John DeFrancis, *The Chinese. Language: Fact and Fantasy*. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii. Press, ). Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Page 5. Page 6. Page 7. title: The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy author: DeFrancis, John. publisher: University of Hawaii Press isbn10 | asin: print isbn Get this from a library! The Chinese language: fact and fantasy. [John DeFrancis].
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Professor De Francis has produced a work of great effectiveness that should appeal to a wide-ranging audience. It is at once instructive and entertaining. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy is a book written by John DeFrancis, published in by University of Hawaii Press. The book describes some of the . University of Hawaii Press, x, pages. ISBN Introduction: The Singlish Affair Rethinking The Chinese Language.
The Chinese and Vietnamese members of the committee, however, aware that their languages as traditionally written lacked a simple system of representing sounds, were jealously opposed to the use of anything like the Korean or Japanese creations in the Singlish orthography. Instead they insisted that if the general principle of combining semantic characters with phonetic symbols was adopted for Singlish, one might just as well retain the conventional roman letters instead of using hangul or creating a whole new set of symbols on the Korean or Japanese models.
They therefore argued that the opening phrase of the passage cited should be written like this: I cite the following opening phrase, to which I have appended the equivalent in conventional French: The foregoing excerpts from the Singlish file appear to represent the last stage of the committee's deliberations.
It was, however, by no means the final or definitive form which the committee was struggling to achieve. There were still many points of disagreement. The Korean member, for example, argued that the word "and" should be written, Korean style, as. The Vietnamese member pressed for the creation, Vietnamese style, of new characters not already existing in Chinese to represent peculiarly American concepts. The Chinese member, though happy that the characters which were his country's great contribution to Eastern civilization would now also be bestowed upon the West, wanted assurance that the characters would neither be reduced in number, as someJapanese had proposed from time to time, nor simplified by reduction in number of strokes, as some Chinese whom he denounced as communists proposed.
On the whole the four members felt they had cause to congratulate themselves because they were succeeding in the attempt to promote in a planned way what had happened haphazardly in Korea, Japan, and Viet Nam when these countries groped to adapt Chinese characters to their own needs. The documents relating to The Singlish Affair throw no further light on the deliberations of the Committee on English Language Planning nor even on what eventually became of its members.
Their names do not appear in any other connection. The four members of the committee who were his accomplices in this dastardly affair succeeded in remaining in complete obscurity, thus avoiding being brought before the bar of justice. There is reason for believing, in fact, that they are still at large and, under assumed names, are continuing to influence the writing systems of their own countries and have joined with Western accomplices to plot further advances for the Chinese characters on an international scale.
Epilogue When the foregoing essay was first presented to some colleagues several years ago, I assumed they would immediately catch on to what I was doing. To my utter consternation, this assumption turned out to be unwarranted. I therefore added a note specifically stating that the Committee on English Language Planning never really existed and that the so-called Singlish Affair is a figment of the imaginationa literary device designed to make more interesting an otherwise unadorned discussion of the Chinese writing system, its adaptation in the writing systems of Korea, Japan, and Viet Nam, and some of the problems involved in its use as a universal system of writing.
Yes, the whole of the preceding essay is a joke. Actually, it is a very serious joke, one intended as entertainment, to be sure, but entertainment with a purpose. My primary purpose was to poke fun at the romantic nonsense about Chinese characters that culminates in the notion that they can function as a universal written language. What better way to point up the absurdity of this idea, I thought, than by burlesquing it? But even specialists, contrary to all my expectations, were, with few exceptions, fooled by my elaborate joke.
In retrospect it is clear that my original expectation that they would be able to penetrate my ploy was quite unreasonable.
Thus it is I rather than my readers who displayed inadequate understanding. So much nonsense has been written about Chinese characters that my parody turns out to be not as obviously implausible as I had thought it to be. There were other factors, of course, in the acceptance of my essay at face value, including the mechanical aspect of footnotes and references all of which, incidentally, are authentic and other features that give the essay the appearance of ordinary academic writing, in which seriousness is generally expected to be cloaked in solemnity rather than in humor.
