate some of the ways in which simplification promoted (or held back) modernization.

All in all, this is a very sloppy and irresponsible article, one unbecoming Time magazine.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]


  1. Anschel said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    Although it seems clear that the article is pretty terribly researched (I'm always shocked that journalists don't even fact-check with Google or Wikipedia) I have heard of "turn of the century" being used to describe the middle of the century, when the first half turns to the second. It's possible that this is what the author intended when he said that simplification came at the turn of the century.

  2. languageandhumor said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 11:25 am

    Anschel- If some people use "turn of the century" to mean the middle of the century, Time magazine would be required to explain that unconventional meaning to its readers. But the article isn't talking about the 1950s and character reform; it's talking about the 1910s (and 1920s) and language reform.

    To elaborate on what Prof. Mair said above, the article makes this ridiculous assertion:

    "With each stroke that was removed from the characters, readers lost a cord that connected them to their written past. Works that predate the movement, anything roughly 100 years or older, became increasingly unintelligible to modern readers."

    We are supposed to believe that learning simplified characters (often very minor changes or none at all for many characters) makes it hard to understand older written Chinese, instead of the truth that knowing only 20th/21st century vernacular Mandarin makes it hard to understand Literary Chinese, with its different words, meanings, and grammar.

  3. cameron said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

    I don't think anyone uses "turn of the century" to mean mid-century. The reporter has plainly gotten completely confused and has conflated the switch to writing in the vernacular rather than classical Chinese and the introduction of the simplified characters. He thinks these completely different events were one and the same.

  4. Fan said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    Chinese has 癞蛤蟆 (laihama) and 蟾蜍 (chanchu) for toad. 蟾 has 19 strokes and was the character tested in this competition. The competition is Chinese _Character_ Dictation, not Chinese _Word_ Dictation.

  5. languageandhumor said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    With great magnification, I see that there is a second difference between simplified 癞蛤蟆 and traditional 癩蛤蟆. The piece above the shell (贝 / 貝) is ク vs. 刀.

    But the forms of this character are actually irrelevant because the "19 strokes" error is about the 2-character version, with no difference between simplified and traditional characters. The "19" seems to be a simple typo for "29"; Time magazine should do better, of course.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

    @language and humor

    You're right about that second difference. I noticed it, but didn't call it to the attention of readers because it doesn't change the number of strokes. But I'm very glad that you have pointed it out.

  7. julie lee said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    Victor Mair's LLog says:

    "I personally find the simplified characters much more difficult to write than the traditional ones, not just because I was trained first for about twenty years on the traditional forms before being exposed to the simplified forms, but more importantly because the simplified forms lack many of the historical phonological and structural clues of the traditional characters."

    Exactly my feeling. Also, the simplified system is not consistent, which means I have to keep looking up the dictionary (of simplified forms) to write simplified forms. For instance:

    (traditional) 葉 ye "leaf"
    (simplified) 叶
    (here the simplified character for "leaf" gives no clue to the traditional form)

    (traditional) 陰陽 yin yang "yinyang"
    (simplified) 阴阳
    (traditional) 湯藥 tang yao "medicinal potion"
    (simplified) 汤药
    (here the same element in 陽 and 湯 are written two ways in 阳 and 汤)

    (trad.) 湯藥 tang yao "medicinal potion"
    (simplified) 汤药
    (trad.) 快樂 kuai le "happy"
    (simp) 快乐
    (here the same element 樂 is simplified two ways, 约 and 乐)

  8. Sima said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

    Dear Victor,

    It appears that the author has made the mistake of conflating character reform and the move away from Literary Chinese. This, combined with Fan's observation, would seem to explain most of the article.

    Unfortunate, perhaps, but I'm afraid this is what the press does. You might have higher hopes for our media, but this is pretty typical, and pretty much always has been. The only really surprising thing is that many of us, after noting the lack of comprehension on the part of the journalist, will turn the page, read about evil terrorists, google spying on us, or events leading up to the disappearance of Mrs Jones' cat…and again willingly suspend our disbelief.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 3:56 pm


    Perhaps Prof. Shi, not having read the reports of the contest, was thinking of the first character of chánchú 蟾蜍. But it's all over the Web that the miswritten word was làihāma 癞蛤蟆, not chánchú 蟾蜍.

