Chinese more precise! (was: Text is bad?)

Subject: Chinese more precise! (was: Text is bad?)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 08:21:00 -0500

Hank Wong caught me in two of those "slip of the brain" errors I inevitably
make when I'm between Sinutabs and the headcold simply won't let up:

<<I think anybody who is actually familiar with both Chinese and English
will disagree that English is more precise and flexible. Yes, the characters
are harder to write, but they often express a lot more than an English word

Sorry, that was poor verbal shorthand on my part. By precise, I meant that
the symbols (i.e., letters) used to form English words are more abstract but
less open to interpretation because unlike in Chinese, the letters are not
pictograms that originally represented anything in the real world. (I was
basing this on a possibly incorrect understanding of how Chinese symbols
were originally formed; I'd read that they often resemble or symbolize the
things they depict, which English words only do in the limited case of
onomatopoeia.) By flexible, I meant that there are more possible
combinations and permutations in English than in Chinese based on the use of
letters, combined with the fact that English has borrowed words from just
about any language on the planet, including Chinese. I have no firsthand
experience with how Chinese symbols can be combined, so I can't speculate
whether this offers more or less flexibility in conceptualizing than English

<<For example, in Chinese we have what is called "chen yu," which are sets
of characters (usually, but not always 4),
that express very complicated ideas. Ideas that in English could take 10, or
15 words, or more.>>

I encounter this frequently in French, which is the language I'm actually
familiar with as a second language, and colleagues who use other second
languages have universally confirmed that this is generally the case. So
because the Chinese language is so different from English (compared with
French), I find it easy to believe that there are Chinese concepts that
can't easily be expressed in English even in the 10-15 words you mention.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Hofstadter's Law: The time and effort required to complete a project are
always more than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's

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