Apart from the specialist colleagues for whom the essay was primarily intended, many others, including students at various levels, have read it in mimeographed form. Their almost unanimous reaction has been one of delight on discovering that they have undergone an entertaining but highly unorthodox educational experience. The approach has proved to be a particularly effective teaching device because students who might ordinarily be daunted by a straightforward analysis of complex problems have been led to ponder the issues so unconventionally illustrated in the introductory essay and have been stimulated to go into them more deeply.
There is indeed need for a thorough rethinking of the issues involved. Foremost among these is the nature of the Chinese language. This fundamental issue is so clouded by confusion and error that considerable effort is needed to separate fact from fantasy in order to arrive at a clear understanding about Chinese. It is to this effort that the rest of the book is devoted. The initial aim of the present work was to ridicule certain romantic notions about Chinese as a universal script which though technically feasible in theory, as shown in The Singlish Affair, must be dismissed as impractical if one makes a hardheaded effort to analyze the ideas in detail and to test them by implementationa procedure which will inevitably deflate the panegyrics for writing systems that deserve rather to be characterized as Rube Goldberg scripts on a par with that cartoonist's most madcap contraptions for doing simple tasks in preposterously complex ways.
Another aim was to bring home the essence of the language policy practiced by all colonial powers, a policy that the distinguished linguist Einar Haugen has savagely but appropriately called "linguistic genocide.
To counter the deeply entrenched mythology about Chinese requires not merely a presentation of dry facts. It also requires sharp and specific criticism of the myths and their perpetrators. The criticism has taken the form of burlesque in The Singlish Affair and that of somewhat popularized exposition in the rest of the book.
A complete popularization is impossible, however, since the complexity of the subject and the need for concrete detail require careful analysis based on extensive research. In general the academic style adopted throughout the book is based on the belief that sound scholarship is not incompatible with having fun.
In The Singlish Affair I have indulged in a number of puns and word games that in some cases are perhaps impenetrable private jokes. Those who know Chinese may get the point if it is written in characters: In short, calling someone Mr. Propriety, Morality, and Modesty but actually insults him as Mr. In keeping with my description of the original essay as a serious joke, I shall conclude by taking up again the tongue-in-cheek reference in the final paragraph to the fact that the four members of the "committee" involved in the dastardly Singlish Affair had managed to avoid being brought before the bar of justice.
Emulating the operatic Mikado's "object all sublime. Anyone who believes Chinese characters to be a superior system of writing that can function as a universal script is condemned to complete the task of rendering the whole of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address into Singlish. Page 23 Figure 1 Chinese Writing: Oracle Bone Inscription This Shang dynasty inscription incised on an animal shoulder bone asks if there will be any calamities, notes the spirits' affirmative answer, and reports later verification that calamities did indeed occur.
University of Chicago Press, , p. Page 24 Figure 2 Chinese Writing: Roy and Tsuen-hsuin Tsien, Ancient China: The Chinese University Press, , pp. Page 25 Figure 3 Chinese Writing: Calligraphy as Art Regular, running, and cursive styles of writing displayed respectively in a a stone rubbing of a pair of commemorative scrolls written in by Shao Lizi, a prominent Guomindang supporter of the PRC; b a rubbing of a commemorative inscription written about the same time for the same commemorative purpose by Mao Zedong; and c a hanging scroll with a poem written by the seventeenth-century poet and calligrapher Fu Shan.
The Jeannette Shambaugh Elliot Collection. Page 26 Figure 4 Chinese Writing: Pinyin Three versions Pinyin, new simplified characters, and old complex characters of part of a poem dedicated to Wu Yuzhang , language reformer and president of People's University. The third version is the author's addition. From Yuwen Xiandaihua no. Page 27 Figure 5 Chinese Writing: An Aborted Syllabary of Signs This syllabary representing the basic syllables of Standard Chinese is based on the Soothill Syllabary with additions to fill in his gaps see discussion on pages 97 Page 28 Figure 6 Yi Writing: A Standardized Syllabary of Signs A syllabary standardized in from the thousands of centuries- old symbols used by the Yi or Lolo nationality in Southwest China.
The illustration shows the most commonly used signs see discussion on page Page 29 Figure 7 Japanese Writing: Characters Plus Syllabic Kana Kanji and hiragana intermixed in the main text.
