The Chinese language: fact and fantasy by John DeFrancis

By John DeFrancis

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The second argument advanced by Phi De Giua was a so-called linguistic justification centering on the thesis that "ideographic Chinese writing" was superior to "alphabetic Western writing" and should therefore replace it. He cited the fact that the Chinese characters had functioned successfully, for more centuries than the upstart nations of the West could boast in their histories, as the basis for the writing systems of such disparate languages as "isolating, 2 monosyllabic'' Chinese and Vietnamese and "agglutinative, polysyllabic" Korean and Japanese.

In both cases the grammar is English, not Chinese. Text A makes greater use of characters as semantic units; only the sixth character is used in its phonetic value. '' Character 3 occurring between the two numbers for "score" and "seven" is a conjunction meaning "and" that is never used in this position in Chinese. " Its position at the end of the phrase happens to coincide with the position that its equivalent occupies in English. Thus, except for the sixth character, all others are used in their semantic value.

Page 35 PART I RETHINKING "THE CHINESE LANGUAGE" I think that the scholars who have almost let themselves be drawn into forgetting that Chinese is a spoken language have so exaggerated the influence of Chinese writing that they have, so to say, put the writing in place of the language. Wilhelm von Humboldt Page 37 1 On Defining "Chinese" and "Language" The idea that Chinese characters constitute "la langue internationale par excellence" derives part of its support from a sort of Exotic East Syndrome characterized by the belief that in the Orient things strange and mysterious replace the mundane truths applicable to the West.

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