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Wired Youths In China & Japan Forget Character Forms 508

eldavojohn writes "The AFP brings a story of a growing concern that children in China and Japan suffer from 'character amnesia' when asked to write the complex characters they are so used to inputting via alphabet-based systems. The article claims this is a growing problem. In China, they have a word for it: 'tibiwangzi,' which means 'take pen, forget paper.' China Youth Daily polled 2,072 people and found that 83% have problems writing characters (although there's no indication if that was an online poll or not). A young woman who was interviewed explained her workaround: 'When I can't remember, I will take out my cellphone and find it (the character) and then copy it down.'"
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Wired Youths In China & Japan Forget Character Forms

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  • tibiwangzi (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @05:14AM (#33390144)

    In China, they have a word for it: 'tibiwangzi,' which means 'take pen, forget paper.'

    Actually, tibiwangzi, means "forget the word when you pick up the pen" (literally: pick up pen, forget word)

  • Re:Ummmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @05:45AM (#33390268)

    The "sharp s" or "eszett" ß, HTML character entity "ß", is very much alive in German, along with 6 more "out of the ordinary" characters, the umlauts ä, ö, ü, Ä, Ö, Ü. Some orthography rules have changed which used to force ß instead of ss in certain places. In other places, the ß still makes a clear difference over ss: The latter makes the preceding vowel short, the former makes it long.

  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @05:55AM (#33390312) Homepage

    I'm a doctor

  • Re:Time to change? (Score:4, Informative)

    by koxkoxkox ( 879667 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @05:56AM (#33390318)

    Your post is so wrong I do not know where to start ... Did you ever learn Chinese, went to China or spoke to a Chinese person ?

    The simplified characters are not a radical new system, just some little modifications of the old system. Sure the most common characters were made easier to write by hand (as that was the focus at the time) and some general rules are applied to simplify some common forms. But it concerns a few hundreds of the most common characters, while an educated Chinese will know around four or five thousands.

    Also, while young Chinese do not write traditional any more, except for calligraphy, almost everyone can read it approximately. It is very often used in shops sign as it suggests culture and tradition, it is essential to enjoy karaoke and online videos coming from Taiwan, and to read any text before 1950. Do you really believe that they stopped reading Confucius after 1950 ? They are very attached to this long literary tradition, and that was the main point against complete romanisation.

  • I agree with you. It doesn't add anything to what you're writing. I just makes it look "prettier". Knowledge is not better just because you're writing it/reading it in cursive.

    I actually tried to get good marks in school when I had calligraphy. I never got past 4.5 or 5 on a 1 to 7 mark scale (being 7 the best, and getting below 4 is failing). I honestly tried. My hand is not made for cursive writing. And I actually have very good fine motor skills, I just fail on writing. Eh. As long as people can understand my print handwriting, I don't care.

    I wouldn't go as far as saying it's not worth my time if it's in cursive, since for some people is really easy to write that way. Just don't ask me to do the same!
  • by dido ( 9125 ) <`dido' `at' `'> on Friday August 27, 2010 @06:16AM (#33390374)

    This hardly a new phenomenon. In Japan it was noted ever since Japanese-language word processors began to be widely used, so much so that a term: 'waapuro-baka []' was coined for them. Literally meaning 'word processor-stupid', it refers to someone whose kanji-writing ability has suffered due to over-reliance on the kanji conversion systems used to input Japanese text in a word processor or computer. I can imagine that waapuro-baka can only have gotten more prevalent in recent days, and perhaps might be a driver for orthographic reform in the countries that use the Han characters. The Koreans have all but abandoned the use of the Han characters (Hanja) in favor of their phonetic Hangul script and their use is now very much limited (and in North Korea has been completely forbidden). The Japanese have more inertia, from the looks of things, as it seems they have even recently increased the number of general-use kanji taught in their schools, rather than reducing their use in favor of the kana syllabaries instead. The Chinese don't have any native alternatives, and so what direction their orthographic reform will take is unclear.

