Next time someone tells you Kanji is stupid to learn...

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Reply #1 - 2011 April 01, 2:24 am
darkauras
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From: San Diego
Registered: 2011-03-26
Posts: 33

I've heard lot's of people say that learning kanji is a waste of time, or that the Japanese should switch over to only using hiragana. Ignoring how horribly ethnocentric that is, I thought it would be fun for us to find ways to point out that there are worse things that Kanji out there, or how Kanji is really awesome (which I've come to find is totally true.)

As a starter, I recommend you all take a look at this Sign Writing This is the written form of American Sign Language. I'm fluent in the language, and even I can't make heads or tails of it. There's a reason no one uses it.

See? There are worse things to learn than Kanji, we could all be learning Sign Writing.

Reply #2 - 2011 April 01, 3:50 am
pudding cat
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From: UK
Registered: 2010-12-09
Posts: 497

Wow.  Can anyone write that?  Is it a typing only thing?

Reply #3 - 2011 April 01, 4:11 am
thecite
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From: Adelaide
Registered: 2009-02-05
Posts: 781

Why would a deaf person want to read sign language exactly? Surely they could just read normal text instead?

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Reply #4 - 2011 April 01, 4:51 am
IceCream
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Registered: 2009-05-08
Posts: 3124

cool!! that looks wicked!!!

@thecite: it does say on the site but...
it's a way of writing the movements of the signs, so anyone can learn or expand their vocabulary by reading the sign writing, it can preserve signed theatre, etc.

presumably it also maps much better onto the multi-modal features of the brain we all use when reading than normal writing too, so probably it feels more natural to someone reading it who can't hear. The letters we use represent sounds in our minds. A language that represents movements to someone who can't hear will be able to make use of neural networks related to watching visual movements in the same way presumably. (or for those who can hear but are fluent in sign language too.)

Reply #5 - 2011 April 01, 4:53 am
cntrational
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Registered: 2010-11-02
Posts: 54

thecite wrote:

Why would a deaf person want to read sign language exactly? Surely they could just read normal text instead?

Uh? They would want to read sign language because, well, it's their language! This is kinda like saying "The Welsh shouldn't read Welsh, they should read English like everybody else."

Anyway, SignWriting is just weird. It was designed by a dancer, not a linguist! I've heard people say that it's "popular", but I've never found any hard facts supporting this.

Edit:

IceCream wrote:

presumably it also maps much better onto the multi-modal features of the brain we all use when reading than normal writing too

What does "multi-modal" mean?

Last edited by cntrational (2011 April 01, 4:56 am)

Reply #6 - 2011 April 01, 5:14 am
IceCream
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Registered: 2009-05-08
Posts: 3124

multi-modal generally means using more than one sense. (e.g. sound and vision).

In the brain, on a given stimulus, there might be some neurons that respond preferentially to sound, some that respond preferentially to sight, and some that are multi-modal... they respond to both.

When we read, neurons that deal with both (or maybe even in some cases those that respond preferentially to sound) will also fire. So it's possible that with sign writing, neurons that respond preferentially to movement will also fire.

It's a kind of synesthesia, if you want to call it that... one that we train to work. We "see" letters as "sounds".

Reply #7 - 2011 April 01, 5:24 am
Javizy
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From: England
Registered: 2007-02-16
Posts: 770

Do you mean switch over to Romaji? I've read one or two arguments for that. I can't imagine why anybody would make an argument for using hiragana only. They're both impossibly hard to read, so that's probably the best reason to keep kanji.

Reply #8 - 2011 April 01, 5:34 am
cntrational
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Registered: 2010-11-02
Posts: 54

Uh. Okay. I don't see how SignWriting would map better with the "multi-modal features of the brain".

