Re: writing Chinese dialects

From: John H. Jenkins (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2007 - 12:26:22 CST

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    On Jan 25, 2007, at 10:41 AM, Michael Maxwell wrote:

    > Is this something that is taught to Cantonese speakers in schools?
    > I can't imagine the average person on the street knowing which of
    > these words are cognate.

    So far as I know, Cantonese-specific writing is *not* taught in
    schools. In the mainland, there is a push to get everyone to switch
    from local dialects to Mandarin. Cantonese is only really written at
    all (and then not very much) in Hong Kong and Macao, and there I
    believe the emphasis is also on standard written Chinese.

    You basically have to pick it up from context, but since there aren't
    an awful lot of characters involved, it isn't hard to do.

    > John H. Jenkins:
    >> Exactly, which is why there are relatively few
    >> Cantonese-specific sinograms. Almost everything in the
    >> Cantonese lexicon is cognate with Mandarin words.
    > I was just talking with a Chinese speaker of Cantonese and Mandarin
    > (parents were Cantonese, baby sitter was Mandarin). He was saying
    > that for some small number of Cantonese words, one used a character
    > for a Mandarin word that sounded something like the Cantonese word,
    > preceded by a radical meaning "mouth". He said there were several
    > variants on this idea--extra strokes, or another radical.
    > Apparently it's not common, but "everybody" knows the words for
    > which this is done. Comments? (And in Unicode, is this done with a
    > separate Unicode character for the 'mouth' radical, or is there a
    > combined Cantonese character? Or is there any way to do it?)

    Unicode encodes them as separate characters. There is no mechanism for
    encoding distinct sinograms in Unicode except through assigning a
    distinct code point.

    OTOH, Unicode *has* made an effort to cull Cantonese-specific
    characters from such references as exist for such. When Extension D
    is encoded in the (hopefully) near future, there will be as complete a
    repertoire of Cantonese-specific characters as is reasonably possible.

    John H. Jenkins

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