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Traditionalism January 19, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, Mandarin, Writing.

I consider myself to be a futurist in many areas. But when it comes to Chinese characters, I am a traditionalist.

John had a post last week about Simplified versus Traditional Chinese. A week later, there are more than 50 comments! (Of course, some came from the same individuals).

When it comes to the issue of Chinese characters, the line is usually very clear. If you have been brought up in the Traditional camp (like me), you would go with Traditional for sure. Likewise for the Simplified camp.

There is an interesting fact that people from either camp claim to have not much of a trouble reading Chinese from the other camp. We can usually guess the unfamiliar characters from the contexts. As for me, it is just the unpleasant feeling within me saying, “Oh no, it is written Simplified Chinese”. It takes me longer to read, but I have no problem understanding it.

If reading is not a big concern, then perhaps it is writing. This is indeed the strongest argument for the simplified characters.

I can understand the frustration of writing traditional characters, especially in this modern fast-paced society. So I don’t see a problem scripting in Simplified Chinese. This is just like writing cursive English. In fact, I see a lot of traditionalists doing it, such as the waiters in the Chinese restaurants. But when it comes to preparing formal documents, what is there for us to complain? The characters are typed in!

For example, I type Chinese using the Chang-Jei input method, which requires at most 5 keys (and probably with one follow-up selection) for a character, no matter how complex it is. For people using Pinyin as the input method, whether the characters are traditional or simplified, it does not make a difference at all!

Of course, the bad news to traditionalists is that they are losing ground, mainly due to the overwhelming population of Simplified Chinese users, not to mention the fact that most foreign Chinese learners also love the simplified characters.

If this is really the case, it could be the time for me to switch side. I would therefore like to propose the revival of the now-dead second phase of simplification. As a further suggestion, let’s simplify all characters which have more than 10 strokes! How about reducing them to only 26 characters, so they can fit into a typical keyboard?



1. 冇 - March 17, 2007

If it makes you feel better, my university (Uni of Sydney, Australia) makes everyone learn 繁體字 at least in their first year of 普通話. After first year, one can choose between the two. This is because the staff who run the first year course are all very much involved in the 文言文 course, and consider 簡體字 useless for that language. As for me, I’ve started learning 粵語 as well, which made that foundational year of traditional characters so much more useful.

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