Reply #9 - 2011 April 01, 6:22 am
erlog
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From: Japan
Registered: 2007-01-25
Posts: 590

Who is making these exceptionally silly arguments that Japanese should get rid of kanji or switch to romaji? I can't imagine anyone with any sort of familiarity with the language holding those opinions. Kanji are not a burden to the language. They are the thing that makes it possible to discern shades of granular meaning in a language more prone to homophones than other languages. To get rid of kanji is to say you want a whole lot more misunderstanding, and to get rid of hiragana is to not understand the Japanese sound system at all.

It's interesting that people don't understand the history of the Japanese language, and that the system of hiragana/katakana/kanji was specifically a choice imposed on the language because it made the most sense to do it like that.

Last edited by erlog (2011 April 01, 6:30 am)

Reply #10 - 2011 April 01, 6:39 am
yudantaiteki
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Registered: 2009-10-03
Posts: 3474

erlog wrote:

Who is making these exceptionally silly arguments that Japanese should get rid of kanji or switch to romaji?

Me?

I'm just a pragmatist so I don't actually make the arguments that often; there's no political will or popular support so major writing reform isn't going to happen any time soon.  Doesn't mean it would be a bad idea, though.

Last edited by yudantaiteki (2011 April 01, 6:43 am)

Reply #11 - 2011 April 01, 6:46 am
IceCream
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Registered: 2009-05-08
Posts: 3124

cntrational wrote:

Uh. Okay. I don't see how SignWriting would map better with the "multi-modal features of the brain".

perhaps if nest0r sees this thread he could explain a lot better than i can... (or tell me if i'm wrong) my knowledge of this stuff isn't incredibly solid yet, i only know the outlines.

But, in general, when a hearing person reads words, (lets say for simplicity) parts of the brain that are usually used for hearing are also used when reading.

For a deaf person, the word as a whole means something, and perhaps parts of the brain that are usually used in signing (movement, proprioceptive information, etc) also come to be used for the word as a whole. But the individual letters don't "sound like" anything the way they do for us.

But with sign writing, each individual component of the sign represents a particular action. The sign as a whole will represent a set of movements, proprioceptive information, etc.

Since there can be a direct mapping of one to the other (movement + proprioceptive information < -> symbol), i would imagine it could be a lot quicker to learn for natively signing people, because it directly allows for the brain to use multi-modality reading, rather than the indirect way it would for letters.

Kanji is, of course, different, and probably easier in some ways for deaf people, i imagine...

EDIT: i'm not trying to make a comment about that particular sign writing, perhaps there's better ones if that one was made by someone who doesn't really know about language...?

EDIT2: probably kanji is still better than sign writing anyway, because it maps directly to concepts instead anyway...

Last edited by IceCream (2011 April 01, 6:57 am)

Reply #12 - 2011 April 01, 6:57 am
Thora
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From: Canada
Registered: 2007-02-23
Posts: 1688

erlog wrote:

Who is making these exceptionally silly arguments that Japanese should get rid of kanji or switch to romaji? I can't imagine anyone with any sort of familiarity with the language holding those opinions.

well, it's mostly been japanese people...starting somewhat officially about a century ago?  ;-)

(Taking a much longer term view, I suppose some view getting rid of kanji as a return to the indigenous language. There are a few um ... interesting websites promoting not just kana use, but also the replacement of chinese compounds with words of Japanese origin, whenever possible. To them, it's all about pure Japanese sounds...)

Edit: you added-

erlog wrote:

It's interesting that people don't understand the history of the Japanese language, and that the system of hiragana/katakana/kanji was specifically a choice imposed on the language because it made the most sense to do it like that.

I'm not sure many would describe the history in those terms.

Last edited by Thora (2011 April 01, 8:20 am)

Reply #13 - 2011 April 01, 7:02 am
thecite
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From: Adelaide
Registered: 2009-02-05
Posts: 781

erlog wrote:

Who is making these exceptionally silly arguments that Japanese should get rid of kanji or switch to romaji?

