Re: writing Chinese dialects

From: John H. Jenkins (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2007 - 15:07:28 CST

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    On Jan 25, 2007, at 12:14 PM, Douglas Davidson wrote:

    > There actually are two bilingual Cantonese-English public elementary
    > school programs in San Francisco (
    > and
    > ; their material states that they aim for literacy in both Cantonese
    > and English, but I haven't seen anything in enough detail to say to
    > what extent Cantonese-specific characters might be used.

    I'll have to contact them and find out.

    >> 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.
    > My impression is that Cantonese is in a better position here than
    > most other dialects--that is, that there are dialect-specific
    > characters used in writing other dialects, but that the usage is
    > usually not as widespread or consistent as with Cantonese. Are
    > these being gathered as well?

    Nobody has contacted Unicode with offers to do the gathering for us,
    and we don't have the resources (i.e., authoritative print sources and
    time and/or money) to do it ourselves. The only issues involved are

    > Naturally there are political aspects to all of this. On the
    > mainland, as you say, the push is toward Mandarin. In Taiwan there
    > has recently been something of a revival of Taiwanese, but my
    > impression is that this is primarily as a spoken language, and that
    > when it is written, one of the romanizations is often used rather
    > than characters; however, this is not first-hand information, and I
    > would welcome correction on this.

    There are, I understand efforts, to write Taiwanese with ideographs,
    but I don't know much about them and would welcome pointers to
    additional information.

    As you say, there are political aspects. Cantonese is in an unusually
    good position because of the semi-independence of Hong Kong and
    Macao. There has bee a notable upsurge in the interest in written
    Cantonese and Cantonese linguistics in Hong Kong in the last ten years.

    John H. Jenkins

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