The kanji under the oracle bone are accompanied on the left by the katakana rendition of their go 'on pronunciation and on the right by the hiragana rendition of their kan'on pronunciation.
Page 30 Figure 8 Korean Writing: In North Korea all publication is in the simpler Hangul script, underlined in the first line of the excerpt. Page 31 Figure 9 Vietnamese Writing: Mouton, , pp. Page 32 Figure 10 Sumerian Writing: Cuneiform Symbols as Phonetic Signs The origin and development of nine representative cuneiform signs from about B. The shift from pictographic to stylized forms was accompanied by a shift from semantic to phonetic values for the signs.
The latter have been added on the right. The original meanings are as follows: Reprinted with permission from Samuel N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character Chicago: University of Chicago Press, , pp.
Hieroglyphic Symbols as Phonetic Signs Hieroglyphic text, interlinear transliteration, and word-for-word translation of the opening lines of a popular funeral book of about B. Reprinted with permission of the publisher from E. It is also due in part to the equally superficial tendency to bandy terms about without a precise understanding of what they mean.
In thinking about the Chinese language we must avoid this confusion by clearly specifying what we have in mind. Take the word "language. In their view language must be clearly distinguished from writing. Speech is primary, writing secondary. The two are related, but by no means identical, and the areas where they coincide or differ need to be carefully noted. The attempt by linguists to reserve the term "language" as a designation solely for speech is part of their persistent but largely unsuccessful battle against the confusion resulting from the popular use of the term to encompass diverse forms of human communication without distinguishing the properties specific to each.
But perhaps the confusion is better avoided not by trying to monopolize the term, which seems hopeless, but by carefully noting its range of meanings and stressing the distinctions among them. This is what has been attempted in the present work, the title of which, from the purely linguistic point of view, leaves something to be desired.
Apart from its being a concession to popular usage, the title is justified because of the care taken throughout the book to distinguish between the spoken and written aspects of the Chinese language.
This comment evokes a picture of our "well-educated man" parading about like a comic strip figure with character-filled balloons coming out of his mouth.
More typically misleading is the frequent dinner-table situation in which Chinese guests, when asked about their language, blandly assume that it is an inquiry about Chinese writing which may indeed have been the case or simply do not recognize the distinction and thus regale their listeners by dragging out the shopworn example of how the character for ''woman" and the character for "child" are charmingly combined to form the character for "good.
Confusion in the use of the term "language" to mean both speech and writing is sometimes avoided by those aware of the difference between the two by referring to the former as "spoken language" and the latter as "written language.
But even if we are careful to specify that the language we are talking about is spoken language it may sometimes be necessary to explain what sort of oral communication we have in mind.
The speech of educated Chinese, like that of educated Americans, differs from that of their uneducated counterparts, and all these speakers make use of different styles of speech in different situations. Slang, colloquialisms, regionalisms, polite usage, and formal style exist in Chinese, as they do in English.
Some forms of language are considered incorrect. Such an attitude toward language usage is prescriptivean approach adopted, with varying degrees of flexibility, by authorities such as language teachers and compilers of dictionaries. It contrasts with the nonjudgmental descriptive linguistic approach that merely analyzes who speaks how in what situations. Statements about spoken Chinese must either specify the kind of speech in question or generalize in a way that cuts across the various kinds of speech.
Even the term "Chinese" requires clarification. It is used to refer both to a people and to their language in both its spoken and written forms.
According to the census results, the Han Chinese comprise some 93 percent of the population, which is now said to total slightly more than a billion people. In its application to language the term "Chinese," or more specifically "spoken Chinese," refers to the speech of the Han Chinese.
The ethnic minorities speak non-Chinese languages, except for the approximately six-and-a-half million Chinese-speaking Moslems of the Hui nationality. But the "Chinese" spoken by close to a billion Han Chinese is an abstraction that covers a number of mutually unintelligible forms of speech. Within this category there are differences roughly of the magnitude of the differences among the British, American, and Australian varieties of English.
The remaining quarter to a third of the Chinese-speaking population are divided into several groups, such as the Cantonese, Hakka, and Min, with forms of speech so distinctive that they are mutually unintelligible. A native of Peking and a native of Canton, for example, cannot understand a word of what the other says in his own form of speech. According to the eminent Chinese linguist Y. Chao As a result, just as a statement true for Dutch may not be true for English, one true for Cantonese may not apply to the other forms of "Chinese.
