Re: Camion Code, new phonemic writing system

From: Jon Babcock (
Date: Fri Aug 20 1999 - 05:39:08 EDT

Markus Kuhn wrote:

> Only in
> those rare situations where we encounter a word (such as a name) that we
> haven't seen in a long time, we fall back into a character-by-character
> reading mode where we actually process the script as a phonetic
> representation (something the Chinese can't do in their writing system).

In the case of the Chinese script too, it is possible to fall
back into a grapheme-by-grapheme reading mode for a large
majority of individual graphs -- perhaps more than 70% of the
more than 50,000 graphs -- where the phonetic hemigram may be
distinguished from the other, purely semantic hemigram, and
which conveys at least roughly, the sound, and thus the
underlying word. It is only a tiny minority of graphs that can
be properly called ideographs, perhaps less than 100 (I'm
thinking of the 'zhishi' graphs, the 'dactyliograms') and not
that many more that are purely pictographs or, 'zograms'
(drawings from nature). Most Chinese graphs include a
phonetic hemigram that conveys, if in a rather 'molecular'
fashion, the sound. But, as you mention, this fall back is
only used as a sort of last resort when one doesn't instantly
recognize the word, or, in Chinese, the graph.

Incidentally, if could be pointed out that precisely this
phonetic 'imprecision' had allowed the transmission of the
Chinese script to proceed throughout vast areas of space and
through many centuries of time relatively unscathed and so
one can speak of such a thing as 'kanji culture'. The degree
to which the sound of a word is accurately recorded in the
script is the degree to which it is bound to a particular
pronunciation and tied to a specific time and place. The
hodgepodge that is English spelling may indeed be one, only
one, of the reasons it is used so extensively throughout the
world, i.e. one quickly learns to ignore the particular
phonetic information that might be conveyed through the
letters and to read it word by word, chunk by chunk, just as
one reads Chinese, pronouncing it any way one wants.

If anyone has any doubts about Markus Kuhn's analysis, I
suggest they try to learn how to read katakana loan words in
Japanese. The majority of these (and there are perhaps two
thousand in daily use) come from English, but it is by no
means an easy task for a native English speaker to become
comfortable reading these 'English' words even though the
katakana spelling is roughly accurate and more or less
consistent. Why? Because the do not _look_ like English

See 'Chinese and Latin Scripts Compared', about half-way down
the page on
<> where I
have tried to make an interesting comparison between the two


Jon Babcock <>

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