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From:  Stefan Woehrmann
Date:  Wed Jan 26, 2000  2:44 pm
Subject:  Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese?

Hi Wayne,

thank you very much for your comment. I loved to read it.


>From: Wayne in Maine
>Reply-To: SignWriting List
>To: SignWriting List
>Subject: Re: Is SignWriting like Chinese?
>Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2000 22:14:14 GMT
>>QUESTION: Is SignWriting like Chinese?
>>ANSWER: No. Although SignWriting symbols are visual, and sometimes we
>>write signs down the page in vertical columns, from a linguistic
>>standpoint, SignWriting is different than Chinese. SignWriting is
>>In simplistic terms, Chinese generally writes concepts and some
>>sounds. Mandarin Chinese is ONE writing system for several different
>>languages and dialects in China (I believe).
>Valerie -
> I guess this one is for me, considering that I am fluent in Chinese
>and am now learning SignWriting.
> Obviously when someone says "Is SW like Chinese?" they're thinking of
>the Chinese written language. Certainly SW has nothing to do with the
>Chinese spoken language. So perhaps it could be better phrased: "Is SW
>Chinese characters?"
> The term "Mandarin" or "Mandarin Chinese" is the name given to one of
>the many dialects of spoken Chinese. Mandarin Chinese is not, per se, a
>writing system, but a spoken language. Alongside Mandarin in the same
>language family are other spoken languages such as Cantonese, Hakka, Min
>(Taiwanese and Fujianese), Wu (the dialect of Shanghai), and (some would
>include) Xiang (Hunanese). These are the major language groups, and they
>are all essentially mutually UNintelligible. They're only called dialects
>because they're all spoken within one political entity: China (although
>many, including myself, prefer to think of Taiwan as a separate entity
> Now, back to what they meant to say, not what they said. Is SW like
>Chinese characters? Valerie, your answer is essentially accurate.
>Mandarin, unlike most writing systems, is "logographic", i.e. what is
>written is not sounds (phonemes) but ideas, concepts, meanings. True,
>is a phonetic component to many Chinese characters, but it is not a
>writing system, like SW is. For one quick example, the character for
>"invite", pronounced qing3 (the 3 means it's pronounced on the 3rd tone
>which is a low-falling-then-rising tone; the "q" is pronounced like English
>"ch"), is written in two parts. On the left is the character "yan2" which
>means "speech" or "speak", and on the right is the character "qing1"
>(pronounced on the first tone, a high level tone) which means
>"azure-colored". The left side of this particular character is the
>"significant", i.e. the part of the character that hints at the meaning:
>inviting is usually done with speech. The right side of the character is
>the "phonetic", i.e. the part of the character that gives a hint as to the
>sound of the resulting character. The idea is that the character qing3
>(invite) means "something that has to do with speaking, and sounds
>like the word qing1".
> This principle underlies about 80% of the characters is written
>Chinese. I would dare say that there are no truly phonetic characters
>anywhere in the language, unless it be the borrowing of Chinese characters
>purely for their sound values, such as in writing foreign proper names.
>character combinations are sometimes ridiculous, but the sound conveys the
>intended meaning. For example, the characters "sesame"+"add"+"older
>brother" seems meaningless, unless you consider the sounds of the three
>characters taken together: "zhi"+"jia"+"ge" (or in Cantonese:
>"shi"+"ga"+"go") which is the standard transliteration into Chinese of the
>city of "Chicago". Similarly "jaw"+"take"+"horse" ("ba"+"na"+"ma") gives
>you "Panama".
> I guess the short answer is: "No, SW is not like Chinese characters."
>It's probably more accurate to say: "SW is like written Spanish" (which is
>the most phonetic language I can think of off hand -- mmmmm, maybe I should
>have chosen Swahili!).
> OK, that's my three yuan's worth.
> - Wayne Smith
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