  • Re:no surprise (Score:3, Informative)

    by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @06:21AM (#33390394)

    My sister in law, who is japanese born and bred, still has trouble reading some newspapers due to the complexity of the characters. She even needs to use multiple dictionaries (3?) to properly understand what she's reading.

    Add that to the fact that, as the article points out, everything now it typed (let alone the Chinese using simplified characters), it's no surprise that they're forgetting it. But, hey, look on the bright side: just like Latin, it'll evolve into easier, more coherent languages.

    AFAIK, the Romans had no trouble with Latin. And it's actually not a bad language as they go for coherence - once you get the idea that to change the meaning of (most) words you just change the ending, it's probably more regular than most modern Western languages. For instance:

    • Infinitive: Amare: To like/love
    • Amo: I like/love
    • Amas: You like/love
    • Amat: He/She/It
    • Amamus: We like/love
    • Amatis: You (plural) like/love
    • Amant: They like/love

    There's a whole bunch of verbs which follow the exact same pattern: -are, -o, -as, -at etc etc. And to change the tense - make it "I/you/he loved/will love" - it's another set of endings. Probably the most complicated thing is that there are three other variants on this set of endings depending upon which group the verb falls into, but seeing as the endings are subtly different for all groups it's fairly easy to figure out which group a given verb will fall into.

    It's the same with nouns - the ending changes depending on if you're talking about the nominative, accusative, dative, accusative or ablative form of the noun - and there are masculine and feminine nouns which have different endings. It follows that you don't really have much in the way of prepositions because you don't need them - instead you alter the ending of the word. So the "Romanes Eunt Domus" scene in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" was based on pretty accurate latin. Not much of a surprise considering most of the Python team were classically educated.

    The only thing you have to look out for is the occasional word that doesn't follow these patterns - the irregular verbs, for instance. Interestingly, the verb "to be" is irregular in virtually all languages.

  • "We lost all written history overnight." Hasn't the written history been translated? It seems that providing translations is not a big problem.

    "... more harm done than benefits."

    My understanding is that Turkey is doing very well, and is a strong and positive leader in the region. From the Wikipedia article about Turkey: [] "Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations (1945), the OECD (1961), the OIC (1969), the OSCE (1973), the ECO (1985), the BSEC (1992) and the G-20 major economies (1999)."

    Another quote: "The GDP growth rate from 2002 to 2007 averaged 7.4%, which made Turkey one of the fastest growing economies in the world during that period."

    Could you explain more about the harm? Overall, Turkey seems to be doing very, very well.
  • Re:Ummmm (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @07:03AM (#33390570) Homepage

    I also note that you labor under the misinformation that German has 27 characters when it actually has umlaut-a, umlaut-o, and umlaut-o

    I assume you mean u? That would be ä, ö and ü - slashdot doesn't strip all the non-US characters. I guess the counting depends on whether they're considered accented vowels or separate letters.

    To take an example from Norway, we have 29 letters including æøå. The last looks like a+circle but it's a separate letter, while say à is considered simply a variant of a.

  • by Naphoon ( 518208 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @07:37AM (#33390694)
    Æ/æ is still alive and kicking in Icelandic, as well as / (Slashdot forum cant print the letter Th in Thor = ór), Ö/ö, Ð/ð and a few other goodies. Ö at least is used in most if not all the skandinavian languages, but ð is a bit outdated. Simply put its "eth" or "th". Ex. Bath = Bað. Albeit, I will give you that Icelandic is a bit archaic as languages go. This is defenetly a growing problem, along with the art of putting together more complex, longer sentances. The impatiance and length limited texting of the younger .net culture is causing a rift between generations. Im only 28 but i feel like i cant hold a conversation with a kid half my age without using simplistic language. Or perhaps one is just growing old, eh?
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @07:56AM (#33390782)

    The Latin character set evolved initially for stone carving.

