Re: writing Chinese dialects

From: Arne Götje (高盛華) (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2007 - 19:51:30 CST

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    John H. Jenkins wrote:
    >> 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.

    "Taiwanese" or better "Taiwan style Minnan" can be written with both
    Latin and Han script. The Latin script uses diacritics and was
    introduced by some Christian missionaries in order to better communicate
    with the locals.
    Using Han characters, there are a few conflicts between different
    dictionary authors. Using Han for Minnan dates back several centuries (I
    don't have exact figures). Traditional Minnan can be fully written with
    Han characters, most of them are the same like used in Mandarin, but
    sometimes have a different meaning. In other cases other Han characters
    than in Mandarin are used for the same meaning. For example: "to eat a
    meal" in Mandarin: 吃飯 (chi1 fan4), in Minnan: 食飯 (jia3 bng1). Other
    Chinese languages (for example Hakka) use the same characters like
    Minnan in this case.
    Taiwan style Minnan has developed seperate from the Mainland since the
    Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). This has led to the situation
    that some new words got imported from Japanese. For those, Japanese
    Kanji are used.
    For some characters it is difficult to find historical references, or
    the words have been invented during time, but noone bothered to write
    them down, so there are no standard characters to write them. In those
    cases dictionary authors tend to "invent" new characters for them. For
    example, one of the famous dictionaries in Taiwan, 台華雙語辭典 by Mr.
    Yang Qing-Chu (楊青矗), lists 152 "invented" characters, most of them
    are not encoded in Unicode. Regarding all characters in that dictionary,
    many of them are in Extension A and B. But as I said, about the
    "invented" characters, there is some controversy. Some scholars claim,
    there should be correct characters available, the dictionary authors
    just didn't research enough... but they have yet to prove these claims.

    BTW: there is no national standard for any of the local languages in Taiwan.

    > 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.

    There do exist cantonese input methods already (at least in the Open
    Source world). And those AFAIR use sometimes different characters than
    Mandarin uses.

    Further more I'd like to notice, that Hong Kong has released the HKSCS
    standard, which contains more than 4000 additional characters compared
    to Big5. Some of these characters are in Extension A and B of Unicode.
    The HKSCS standard contains characters for Cantonese as used in Hong
    Kong and additional characters used by the government.
    Both, Hong Kong and Macao have members in the IRG, who contribute
    locally used characters.

    - --
    Arne Götje (高盛華) <>
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