The case has been made various times in modern history, I think the Japanese government was considering it after WWII. I agree that if Japanese lost the kanji it would be a wreck, you'd have to introduce spacing, the 同音語 would drive you nuts, and it would just be a lot more difficult to learn the language in general, not to mention you'd rob all the fun out of the language.

Reply #14 - 2011 April 01, 7:12 am
thecite
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From: Adelaide
Registered: 2009-02-05
Posts: 781

Thora wrote:

here are a few um ... interesting websites promoting not just kana use, but also the replacement of chinese compounds with words of Japanese origin, whenever possible. To them, it's all about pure Japanese sounds...)

Could you link me up with a few of those sites please? Sounds interesting.

Reply #15 - 2011 April 01, 7:18 am
nest0r
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Registered: 2007-10-19
Posts: 5236
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I believe SignWriting could be thought of as a logographic system with certain advantages for deaf learners over an orthography and teaching system more heavily based on grapheme to phoneme mapping.

Also, as complete languages unto themselves, it makes sense for sign languages to have their own scripts in addition to preexisting orthographies. In fact, I imagine it could serve as a useful bridge.

As for kanji, I believe I've successfully argued elsewhere the scientific basis and logical rationale for why all languages ought to follow Japanese (but more systematic) in utilizing mixed logographic/phonographic writing systems. Humans are best suited for multimodal processing. It's high time English incorporated kanji. I think the world is ready!

Last edited by nest0r (2011 April 01, 7:20 am)

Reply #16 - 2011 April 01, 7:26 am
erlog
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From: Japan
Registered: 2007-01-25
Posts: 590

I wasn't saying "who in history would have ever thought..." since I don't doubt that it's been considered before in Japan for reasons of nationalism like when they decided to strip all the English loan words out of baseball vocabulary during WW2.

I was saying who, in 2011, who has done any sort of critical thinking about the Japanese language would ever think that getting rid of kanji would be helpful? It was meant to be slightly rhetorical because, I'll just come right out and say it, it is a profoundly stupid position to take.

There was a reason they were used to begin with, and it was because the Japanese didn't have a writing system. They imported Chinese characters for both the purpose of phonetics and meaning, there was a battle back and forth over how to use them, but then it eventually evolved that they could have the best of both worlds with the hiragana/katakana/kanji system. It's an extremely elegant solution, and is far more pragmatic and useful than using just kanji or just hiragana.

You can discover for yourself how frustrating it would be. Go take a news story, and then convert it to romaji or hiragana only. Words you used to be able to read at a glance are now an absolute chore to parse, and all shades of meaning now must be discerned entirely through context.

A great example of the profound usefulness of kanji just happened for me in this thread. I had never encountered the word 同意語 before, but thanks to the existence of kanji I was able to guess its meaning with 100% accuracy. I was also able to guess its reading well enough that I could type it on the first try using the IME. If it had just been written as どういご then, for certain, I would have had to look it up.

And by "familiar with the language" I did not necessarily mean "speaks the language." Most Japanese are just as ignorant about the origins/structure/grammar of their own language as most English speakers are. By "familiar with the language" I meant from a structural and linguistic standpoint. In my opinion, to make the case that kanji should be dropped from Japanese is to flat out admit you know zero about linguistics.

I know I'm coming off as a tremendous jerk right now, but I just don't see how there's any argument against the pragmatic case for kanji that caused it to be used in the first place, avoided it's disappearance even during times of war with China, and has caused it to persist into the modern day. If that right there isn't proof of its usefulness then I don't really know what is.

Last edited by erlog (2011 April 01, 7:35 am)

Reply #17 - 2011 April 01, 7:33 am
thecite
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From: Adelaide
Registered: 2009-02-05
Posts: 781

nest0r wrote:

It's high time English incorporated kanji. I think the world is ready!

Ooh, yes please. Once upon a time I used to mix in kanji in place of Heisig keywords as a sort of short hand, it was always a pleasure to read. That add-on "Characterizer" did pretty much the same thing, unfortunately they never incorporated RTK3...

