Jason (jcreed) wrote,

Language log linked to a great rant about fetishization of the Chinese writing system. I'm still sort of confused by the (apparent?) serious linguist orthodoxy around the claim "(written) Chinese is not a language, (spoken) Mandarin and Cantonese and etc. are". Not, of course, because I have any trouble believing that Mandarin is far enough from Cantonese that it deserves being called a separate language as opposed to, say, a different dialect. This is probably true and kind of a subjective matter of choosing good definitions. Like, I don't care if you want to call Pluto a planet or not, either.

But why isn't a written language, considered separately from a spoken "version" of it, not a language unto itself? Deaf people learn ASL and also written english, despite having no contact with spoken english. Ridiculous txt msg abbrevs seem to exemplify the same processes of phonetic reduction that speech has.

I think the linked rant is just as valid in this (i.e. my) point of view, though. I'd say: look, written Chinese is just another language, without any magic to it. Its relation to spoken Sinitic languages is that, ok, its semantic equivalence classes are a little more fine-grained. But, for my money, it's pretty much just as capable of describing the world as any other full-fledged spoken or written language, albeit in different particulars. The poets can attend to those particulars, but still Baidu is Bǎidù is 百度.
Tags: linguistics

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