Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is the Chinese writing at risk?

This was published in BBC recently and I found it very interesting: Will Smartphones Kill the Art of Chinese Handwriting

It claims that the Chinese handwriting is at risk because most people who text in Chinese now use the romanized Hanyu Pinyin keyboard to write and send text, and this may reduce the fluency of the written language of the Chinese. 

For example, if you want to send a text saying you'll be coming tomorrow, all you need to do is to type w m t h l and the keyboard will give you 我明天会来, which is exactly what I just did here. 

When I started learning Mandarin, I used the handwriting Chinese keyboard that requires me to write out the entire character before the keyboard will give me the word. This means I will need to know the exact strokes of the words. 

But recently, my colleague recommended me the romanized Hanyu Pinyin keyboard and I found it so easy to use because I no longer need to know exactly how to write the words. I only need to know how it looks like more or less. 

Therefore, I can identify with the BBC article and video. All because of the proliferation of smartphones, the Chinese writing may be at stake. 

However, this reminded me of a TED Talk I have seen before that asked the question if texting is killing language. 

John MacWhorter who is a renowned linguist claims that texting is an entirely new language altogether. I found it so interesting when he said that "texting is not writing at all. Humanity began with just speech...and in a traditional estimate, if humanity had existed for 24 hours, writing only came along at about 11:07pm."

He says that conversationally, we don't talk like we write. But if we can formally speak as we write, we should also then write as we speak and that is where texting comes into the picture. He claims that it is an entirely different language, a finger speech. 

However, I am not sure if this applies to Chinese, which is an isolating language, with a 1:1 relationship in its morpheme to meaning. In other words, there are no inflections in the Chinese language and how you speak is how you write, and it is also how you text. Therefore, in the modern world of texting, it may not be good news for the Chinese language. 

Or could it be what has always been just mere complaints of many over the decades and even centuries that never came true. These were shared by MacWhorton in his TED Talk:

As you can see, the worries over the centuries were uncalled for. Humanity changed and moved on and language in the same way gets adapted along the way. 

We may be using our languages differently across the years, but we will never be bereft of it. 


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