Last edited by thecite (2011 April 01, 7:42 am)

Reply #18 - 2011 April 01, 8:16 am
Thora
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From: Canada
Registered: 2007-02-23
Posts: 1688

thecite wrote:

Could you link me up with a few of those sites please? Sounds interesting.

Here are two pages from the 「日本語ルネッサンス運動」 site:

カナモジ運動は国語愛護運動である

「漢字」は「Chinese character」である 

If you scroll down a bit on the カナモジカイ site, you can try your hand at reading mixed-kana Japanese (with kanji readings in katakana). oh joy

But you know....come to think of it.... I suspect some the hardcore-kanji-vocab-SRS-folks here might end up suppressing a few 10,000s of those words in favour of a few nice soft yamato kotoba when they finally decide to try speaking...     haha   ;-)

Reply #19 - 2011 April 01, 9:19 am
nadiatims
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From: Tsukuba-shi
Registered: 2008-01-10
Posts: 1676

What's the connection between wanting a high vocabulary and delaying speaking?

To OP:
Kanji makes a lot of sense once you know it, but one of the arguments against it I imagine is that it takes longer to learn than less complex writing systems. If Japan officially adopted the roman alphabet, homonyms could still be disambiguated by some other means, such as a few alternate spellings for different phonemes, as in english, or using diacritic marks. Vietnamese used to be written in Kanji and was romanised using diacritics to distinguish different tones. Or failing that, further simplifications could made to kanji to reduce redundant radicals, standardise use of phonetic radicals, reduce the number of strokes etc. It seems quite obvious to me that if anyone were tasked now with creating a new writing system for the japanese language from scratch that would ultimately result in a much simpler system than is currently in place. The Japanese writing system is as it is because of historical reasons. The reason it hasn't been scrapped and replaced probably has more to do with the fact it would be a massive pain in the arse to do so rather than any inherent superiority of the current system.

Reply #20 - 2011 April 01, 9:26 am
mlorenz
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From: Canada
Registered: 2008-06-22
Posts: 43

Thanks to erlog and thecite's comments, I got curious and went off and did a little research into exactly why Japanese uses kanji.  My Japanese vocabulary is still a bit limited, so I hadn't realized that Japanese has more homophones than many other languages (although it makes sense when you realize it's a function of the available sounds).  I'd always thought that going with just hiragana would make life so much easier - prompted by my frustration with becoming a functional illiterate as soon as I touch the ground in Japan - but I can see now why that might not be the case.

And I have to agree with erlog's comment about knowing what words mean even if I've never encountered them before.  同意語 is only the latest example for me - I knew what it meant right away, even though I had no idea how to pronounce it.

Thanks for giving me one more comeback, next time I'm asked "Why are you studying this?"

Reply #21 - 2011 April 01, 9:28 am
vonPeterhof
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Registered: 2010-07-23
Posts: 363

Thora wrote:

Taking a much longer term view, I suppose some view getting rid of kanji as a return to the indigenous language. There are a few um ... interesting websites promoting not just kana use, but also the replacement of chinese compounds with words of Japanese origin, whenever possible. To them, it's all about pure Japanese sounds...)

Wasn't something like this done in North Korea? I wonder how that turned out and to what extent it affected mutual intelligibility between the North and the South. I also wonder if there are any good resources on North Korean anywhere outside North Korea.