    Although the contest is indeed a test of the ability of students to write characters, the characters are always presented in the context of a word or polysyllabic expression read aloud. Nobody would be able to take from dictation characters presented in single syllable isolation for the simple reason that there would be far too many homophones for them to distinguish the one in question. In fact, if you watch the videos of the contest, you will see that the judges are not interested in any particular character in the polysyllabic expressions they read out to the students. Rather, the students may make a mistake on any one or more of the characters in a polysyllabic expression, and the judges will rule that if they do so they have failed on that round.

    If you google on hànzì tīngxiě chánchú 汉字 听写 蟾蜍 ("Chinese character dictation toad"), you will get 5,140 hits (the numbers may vary somewhat each time the search is carried out, but will be roughly in this ballpark), and a considerable number of these will actually be talking about làihāma 癞蛤蟆 because of all the buzz from the dictation contest.

    In contrast, if you google on hànzì tīngxiě làihāma 汉字 听写 癞蛤蟆 you will get around 36,800 hits, and many (perhaps most) of them will be about the failure of contestants and audience members to write this word correctly in the contest. I encourage you to read some of the reports.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 7:22 pm


    Normally I wouldn't go to the trouble of pointing out a few peccadillos in a journalistic piece, but this Time article is so ridden with outlandish bungles that I felt it was my duty to point them out. Chinese is often terribly distorted in the media, but this piece has hit a new nadir.

  11. Dave Cragin said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 1:09 am

    The pinyin input systems also can have an impact on non-Chinese who learn the language (or least with this non-Chinese), i.e., I can type a note in characters much more easily than I can read one.

    When I'm writing a note, I know what I want to say and the associated pinyin. The PC helps greatly in offering the appropriate characters which I can often recognize in context. In contrast, when reading text I didn't write, I often resort to converting the characters into pinyin (rather than just using google translate because I'm trying to learn the language).

    This the opposite of my experiences with European languages in that I could read them much more readily than I could ever write them. I can't claim character amnesia because I'm still in the process of learning characters. Learning to read characters has been a interesting endeavor.

  12. Simon P said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 1:49 am

    @Julie Lee
    "(trad.) 湯藥 tang yao "medicinal potion"
    (simplified) 汤药(trad.)
    快樂 kuai le "happy"
    (simp) 快乐
    (here the same element 樂 is simplified two ways, 约 and 乐)"

    Though I agree with you in general, in this case 葯 is an established variant character of 藥, so it was more a matter of deciding on a standard. PRC chose to simplify 葯 whilst 藥 became the standard in HK and Taiwan (I think. I'm not sure if 葯 is commonly used anywhere today).

    On topic: I wonder how this sort of competition would look in Hong Kong, where very few people use a phonetic input method. Me and my girlfriend write to each other using handwriting recognition on the phone to write SMS to each other, and though I use a Jyutping input system when I write on a keyboard, most HKers seem to use a stroke-based method like Chong Kit/Cangjie.

  13. Daniel said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    @languageandhumour: I don't think this is a straightforward traditional vs. simplified issue. For traditional characters, some fonts use 刀+貝, while others use ク+貝. I'm not sure why this is; perhaps it has something to do with fonts originating in different parts of East Asia where different forms have been adopted as standard? For the simplified characters, all fonts seem to use ク+贝.

    Just by coincidence, this afternoon I happened to be reading about leprosy in some Tokugawa printed books in which the character is clearly written as 疒+束+頁, which is historically a very widespread variant. I suspect that many Chinese people today would probably mistakenly use 頁 in characters such as 賴, 懶, or 癩, just because 頁 is so much more common than 負 as the right-hand half of a character. If the media reports are counting this as incorrect and using it as evidence that "most Chinese adults cannot correctly write the word for 'toad'," they are giving an exaggerated impression of how difficult it is to write the character, since most readers would not only readily understand the non-standard form but would probably not even notice it.

    (Parenthetical remark #1: none of the media reports that I looked at addressed the issue of 疒+束+頁, which leads me to suspect that they are deliberately ignoring it in order to make the problem seem worse than it really is. Somebody who has been following the story more closely can correct me if I am wrong about this.)

    (Parenthetical remark #2: I was curious about why the right-hand half of 賴 is 負, and found that according to Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 the character is constructed from 剌+貝 rather than 束+負. (賴。贏也。从貝剌聲。) Resident oracle bone experts, please feel free to comment!)

