Arguments for keeping Chinese writing system

I despise the impulse of foreigners and even some natives trying to change Chinese writing, such as into alphabet or other fully phonetic writing system. For the sake of ease of learning, but that means giving up legibility.

Let me ask people 2 questions.

1. Many languages use Latin alphabet. But can they read each others languages? That is, can an English person read German and vice versa? Can a Spanish person read French and vice versa?

Furthermore can English and Russian read each other's writing? That is, why do we need more than one alphabet when they're all functionally the same?

Counter-argument: Mandarin and Cantonese speaking people can understand each other through common Chinese writing (Hanzi).

2. Can a layman (an average person) in Europe read and understand ancient and classical texts from 500 years, 1000 years, or even 2000 years ago? That is without special or intense courses. For example, can an average European understand ancient Roman documents and writings?

Counter-argument: Modern Chinese people can read and understand most books and poems written in classical Chinese from 2000 years ago without special training.

Counter-argument: Changes in spoken language happen a lot faster than writing systems. So when phonetic drift does happen, languages with phonetic alphabets must also adjust and modify their writings to match the current modes of speech. This creates a huge drift in writing over time. Words can be rewritten or spelled differently over time, thus losing legibility on older texts.

On the other hand, writing drift in Chinese has been minimal in the last 2000 years, even though much phonetic drift has occurred in the same time period. Thus the loss of Middle Chinese as a spoken language into separate topolects like Mandarin and Cantonese. Fortunately because they use logographic writing that is immune to phonetic drift, they can still communicate through the same writing for thousands of years.

For that matter, I'm also against major changes to the Chinese writing system. Including any attempts to dumb down and simplify it, including Simplified Chinese, which is a huge mistake. Now people have to learn even more symbols, two versions of the same word can cause even more confusion.

Now back the original questions. Based on these 2 questions and counter-arguments, how can one say definitively that alphabets are better than logographic writing systems? In fact, a writing system based on semantics rather than phonetics leads to higher international and interlanguage intelligibility. That's the same reason why we use non language specific icons and symbols on signs, to reach across language and cultural barriers.

On the other hand, alphabets and other phonetic writing systems have a major flaw that is prone to phonetic drift, which is more natural and inevitable than graphical drift. Even when different languages use the same alphabet, they still can't understand each others' writing. How is that beneficial and working as intended? How ironic that we can read Latin letters, but not Latin text and language.

Also importantly is the aesthetic and mystical nature of logographic writing. There is much beauty, balance, and pattern in Chinese poetry and idioms. Each Chinese word has deep audio-visual relationship and meaning. On the other hand, alphabets are functional only phonetically but not visually, thus lack this mystique and profoundness compared to Chinese characters. For the same reasons, Japanese people have tried many attempts to remove Chinese characters from their writing, but none have succeeded. Hence Kanji continues to be common in everyday use in a non Chinese nation because they understand the value, importance, and benefits of semantic, non-phonetic graphemes (characters).

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.