This also reminds me of Anglish, but I cannot tell whether those people are being serious or not. Liberal Democratic Party=Freebeing-Folkmightish Mootband big_smile

Reply #22 - 2011 April 01, 9:31 am
nest0r
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Registered: 2007-10-19
Posts: 5236
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@erlog

Well, it's a touchy subject and one we've debated on much in the past. Some of us feel that logically and scientifically, kanji is highly useful for its iconic nature and semantic content, both in learning the language it's used in and in general as possessing attributes that mesh with the way the brain and mind learn and use language. Others cite outdated linguistic and pedagogical concepts to disparage kanji, not without cause, as popular science lags behind and tools and strategies for learning are currently underused also, so it's easy to see how a dominant speech-based view of language and concern with laborious methods of achieving literacy can form an endogeneity trap of sorts. ;p Then there's the troubling political elements that cast a pall over the proceedings and make for murky waters, and meanwhile ethnocentric, even bigoted pundits, and ideologues variously spew the occasional ignorant gibberish and get the hackles rising.

Meanwhile, there was one last piece of the puzzle missing from my theorizing, that I'm happy to say I'm finding corroborative research on as we speak, but I've long since been satisfied with how everything else panned out and no longer feel the impassioned need to argue the topic. Instead I content myself with self-congratulatory summaries.

Last edited by nest0r (2011 April 01, 9:32 am)

Reply #23 - 2011 April 01, 9:39 am
louischa
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From: montreal
Registered: 2010-09-06
Posts: 132

If you look at the Korean language, they more or less got rid of hanja (kanji). There
are many homophones in Korean as well, but they still manage. Korean high schoolers learn 1800 hanja, but it is more like learning etymology to them. There is also a chauvinistic movement (mainly in North Korea) that seeks to eliminate Sino-Korean compounds from the language to substitute with purely Korean words. That's a tall order since about 60% of Korean words are in fact Sino-Korean.

The Vietnamese used to write their language with kanji, too. Got rid of it following the introduction of the Roman alphabet in Vietnam by a French jesuit, Alexandre de Rhodes (1591 - 1660).

I guess this debate about kanji or not is moot when one learns them with a method as efficient as Heisig's. Then the advantages of using kanji become evident and the cost of learning then becomes much lower. It is amazing to me that the method is not more widely recognized, and even made fun of by many (e.g. Tae Kim).

To me, part of the mystique of Japanese lies in its difficult writing scheme - at least to the non-Heisigers... Let's pray that their high school education system will not become a joke like it is in the West and that they will have to drop kanji because youngsters simply cannot find the time and the will to learn them. I live in Quebec, and youngsters are simply unable to write in proper French. Apparently the language is too hard.

Reply #24 - 2011 April 01, 9:57 am
nadiatims
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From: Tsukuba-shi
Registered: 2008-01-10
Posts: 1676

@nestor:

Kanji aren't necessarily all that much more semantic than syllables in English or any other language written with the Roman alphabet. The syllables in English words carry semantic information too. If a japanese word has a sanzui in it we can guess it has a liquid related meaning, but to do that, we have to first know the meaning of the sanzui radical. Likewise we can guess at the meaning of English words containing 'aqua', 'hydro' or 'marine'. We recognise these word fragments as carrying meaning in their own right.
Why is 同音語 more guessable that homo(same)phone(sound)?

Reply #25 - 2011 April 01, 10:13 am
Thora
Member
From: Canada
Registered: 2007-02-23
Posts: 1688

erlog,

There are valid arguments on both sides of the debate. It really just comes down to an individual's assessment of the advantages/disadvantages and the feasibility of reform.

Also, I think those in favour of reducing or abolishing kanji were more concerned with general literacy, the burden on students and Japan's communication with the world, than any nationalistic desire to shake off Chinese influences.  They wanted to switch to romaji after all.

btw, advocates of script reform include respected linguists  - Japanese and non-Japanese, past and present. I think Japanese people also have more knowledge of their language than you assume. I'd expect the evolution of the writing system is covered in the basic school curriculum. 

To me, it's a really interesting topic because it involves such a wide range of issues: cognition, equality, technology, education reform, literature, art, history, politics, etc. I somehow doubt that many of the authors who've tackled the subject ... and all people who might disagree with you... are "ignorant", lack "critical thinking" skills and hold "profoundly stupid" positions on a non-issue.     lol