    (Parenthetical remark #3: In the past few years of reading Ming, Qing and Tokugawa printed medical books, I don't think I have ever encountered the form 葯 in the main body text. I have seen it a couple of times in manuscripts or in the calligraphic prefaces to printed books, but even in there, 藥 is much more common. I would therefore be inclined to call 葯 a "historically attested variant" rather than an "established variant," but it probably isn't worth quibbling too much over the terminology.)

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    @Simon P

    I suspect that even shape-based methods like Chong Kit/Cangjie would have a negative impact on the ability of HKers to handwrite characters correctly for the simple reason that the systems of decomposition / analysis and entry that they employ are not the same as what one uses when writing characters by hand.

    I have a question for you. If you think that handwriting recognition on your phone for SMS is superior or more convenient, why do you use Jyutping on a keyboard at all? Couldn't you get a handwriting recognition pad for your computer? Since you use both handwriting recognition and Jyutping, how would you compare the two? Which do you prefer overall, and why? Finally, why do use Jyutping instead of Chong Kit/Cangjie when writing on a keyboard?

    It would also be good if we get some input from readers in Taiwan. What are the proportions of users of Cangjie and bopomofo? Are people using Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan now? What are the reasons for their preferences?

    Whatever the case for Hong Kong and Taiwan, we do know that the overwhelming preference in the Mainland is for Pinyin entry.

  15. Mark Young said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    Off topic, but I wondered about this:

    //my real Chinese name is Méi Wéihéng 梅維恆 (first character is for "Mai[r]", second is for "Vi[ctor]", and the third is for "Hen[ry]").//

    How did you get your "real" Chinese name? Is "Wéihéng" how you are normally addressed by those who would use your given name? I'm interested in the fact that your given name is translated into two characters. I recall that a Japanese acquaintance at UMich said that his friends told him before he went to America that he needed to pick out a short version of his name because "Americans can't handle names with more than two syllables." I'm wondering if there's a more general problem of people finding it hard to deal with long "foreign" names….

  16. hanmeng said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 11:19 am

    I heartily agree with Victor & julie regarding the difficulty of writing simplified characters. For instance:
    车 vs. 車
    东 vs. 专

  17. hanmeng said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 11:21 am

    I meant
    东 vs. 東
    专 vs. 專

  18. 康邁克 said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    I'm a long-term resident of Taiwan.
    Taiwanese majority use 注音input, a minority use 倉頡 or 手寫 but I know several who use both. In previous years 無蝦咪, Taiwanese for 沒什麼, was a popular input method, but I don't see it much anymore. I personally usea mix of 注音、手寫、漢語拼音, as some have advantages over the others. I'm obviously having trouble on my phone at the moment typing in this form.
    I personally detest simplified and immediatelystart to avoid them when encountered, but I've still had to read a lot of books in simplifiednow and then.
    Regarding 賴 and 癩, you should know that traditional characters can be divided into new and old forms, the new forms are simplified themselves. The character with 刀 is the older more correct form, the newer form is easier to write.a very common example if you read traditional is the difference in print of 真and 為 compared to how children are taught to write them. (And my phone is typing the new forms here), in other words we all get used to a written versus typed form.
    I should also mention that the typeface used in Hong Kong publishing is so predictable and easy to recognize, I often stop in the middle of glancing through a book in Taipei to look at the place of publication, only to be reassured it is HK. I can't explain what it is in the characters, but they distinctly look HK.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

    @Mark Young

    My Chinese name was given to me over forty years by Tang Haitao and Yuan Naiying. It was customary at that time for most people studying Chinese names to be given a one syllable surname and a two syllable personal name

  20. Dave Cragin said,

    August 17, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

    @Mark Young – To answer the questions you posed: In terms of "real names", English names often have a standard Chinese equivalent: David = Dawei 大卫, Mike = Maike 迈克 etc. Almost any educated Chinese will know the equivalent. Movie stars & sports celebrities, such as Michael Jordan, have a standard translation for their full name (Maike Qiaodan).

    Those who would normally call me David readily use Dawei. Initially, most show extra respect by calling by my Chinese last name and Mr. (xiansheng). Students use my last name & Professor (I teach at Peking U every year).

    I think it is interesting that China gives names to foreign celebrities. Are there other countries that do this? (I've never heard that Japan did this?)

