Re: The History of the Alphabet (long)

Kennita Watson (
Tue, 7 Oct 1997 08:11:56 -0400 (EDT)

Lee Crocker wrote:
>Frankly, I think Chinese logographs would have served us well. It is
>actually a much more efficient system for printing, reading, and even
>writing: there are, on average, fewer penstrokes per Chinese word
>than per English word. They also survive the centuries better, not
>being subject to phonetic drift ...

But how well do they deal with construction (composition?). In English,
it takes a simple set of prefix and suffix additions to get from
"establish" to "antidisestablishmentarianism" -- how does Chinese handle
such things?

>They also survive the centuries better, not
>being subject to phonetic drift (peasants from opposite sides of China
>who would strain to understand each other's speech--if they could
>manage at all--can both read Lau-Tsu with ease, while students today
>have difficulty with Shakespeare, and most don't even attempt Chaucer).

I find it an exceptional advantage to be able to call across the country
or across the ocean and talk to people and understand them. People today
having a hard time with Shakespeare and Chaucer is more an issue of
general illiteracy and lack of the Chinese reverence for the ancestors
than of phonetic drift.

As I understand it, each logograph in Chinese is a completely separate
word. How many of them are there? I seem to recall a number around
40,000. English has about 350,000 words. Consequently, many things
can be said in fewer words in English than in other languages, offsetting
the "fewer penstrokes per Chinese word" that you mention.

I might be able to to better with this given a lot more time and a
reasonable time of day -- I love language, and while I find it maddening,
I love English, so I hate to let this sort of thing go -- but I need both
to sleep and to get back to work. I hope this at least adds to the


Kennita Watson | The bond that links your true family is not one of blood,| but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do
| members of the same family grow up under the same roof.
| -- Richard Bach, _Illusions_