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De-simplification Chinese 2.x?
May 14, 2009 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on De-simplification Chinese 2.x?

Asian and Roman Character Sets Struggle for Orthographic Dominance in East Asian Capital

Chinese, as written in China, was supposed to be as easy as “ABC” after the proletariats had seized control of the organs of state education and culture. From Mao on down, the Reds wanted to ditch old feudal Chinese characters and replace them with a modern scientific script, à la Romana.

But they ran out of shoe leather on this linguistic “Long March” that was never completed. Instead of making the Pin-Yin Romanization system the official script, the Party settled for a simplified set of Chinese characters, “Simplified” Chinese, as opposed to the “Traditional” script still used in Hong-Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere.

After years of back-and-forth, Jianhuazi zong biao, “Complete List of Simplified Characters” was settled in 1986. But the debate never stopped, and the wheels of reform are turning once again.

There are changes afoot to correct certain “oversimplifications,” undertaken in the past. The government denies it as an attempt to return to old traditional ways. More like a fresh coat of paint or a trim in the barber chair.

But the fly in this Tiger Balm is how the changes will play out practically. With a billion speakers/readers, you’ve got a lot of inertia in a really complex politico-linguistic system. (25,000 entries for “politico-linguistic” in Google; guess I’m not the only one interested in this stuff).

Over the years we’ve seen government-lead orthographies succeed overnight or fall by the wayside.

And after this iteration, I suspect there might be another version, amongst all the others. Well, I guess they’ll get it just right in the end. In the meantime, is it okay to stop using capitals in English? I know that would save me a lot of time. Why, there ought to be a law… Who knows, maybe e e cummings had it right all along… and eighty+ years ago.

Read “Not as Easy as it Looks” in the Economist

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