  21. Travis said,

    August 19, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

    @Dave Cragin – I'm not sure that Japan gives entirely different names to foreign celebrities, but they certainly do write out and pronounce foreign names in a Japanese fashion. Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) becomes Ko Kintou, in accordance with the Japanese reading of those characters, and Brad Pitt becomes Buraddo Pitto (ブラッド・ピット), a Japanese katakana approximation of the English pronunciation. Then, this is sometimes shortened to the diminutive "Bura Pi" (ブラピ), though generally only on celebrity variety shows, in conversations between young women, or the like, the same sorts of contexts where, in the US, you might hear abbreviations like "Brangelina" for the couple Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie; I don't imagine that "BuraPi" would be used in more serious contexts.

    Whether any of this counts as giving "different" names to foreign celebrities, I leave an open question.

    As for the topic of traditional vs. simplified characters, I don't know very many simplified characters yet, but my chief go-to example of the loss of historical markers, or whatever you want to call it, is the character for "love," "ai". Though it may be too small to see here, the traditional character, 愛, incorporates the character 心 for "heart," while the simplified character, 爱, does not. Thus, an element of the character directly related to its meaning is excised.

    A better example might be any one of those where the simplification or elimination of a radical removes the indication of either the meaning or the pronunciation (reading) of the character; I cannot count the times I didn't really "know" a character, but could figure it out based on the radicals; without that, you're lost. But I don't know any particularly good examples immediately off-hand, I'm afraid.

  22. Chau Wu said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    @ Travis
    Thanks for pointing out the excision of semantic element from the Simplified Chinese characters. There is a saying in Taiwan to the effect that, "Their (referring to the characters) love has no heart in it [爱 vs 愛], their noodles are not made of wheat [面 vs 麵], and their opening-the-door has no door to open [开 vs 開]."

  23. Victor Mair said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    From the South China Morning Post:

    "Command of written Chinese declines in digital era"

    "Many Chinese resort to pinyin, or romanised Putonghua, when using a keyboard but their grasp of the written language is weakening as a result"


    Some thoughtful observations from Chinese educators and scholars here. There is reference to a paper published in January in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concludes:

    "The Chinese language has survived the technological challenges of the digital era, but the benefits of communicating digitally may come with a cost in proficient learning of written Chinese".

  24. Jay said,

    August 23, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    @ Chau Wu
    面 is not necessarily made from wheat. 开 has a much broader meaning than just opening-the-door. 爱 has not much to do with heart from a scientific perspective.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    October 10, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    Character Amnesia

    This is an old theme, but here's a new twist to it from Beijing Review, an organ of the Chinese government:

    "Hanzi Crisis: Dictation contest proves handwritten Chinese characters are under threat in digital age"



    There is a lot of misinformation and mistakes in the article, but overall it is valuable because it not only recognizes that Chinese characters are under threat in the digital age, but attempts to give concrete evidence how and why this is so.

    Here's the conclusion of the article

    Several years later, pinyin, or spelling, input was invented, rendering Wang's formula relatively absolute [sic –> obsolete]. As long as hanzi could be spelt out using Latin letters, people were able to input Chinese into computers.

    Today, the Wang Code and pinyin are the two major methods for Chinese to write hanzi on computers. For English, typing is writing because pronunciation and spelling are consistent. But Chinese is different. When a computer user types Chinese, a menu box opens on-screen, from which the user needs to choose characters from a group of options. Repeatedly using such an input method, the user inevitably grows less familiar with handwritten Chinese.

    Furthermore, affected by utilitarianism, the prospects for Chinese language writing remain bleak.

    "Most students are not able to learn and practice calligraphy at primary school," said Xie Yong, who teaches Chinese at Beijing Lu Xun High School. "Parents and teachers are zealous in sending their children to learn mathematics and English rather than about traditional culture, mainly due to enrollment requirements at key middle schools."



    "Why Chinese Kids Are Terrible At Spelling Bees:
    Globalization brings texting and spelling bees to China, with unfortunate results"


  26. Victor Mair said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

    "China's spelling bees aim to punctuate written word"


    So much misinformation and blather in this article!

    Even the title is misleading, with the meaning of "stress" or "emphasize" being intended for "punctuate", whereas most people will read it as having something to do with punctuation marks.

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