There is also a temporal factor to be taken into account. Chinese in both its spoken and written forms has undergone great changes over the years, as have all other languages as well.
If Confucius could undergo a resurrection he would be quite unable to carry on a conversation with one of his descendants today. Nor would the two be able to communicate in writing unless the present-day descendant of the sage had received a more than average education comparable to that of a modern European who has learned to read Latin.
Classical written Chinese differs so much from the written language of today that intensive training is needed to master both. One example of this confusion is the belief that Chinese is the oldest language in the world. This myth derives much of its currency from the confusion of speech and writing. As far as the latter is concerned, Chinese writing is not the oldest in the world in the sense of its being the first to be created. Sumerian writing is older by about a millennium and a half Gelb Chinese writing is the oldest only in the sense that among the scripts in use today, Chinese characters have the longest history of continuous use.
As far as Chinese speech is concerned, since it has exhibited the tendency of all speech to change with the passage of time, there is considerable question as to whether it is even proper to talk about age. The spoken Chinese of today is not the spoken Chinese of two thousand years ago, just as the spoken English of today is not the same as whatever ancestral form spoken about the time of Christ we trace English to.
In a sense all languages spoken today are equally young and equally old. Again we must be careful not to confuse speech and writing. All the forms of speech and writing that have been mentioned here are included in what is popularly called "Chinese. Authors who are clear in their own minds about the range of meanings involved in these terms are usually careful in their use of specific terminology. Careful readers of such authors are likely to obtain a clear understanding of what is being said.
But confused and careless writers, and careless readers of such writers and of careful authors as well , can create a cloud of misunderstanding. This has indeed happened to Chinese on a scale that appears to exceed that for any other form of human communication.
To separate fact from fantasy in this miasma of misunderstanding there is need for a careful consideration of "Chinese" or "Chinese language" in its various formswhat it is and what it is not. Since the greatest confusion and misunderstanding involve the Chinese characters, these need especially careful attention. A good starting point in considering all these matters is "spoken Chinese. The varieties of speech in this huge area are legionranging from forms with minor differences to others that are mutually unintelligible.
Indeed, even among people whose speech is considered to be the same there are individual differences that lead linguists to assert that in fact no two persons speak exactly alike, since each person has his own idiolect which distinguishes him in certain points of detail from everyone else.
In a situation of such diversity there is obviously great danger that a statement true about one kind of spoken Chinese may be completely false with respect to another variety. Generalizations about spoken Chinese can be exceedingly misleading when carelessly advanced without qualification.
In any case generalization itself is impossible without some understanding of the diversities among which general features are to be sought. It would appear, therefore, that spoken Chinese can best be described by starting with a restricted form of speech before proceeding to the more and more diverse forms in order to build up an approximate picture of the complex whole. In selecting what kind of speech to describe it is best to choose a form that somehow stands out as of special importance.
This form of spoken Chinese had about the same role in China as the speech of educated Parisians in France. In case of need we could narrow our model to the idiolect or individual speech of a specific person. Such a procedure would have the advantage of enabling us to derive our information by observing the speech of a specific individual and checking our conclusions by testing them against what that speaker actually says.
Much of the danger of making inaccurate generalizations could thereby be avoided since we could check whether they are true of So-and-So speaking in such-and-such a situation. In any case it is well to remember that speech is not a vague disembodied entity but a series of tangible sounds emitted from the mouth of an actual person. The Syllable In observing the sounds of our typical speaker we note that, as in all forms of Chinese speech, the syllable plays a crucial role. It consists of phonemes or basic units of sound that determine differences in meaningfor example, the sounds represented by the letters b and p in English "bat" and "pat.
The Chinese syllable made up of those phonemes is moderately complexmore so than Japanese, less so than English. Japanese has only different syllables Jorden Chinese has 1, tonal syllables; if tones are disregarded, as is frequently done by Chinese as well as Westerners, the number of what may be called "segmental syllables" or "basic syllables" is variously estimated at to , depending on just what form of speech is taken as the basis and whether exclamations and the like are counted.
