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Yu Yan Wen Zi (Chinese)

人云E云 posted @ 2018年7月09日 23:54 in 漢家語文 , 30 阅读

(This article is the English translation of my another post 語言文字.)

Whenever we talk about China, we usually have some thoughts about "long history", "continous civilization" or so; we are proud of this undoubtedly. The main reason we say that Chinese civilization is continous compared to other antient civilizations is that the language never cut off.

 

From the Seal Script to Clerical Script and from Clerical Script to Regular Script, the historians tell us the scripts/glyphs (i.e. the written part of the Chinese language) linearly derives from the same origin; although the appearance differs a lot, the Oracle Bone Script (discovered in the 20th century) still shows the same thread. After the set up of the Regular Script, the biggest change is the so-called Simplified Chinese, but it still lies in Regular Script. This is what everyone knows: we even feel our ears have been grinded to emerge cocoon. However, intentionally or unintentionally, we seem to forget that "Yu Wen" (Chinese) is "Yu Yan" (vocal form) "Wen Zi" (written form) -- except for the written part, there is still the vocal part.

Yes, the change of vocal form is harder to record compared to the written form -- there are handwrittings, records and materials and it can be written or drawn; however it's almost impossible to record the voice during the era without phonograph. The ancestors tried best only to do transliteration/transcript and/or record analogue voices -- this may be the only pity of our logogram / logographic language. Luckily, the ancient pronunciation is not entirely buried under time: phonologists figuried out some methods to try to capture the original form of the ancient pronounciations -- by using books like 《廣韻》, with the 反切 notations accummulated during history (by ancient people), and rhythmic literals like poems. My understanding towards this direction only goes as far as here, but at least I capture one important message: there are patterns and threads in the pronunciation change.

This understanding facilitates my point of view towards the present standard Chinese (i.e. Mandarin). Like what I answered in the Zhihu question《为什么角色的角念jue,却仍有人念Jiao ?》:

Instead of the view of most people that "pronunciation is always changing so there is nothing to keep an eye on", my point of view is that "some pronunciations are acceptable (i.e. follows the evolution pattern), while some are not acceptable (i.e. violates the evolution pattern and does randomly)", and I believe that "the official standard should keep a balance".

The foundation of this point of view is that: language is the tool of communications, but it is not only for the communication of people within the same era, but also across the river of time. The best choice is, apparently, to satisfy both, but if not possible, try to satisfy as much as possible and choose the one which does less "harm". However, unfortunately, people / organizations tend to, for most cases, choose to satisfy the contemporary needs -- anyway who they deal with is the people of current era, not the ancestors or descendants.

Today, when I read an article titled 《说shuō客?坐骑qí?我怕是上了个假学!》 which (again) lists what the National Language Working Commission (I used its old name, Language Reform Commission, for a derogatory sense) does to the pronunciation standards, I feel both rejoice and helpless: the LRC is still what the LRC was -- brain-damaged and doing nothing useful.

What the LRC does mostly in recent years is changing the pronuncations of some characters in Mandarin. The goal is, with no exception, to "accord with the public understanding", which simply means "if a lie is only printed often enough, it becomes a quasi-truth". This is, apparently, a method with no regards to the history, and I'm afraid it has little influence towards the communications between contenporary people. The self-learning ability of people is far better than what the bureaucrats in LRC imagine -- we can figure out and understand that two different pronunciations possibily refer to the same word, and we can "ask" even if we don't understand. If you argue that what the LRC does is to reduce the burden of students (especially those before college), this is the biggest joke of the world. There is also some (not a small portion of) people who don't possess the same pronunciation as the "standard" (because of dialect, mis-hearing, following the historical pronunciation, etc.), so there is always the need to teach about the "standard" in primary, secondary and high school; since there is the need to teach about the "standard", the effort is always needed, and time consumptions is always needed. It doesn't make any sense to consider whether there are more students or less students who need to work hard to memorize the standard (because this is not possible due to the variety).

That article specifically points out one case: some "standard" has changed from "follow the history evolution" to "accord with public" (set aside whether the sample is typical or not) and then back to "follow the history evolution". This demonstrates again that the LRC has no consensus about what the standard should be.

 

Of course, it seems that the article 《说shuō客?坐骑qí?我怕是上了个假学!》 possesses a ridicule attitude towards that "the public requires to keep the previous standard of the pronunciation" -- (I think) the author would either think that the pronunciation only needs to suit contemporary needs, or is just ridiculing habitually. First of all, the author seems to consider that we could only choose either to be completely unchanged or to change arbitrarily. Secondly, the author argues that the public's attitude towards pronunciation standard is "to support what fits my habit, to oppose what doesn't" -- this is shown from the fact that the author lists, for many times, how the public reacts to the "previous" change of pronunciation standard and even meaning and concludes that the public has no objection. Finally, the author seems to believe that people, i.e. the public, is only the (passive) acceptor of pronunciation standard change, and all what will be changed solely depends on the bureaucrats of LRC.

However, for all these three points, I beg to differ.

As stated previously, the choice of pronunciation should be a trade-off procedure, and it should "try to satisfy as much as possible and choose the one which does less 'harm'". The crucial point is neither to consider to change or not to change, nor to consider whom to listen to -- it is to find the balance between history (both retrospective and prospective) and contemporary era. Still, as stated above, whichever the standard is won't make a significant impact of the current era, so I believe history shoule be placed extra emphasis on. The reaction (of standard change) of contenporaries is foreseeable: some (but will never be "most", as long as the change is reasonable) people will oppose. Therefore, why doesn't the people who make the standard issue the reason at the same time? People are not idiots and we can reason about things. As long as the change is reasonable, most people will agree.

The author seems to be unaware that in some parts of the WWW, many people are discovering and researching about the original meaning of words and proper pronunciation of characters, and they spontaneously sum up the law and keep telling other people what these things should be like. Maybe the author considers the number of these people is too few, but what I saw is that the number is increasing and more and more people accepted the dissemination of the "proper". Possibily because this process moisturizes things in silence, the author may, probably, have already seen the outcomes of it, but was unaware where this came from.

Then, for the people who makes the standard, LRC as mentioned, I will sneer at them as always. If they agreed with the people's republic, instead of being sinecures, LRC should be cautious and conscientious, seek for balance between now and history, and detail that to people; if they were composed of the scholar-officials (like in the antient time), LRC should insist on the history, rather than changing back and force. Whichever form they were supposed to be, LRC didn't do the right thing, so they ought to accept my ridicule. And either in the ancient time or in mordern time, either in the East or the West, the government is supposed to listen to or be operated by the people. Now the fact that some departments of the government doesn't perform in accordance is not the reason we agree with them -- on the contrary, this is the reason that we should work harder to point out and combat.

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