In the node China, MasterYoshi claimed that China is underdeveloped technologically because there is no phonetic alphabet, making acronyms impossible and impeding the spread of knowledge. This reminds me of a course I took last semester on ancient scripts. Many articles I've read in that class quoted the spread of the alphabet as a main factor of the development of mathematics, science and even democracy around the world. Hogwash.

These "scholars" often claim that the alphabet is easier to learn and hence knowledge is spread quicker due to the higher rate of literacy. Herein lies the first flaw of their argument. The Chinese script, despite its lack of phonetic elements, is no harder to learn than any other language. It has been scientifically proven that youngsters in the ages between 2 and 4 are in their "linguistic prime", learning new languages faster and better than any other time in their lives. Just because those scholars find it difficult to learn Chinese or Japanese it does not mean that a 3 year old child has the same feeling.

May I remind these people that China was the world leader in technology for well over 1000 years before falling behind in the 1500's? While Europe languised around in the Dark Ages, China and the Arabic countries were speeding ahead technologically. Chinese inventions include the compass, paper, gunpowder, printing (Gutenburg didn't invent the press, we did), and lots of medical discoveries. We did fine with the Chinese character system.

I think the whole idea that the alphabet is superior was raised with the advent of the computer, more specifically the keyboard. Not that it matters anyways, because voice input is poised to replace typing input in the future anyways, and there has been several alternatives developed for Chinese computer input.

I'm digressing. But since those "scholarly opinions" were all written in the era of imperialism, I can imagine the degree of which those people were indoctrinated to the idea of Christian and Western superiority. The extension of the idea that the Western phonetic alphabet leads to the development of democracy and science is ludicrous at best, and stinks of old-day imperialist attitudes.

I learned Mandarin as a second-language with no problems whatsoever. May it be that those scholars were intellectually challenged with the new-fangled non-phonetic Chinese language and quickly retreated to the "superior" English language?


:P. Of course, I'm not accusing anyone. I'm just pointing out the absurdity of these "scholarly" claims, thats all.

Mmm. The Western-chauvinism of certain scientists in the past is pretty undeniable. That said, the Chinese government was planning at one point to alphabetize Mandarin in order to improve Chinese literacy. (As much as I dislike any totalitarian government, China has done a lot to try and improve the life of the common Chinese citizen.) Simplified characters were a step towards this goal. I imagine a few more important things (Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution) interrupted the plan, and it was obviously dropped.

There's also a certain connection between high literacy and democracy. Thomas Paine's very effective tracts against the King of England is one example of widespread literacy having a political effect.

The alphabet tends to impede the western comprehension of the computer. The psychological effect that "literacy" has on a culture is one of specialization and fragmentation. Literacy fostered democracy, industrialization, and point of view communication. This brings about some conceptual problems.

Once it has been recognized that the computer is not a medium, the highly specialist form of thought begins to have difficulty dealing with new information formats. With the acceleration of information, the individual and fact elements of the content are harder and harder to distinguish. There is much more data provided, but the context is left for the user to derive. This is a sharp contrast to a book-form literary style of communication.

People are ill-equipped to deal with computerized media concepts, let alone content.

Perhaps the eastern mode of thought, with its less fragmented, more kanji or gestalt perception of things adapts better to post-automation, information age ideas.

In an industrial age, the alphabet is the "superior" mode of communication, better adapted to those conditions. However, a shift is about to occur.

just take a look at the evolution (or disintegration) of the english language.

The reason why the use of the Latin alphabet is usually considered a great driving force for western civilisation is that typesetting is far easier than with other ways of writing. A pictographic alphabet like the Chinese one requires a far greater number of types than the twenty-six letter latin alphabet. The Arabic script is almost impossible to print using typesetting because the letters have to be linked together.

Easier printing leads to a greater profileration of books and newspapers, which in turn promotes literacy. A literate population is better informed about politics, furthering democracy. Science and technology also benefit because knowledge can be shared more easily and widely, and without degradation, through books than orally.

Turkey originally used the Arabic script but then switched to the Latin one. This was an enormous task, but one deemed necessary for the modernisation of Turkey.

Of course, nowadays the computer has pretty much negated this advantage. I'm aware of that. It's a historical thing.

I wholeheartedly agree with the point Dman makes, but I just want to clear up a couple of inconsistencies about his writeup here. I would just message him but he hasn't logged in for over a year. While I'm at it I'll comment on the other writeups as well...

  1. The Chinese script does not lack phonetic elements. Most Chinese characters consist of at least a radical and a phonetic element. It is true, however, that the sounds of this element and the character containing it have diverged in many cases.
  2. Neither Gutenburg nor the Chinese invented printing, it was invented by the Koreans.
  3. Zarkonnen comments that Arabic script is almost impossible to typeset merely because it is a cursive script. This is utterly untrue and Arabic script in several languages has been typed and typeset for many many years. Some languages, partiularly Urdu, prefer the nastaliq script which is difficult to typeset but most others use naskh which has no such problem.

The Hanzi are beautiful. I love the Hanzi. I like to write them, I like to look at them, I like to study them. However, the Latin alphabet is superior to Hanzi for the following reasons:

  • In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, an unknown word found in one's reading can still be read/pronounced. One can learn words through context and immediately put them to use. In Hanzi, upon finding an unfamiliar zi (character), one must look it up to be certain of its pronunciation.
  • When one hears a word in most languages which use the Latin alphabet, one can spell it and therefore write it (at least reasonably well) immediately. In Hanzi, one must first figure out how it looks to use it.
  • In most languages that use the Latin alphabet, a word has only one possible pronunciation. Hanzi often have two, three or four.

While English is an exception to most of these points, it is only an exception to some extent. While English spelling and pronunciation are complicated, it requires a good deal less guesswork. For instance, if I type an English search term into Google misspelled, Google has a good chance at correcting me. In Hanzi, there is no such assurance.

    Further evidence:

  • The amount of time children spend to achieve literacy in China is much greater. This expenditure of time causes them to lose ground comparatively in other scholastic areas. While the Chinese curriculum focuses and excels in many areas, the Chinese are undernourished scholastically in many other areas, especially elocution, public address, literature and composition.
  • Although more Chinese per capita read the daily newspaper, many adult Chinese cannot write many of the words they use on a daily basis. In my experience, there are often arguments about which zi is used in a particular term.
  • Anyone familiar with the goings on within Unicode and other standards bodies will recognize the Hanzi system as a source of much difficulty and displeasure because of its diversity and the demands it places on those bodies.
  • There is a reason that Hanyu Pinyin is used in Chinese dictionaries. There is a reason the Chinese government is mandating Pinyin everywhere and on almost everything. Hanzi for culture, Pinyin for facility.
  • DMan mentions 3- and 4-year-olds. 3- and 4-year olds don't know jack about Hanzi. The fact that children can learn Chinese as easily as English has very little to do with how efficient the writing system is.

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