An English syllable can contain a maximum of seven phonemes, as in the word "splints. Consonants The segmental phonemes can be divided into two types: There is a final consonant represented by n, which is also an initial, and another by ng, which occurs only in final position. Pekingese also has a distinctive final r sound which has a somewhat uncertain status in the national standard Barnes Despite the way in which they are spelled, all Chinese consonants are single consonants.
There are no consonant clusters in Chinese, so that the single English syllable "splints" would have to be represented by four syllables: ChineseEnglish ChineseEnglish b p in "spy" j tch in "itching" p p in "pie" q ch-h in "each house" between s in "she" and s m m in "my" x in f f in "fie" "see" ch in "chew," but d t in "sty" zh unaspirated t t in "tie" ch ch in "chew" n n in "nigh" sh sh in "shoe" l l in "lie" r r in "rue" g k in "sky" z t's in "it's Al" k k in "kite" c t's in "it's Hal" h in "hut," but h s s in "Sal" rougher Although the letters in the left-hand column occur both in English and in the transcription of Chinese, in many cases they are pronounced differently in the two languages.
A distinctive feature of the Chinese consonants is the opposition of aspirated with a puff of air versus unaspirated without a puff of air in the pairs b-p, d-t, g-k, j-q, zh-ch, and z-c. In English the opposition is one of voiced versus voicelessthat is, whether or not pronounced with a vibration of the vocal cords that can be felt by holding one's Adam's apple while articulating the sounds. The difference in pronunciation between, for example, the p in "spy" and the p in "pie" does not make for a difference in meaning in English.
It does in Chinese, however, so the two p sounds are differentiated by the spellings b and p. The group j, q, x consists of palatals pronounced with the tip of the tongue pressing against the lower teeth and the blade of the tongue pressing against the palate.
The group zh, ch, sh, r, consists of retroflexes made with the tip of the tongue curled back and pressing against the roof of the mouth. Page 44 Vowels The vowels comprise simple vowels and complex vowelsthat is, diphthongs and triphthongs. There are six simple vowels.
The simple Chinese vowels have the following very rough approximations: The complex vowels, as we shall see, consist of a simple vowel nucleus and an on-glide vowel or an off-glide vowel or both. There are three on-glide vowels: When these vowels occur initially they function as semiconsonants and are then written respectively as y, w, yu, as in ye, wa, yue. If we let a capital V stand for the vowel nucleus and a small v stand for an on-glide or off-glide, the vowel in a Chinese syllable can be represented by the following formula: This formula indicates that the vowel in a syllable must include a simple vowel nucleus and may also contain an on-glide or an off-glide or both, giving the following four vowel types: This formula indicates that the syllable must contain a vowel and may also contain an initial consonant or a final consonant or both, giving the following four syllable types: Tones One of the well-known features of Chinese is its suprasegmental phonemes: Chinese is not unique, however, in being a tonal language.
So are some of the languages of Southeast Asia, Africa, and those of the Latin American Indians, and there are a few words in Swedish distinguished only by tonal differences. The variety of Chinese being described here has four tones. These are not fixed notes on a scale but relative sounds or contours that vary according to the normal voice range of individual speakers.
They can be represented in the following chart: Tone 1 is high level, tone 2 high rising, tone 3 low dipping, tone 4 high falling. The tone symbols imitate these contours. Some syllables are distinguished by absence of tone; they are said to be atonic or to have a neutral tone. Page 46 Suprasegmental phonemes or tones, which give Chinese speech its distinctive musical or singsong quality, must be distinguished from intonation.
The latter also exists in tonal languages. It is superimposed on the basic phonological elementsthat is, on the consonants, vowels, and tones.
This technical problem can be easily overcome, however; in fact, even a small portable typewriter can be inexpensively modified to allow for tone representation by arranging for two dead keys with two tone marks each. Another reason for omission of the tone signs is simple disregard of their significancea far more important factor. Morphemes and Words Apart from the phonological features described above, the Chinese syllable is distinctive in that, in most cases, it constitutes a morpheme, the smallest unit of meaning.
Because most syllables have meaning they are often considered to be words. Exactly what constitutes a word is a much debated matter in every language, however, particularly so in the case of Chinese.
