Re: Measuring a writing system "economy"/"accuracy"

From: suzanne mccarthy (
Date: Sun Jul 03 2005 - 02:05:10 CDT

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    I was just rereading Yuen Ren Chao's book "Language and Symbolic Systems?"
    "In the language of communication theory each symbol in a character text, being one out of several thousand, carries more "information" than one in a small class of items. The simplest kind of system of writing consists of two words: 0 and 1 and all text consists of nothing but a succession of zeros and ones. Such a language will suit a computer but not the brain of a speaking and reading person. " p. 111-112

    "On a comparable scale of invested interest, the very difficult system of Chinese writing, which will rate very low on most of the requirements – except that of elegance (in a sense) and except that of operational efficiency in terms of information per chunk – has not only served well the Chinese speaking people, but also several of the countries of Eastern Asia speaking various non-Chinese languages. It not only extends widely over space, but also over more than two millennia in time without substantial structural change. p.226
    "If vested interest could be discounted in favour of end efficiency, my guess for an ideal system of visual and auditory symbols for general purposes of speech and thought will involve neither the extreme paucity in elementary units nor the extreme luxury of thousands of them, but probably about 200 monosyllabic symbols, such that a string of “seven plus or minus two” can be easily grasped in one span of attention. A previous guess (p. 112) on a slightly different basis, came out as 170." p. 226
    Suzanne McCarthy

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