    No [].

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @08:58AM (#33391264) Homepage

    "The Amish community say they reject technology as it degrades their culture, but that is not true. They have simply 'frozen' the evolution of technology at one point."

    Amish don't say that, and they don't do that. What they do is have a critical, community-based discussion about new technology and its effects before allowing it, rather than a laissez-faire permissiveness. From Wired:

    Amish settlements have become a cliché for refusing technology. Tens of thousands of people wear identical, plain, homemade clothing, cultivate their rich fields with horse-drawn machinery, and live in houses lacking that basic modern spirit called electricity. But the Amish do use such 20th-century consumer technologies as disposable diapers, in-line skates, and gas barbecue grills. Some might call this combination paradoxical, even contradictory. But it could also be called sophisticated, because the Amish have an elaborate system by which they evaluate the tools they use; their tentative, at times reluctant use of technology is more complex than a simple rejection or a whole-hearted embrace. What if modern Americans could possibly agree upon criteria for acceptance, as the Amish have? Might we find better ways to wield technological power, other than simply unleashing it and seeing what happens? What can we learn from a culture that habitually negotiates the rules for new tools? []

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @08:59AM (#33391276)

    "The biggest challenge I found when learning (very) basic Mandarin was the almost complete disconnection between the sound of a word and how its written."

    I (still) have the same problem with English. It's generally impossible to determine how a word is pronounced from its written form in English. And that was a problem, since I learned English mostly from reading books and talking in web forums.

    Why 'general' but 'gear'? Or 'chair' but 'chlorine'? 'Put' but 'putty'? How the hell "Eugene Delacroix" is pronounced? Etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @09:31AM (#33391654)

    The Chinese "dialects" are different languages, as different from each other as Italian, French, and Portuguese. The only reason they aren't considered such is because of the strong desire of the central government to unify the country under a single cultural banner.

    It's like if you forced all speakers of Romance languages to read and write in Latin. Sure, they'd be able to do it eventually, but it's much easier to give them a phonetic writing system (i.e. what they actually have) and they can all learn a common language (French, English) to communicate with each other. Similarly, in China, you could institute a phonetic alphabet or tonal syllabary for each language, but also make sure everyone also learns Han (which from what I understand, they do anyway).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @09:46AM (#33391852)

    Well in all fairness "Eugene Delacroix" is French not English.

  • by Psx29 ( 538840 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @09:59AM (#33392018)
    Japanese characters are actually a mix of simplified and traditional. Many characters use simplifications that differ from Chinese and there also characters that were created by Japanese and have no equivalent in Chinese (kokuji)
  • Re:AFP? (Score:3, Informative)

    by soliptic ( 665417 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @11:28AM (#33393148) Journal []

    Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French news agency, the oldest one in the world, and one of the three largest with Associated Press and Reuters.[citation needed]

  • by billius ( 1188143 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:25PM (#33394756)
    Not to mention that Turkish has 8 vowels as well as vowel harmony and Arabic has only three vowels and two dipthongs that in many cases are considered optional and are omitted when writing []. It definitely sucks that there was a huge break in written history, but it has resulted in one of the most consistent orthographies in the world (something we native English speakers ought to be jealous of ;-) ). I suppose there were political motivations for the change as well (and also political motivations for writing in Arabic script in the first place!), but the fact is that it led to a dramatic rise in literacy, going from 11% in 1927 to 40% in 1960 []. I'm not sure about the specifics of the situation in China and Japan, but to paraphrase Einstein, writing systems should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. Take Germany, for example. I was there last Christmas and the people I was celebrating with had an old Bible open that was written using Fraktur script []. Even though I speak German, I was unable to read it because the script was so flowery and ornate that I couldn't make out the letters. This type of printing used to be pretty much the norm for complete documents, but now is mostly used for decorative titles, etc, which I think is a *good* thing since it allows people to understand what the heck is being talked about, which is the point of writing something down in the first place.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.