In English we usually think of the expression "teacher" as a single word made up of two morphemes: On the basis chiefly of such an approach, in which every syllable is defined as a word, Chinese is commonly described as monosyllabic. This approach is rejected by many scholars who consider that it has been unduly influenced by the character-based writing system. There are also expressions of more than one syllable in which the individual syllables have no meaning of their own.
The classification of words, which means identification of parts of speech, is another matter of disagreement. Nevertheless, although the terms used are subject to different interpretations, there is general agreement on referring to some things in Chinese as nouns, verbs, and other familiar names for parts of speech.
There are two main word groups that can be labeled as nominal expressions and verbal expressions. As in the case of Chinese parts of speech generally, these expressions are often defined in terms of their positional relationship to each other. Roughly speaking, nouns are things that follow measure words and measure words are things that follow numbers. Verbs are things that come after negation markers. One of the characteristics of Chinese nouns is that they are mass nouns comparable to the English mass noun "rice.
Both require measure words: Another feature of nouns in Chinese is that they do not undergo change to distinguish singular and plural. In this respect they are like the English word "deer. Did he see one deer or several? Many students in Chinese language classes needlessly fret about the overall lack of the singular- plural distinction.
Reduced forms of this sort represent a marked tendency toward abbreviation that is influenced by a writing system which even in its contemporary form in its turn has been influenced by the terse style of classical Chinese. Verbal expressions, which can be identified by their ability to follow negative markers, comprise several subcategories.
Apart from the familiar transitive and intransitive verbs, there is a group, called coverbs, which are akin to prepositions, and another group, usually referred to as stative verbs, which are less technically called adjectives. Although linguists frown on the practice of describing a language by noting features of another language that it does not have, for speakers of English it may be useful to note that Chinese can get along quite happily without our obligatory indication of tense.
Chinese is characterized by having aspect rather than tense. This technical term refers to the way a speaker looks at an event or state. It is a prominent feature of Russian verbs and can be illustrated in English by a contrast such as "They eat Chinese food" and "They are eating Chinese food. The aspect marker le in Haole is one of a category of particles that are few in number but important in function.
Among other things they indicate whether or not a verbal action is continuous or has ever been experienced.
Students of Chinese find this one of the most difficult features of the language. Chinese contrasts with other languages, notably Japanese, in the way it increases its stock of words by borrowing from foreign sources. As Mao Zedong noted in a conversation with Nikita Khrushchev, 2 the Chinese prefer to borrow by translatingthat is, by the technique of translation loans rather than phonetic loans.
Adjectives come before nouns and adverbs before verbs. The equivalents of our relative clauses occur before nouns as modifying elements, as in German.
Chinese is frequently said to be an SVO languagethat is, one in which the sentence order is subject-verb-object. Many linguists prefer to describe Chinese sentences as of the topic- comment type. This topic-comment construction often gives the impression of considerable looseness in the Chinese sentence. On the other hand, Chinese has the reputation of having fixed word order, in contrast to highly inflected languages like Latin and Russian, where noun endings that indicate subject and object permit the reversal SVO to OVS to have exactly the same meaningin contrast to English, where "John loves Mary" is quite different in meaning from "Mary loves John.
Expressions equivalent to "and" or "if. Chinese sentences in most styles of the language tend to be short and seemingly loosely connected. In contrast to English, which is a sentence-oriented language, what might be considered omissions or deletions are much more common in Chinese, which is context-oriented.
Thus the answer to the English question "Do students like him? Such terseness presents difficulties for foreign students of the language who lack the native speaker's intuitive grasp of what might be called contextual rules as well as of such neglected features as stress, juncture, and intonation. Such things, and much more, must be taken into account for a fully detailed description of spoken Chinese. Here I have merely presented an outline. A really thorough presentation such as that contained in Y.
Chao's monumental Grammar of Spoken Chinese a requires more than eight hundred pages to describe a language which is every bit as sophisticated an instrument of oral communication as the better-known languages of the world. Overview The picture of great complexity that emerges from a full-scale analysis of spoken Chinese contrasts with the widespread myth that it is impoverished because it lacks such features common to European languages as their complex phonologies and systems of conjugation and declension.
