Irreconcilable Logics (3)

Writing in Chinese, on the other hand, is an ancient art form. Some Chinese spend their lives perfecting their writing skills. Each syllable has multiple Chinese characters to express its different meanings in writing. Many systems have been devised for the romanization of Chinese. The best known are Wade-Giles and Pinyin, created by the government of the People’s Republic of China.

The Chinese character consists of two elements, the radical and the phonetic. The radical gives some indication of the meaning of the character; the phonetic at least an suggestion of the pronunciation. But over the millennia during which Chinese developed, both the meaning and pronunciation have evolved. So both elements amount to no more than a hint.

There are 214 radicals in Chinese. The number of phonetics seems infinite. For one to learn to write and read Chinese, the student ultimately needs to memorize characters, their meaning, and their pronunciation. That makes it the most difficult language I have ever studied.

The People’s Republic of China has introduced a system of simplified characters and a romanization system (Pinyin, which means “spell sound”) that make learning Chinese somewhat easier. But both systems also rob Chinese of much of its historical richness, in that each character in the original (unsimplified) system reflects the long and varied history of the Chinese people and their language.

So, while learning the old system of characters requires literally years of study, the rewards in understanding China are replete. If one has a life to devote to language study, learning the original has great rewards.

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