Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chinese lacking "a proper alphabet"?

NBC just ran a news story on how the Chinese government is promoting learning of the Chinese language around the world, including in exotic Lawton, Oklahoma. (My guess at the subtext: If people in some town in Oklahoma most of you have never heard of are learning Chinese, it must be everywhere.)

It was by and large the usual stuff of such stories, but it closed with a guy saying that the Chinese language lacks "a proper alphabet" (I think the quote is right — don't see the video up yet). Gee, I guess that's true in some sense, given that Chinese is not usually written in what we normally call 'an alphabet'. What's 'improper' about the writing system they do use is profoundly unclear. Can't we at least get the 'written for thousands of years' shtick instead of this?

Media people: Please, I beg you, please check your stories. There are many thousands of linguists, language teachers and language specialists in this country. Talk to one before you publish. Please. Trust me, it'll make your life easier too.

Image from here.


drew said...

What about Zhùyīn fúhào?

I realize it's mostly used for input methods and for ruby characters next to unfamiliar Hanzi characters (or for helping people learning to read), and not usually used for normal writing. Like the Japanese kana, it's derived from Chinese characters. But it *is* alphabetic (whereas the kana are syllabaries).

Mr. Verb said...

Good point. Hadn't thought of that.

But it did occur to me when I found the image posted here that you could respond to this guy that Chinese is really much richer in writing system stuff than English.