This view has been noted by Karlgren Subsequently this nineteenth-century view was replaced in some minds by the notion that Chinese actually represents a higher stage of linguistic development because it dispenses with unnecessary features such as conjugations and declensions that were retained in varying degrees by European languages.
Neither view has much to commend it. Instead of adopting a sort of master-race theory of superior and inferior languages it is more accurate to say that all languages have the capacity for expressing whatever thoughts its speakers want to express and that they simply possess different strategies for doing so.
The mastery of these strategies is a necessary part of learning a languageindeed it is the very essence of language learning. The ease or difficulty in achieving this mastery is a subjective matter that basically has nothing to do with the nature of the language itself.
And it seems so plausible. Surely ideas immediately pop into our minds when we see a road sign, a death's head label on a bottle of medicine, a number on a clock. Aren't Chinese characters a sophisticated system of symbols that similarly convey meaning without regard to sound?
Aren't they an ideographic system of writing? The answer to these questions is no. Chinese characters are a phonetic, not an ideographic, system of writing, as I have attempted to show in the preceding pages. Here I would go further: There never has been, and never can be, such a thing as an ideographic system of writing.
How then did this concept originate, and why has it received such currency among specialists and the public at large?
Origin of the Myth The concept of Chinese writings as a means of conveying ideas without regard to speech took hold as part of the chinoiserie fad among Western intellectuals that was stimulated by the generally highly laudatory writings of Catholic missionaries from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The Chinas [Chinese] have no fixed letters in their writing, for all that they write is by characters, and they compose words of these, whereby they have a great multitude of characters, signifying each thing by a character in such sort that one only character signifies "Heaven," another "earth," and another "man," and so forth with everything else.
A more authoritative description of Chinese writing was advanced by the renowned Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci From this Latin version of Ricci's observations, European readers learned that the Chinese have a system of writing "similar to the hieroglyphic signs of the Egyptians" and that they "do not express their concepts by writing, like most of the world, with a few alphabetic signs, but they paint as many symbols as there are words.
In his discussion of the characters the author presented the view that they are composed of symbols and images, and that these symbols and images, not having any sound, can be read in all languages, and form a sort of intellectual painting, a metaphysical and ideal algebra, which conveys thoughts by analogy, by relation, by convention, and so on.
Amiot in a longer article in which he described characters as images and symbols which speak to the mind through the eyes -- images for palpable things, symbols for mental ones. Images and symbols which are not tied to any sound and can be read in all languages.
I would be quite inclined to define Chinese characters as the pictorial algebra of the sciences and the arts. In truth, a well-turned sentence is as much stripped of all intermediaries as is the most rigorously bare algebraic demonstration. Westerners had made the acquaintance of Chinese in the sixteenth century.
Friar Gaspar da Cruz, as noted above, referred to the Chinese symbols as "characters," and the Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignani, who visited Macao in , referred to Chinese characters as "that innumberable multitude of exceedingly intricate ciphers which pass for writing" among the Chinese Bartoli What I wish to do in this necrology is give a brief accounting of John as a teacher and scholar of Chinese.
Perhaps the easiest way to approach John's academic career is to divide it into four stages: student, teacher, researcher, and lexicographer. As an undergraduate at Yale, John majored in economics, and his interest in the measurable, quantifiable aspects of politics and society continued to have an influence upon his scholarship throughout his life.
John began his graduate studies at Yale under the legendary George A. Kennedy , for whom there is now an excellent, insightful biography by Bruce Brooks. Subsequently, however, John moved to Columbia for his Ph. At Columbia, John's concern with the here and now, with the quality of human existence, together with his focus on Chinese language issues, were perfectly married in his dissertation, which later became his first book, Nationalism and Language Reform in China Princeton: Princeton University Press, , with several reprints.
This is a masterpiece of critical inquiry that combines research in history, political science, and sociolinguistics. It is still regularly consulted by researchers today, nearly six decades after it was first published, and it set the tone for all of John's later books and articles on Chinese. In this volume we can see clearly how he was inspired by the passionate views of the great Chinese writer, Lu Xun , and how he was motivated by his own deep empathy for illiterate Chinese peasants and workers.