Best Writing System?

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Crack Kid
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Best Writing System?

Postby Crack Kid » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:17 pm UTC

Which writing systems is the best?

While discussing which language is the best is clearly meaningless, there obviously is a set of criteria by which writing systems can be judged. Ie:

Ease of Learning
Ease of Writing (Or input, in this modern age)
Ease of Reading

And some orthography+language pairs are clearly superior to others. You could add aesthetics to this, I suppose, but I for one tend to view things a bit more pragmatically.

Hanzi+Mandarin is clearly a clusterfuck (I know that statements going to be controversial, but I stand by it. Pretty? Yes. Excessively complex and hard to learn? Definitely), only exceeded by Hanzi+(any other sinitic language) or Kanji+Japanese (at least with Mandarin you've got some arguably phonetic clues).

The Roman and Arabic scripts seem like a really good compromises between readability and speed of writing (Cyrilic, Hangeul, etc seem like they'd be slower to write, but I confess I can't seem to find any actual data on this), and languages that implement them very regularly (eg, Spanish?), seem like the optimum, though this clearly is subject to the bias of my familiarity with the Roman alphabet.

Thoughts?

(Also, it really frustrates me that I can't seem to find good data comparing different orthography+languages by the criteria I mention. If someone could point me in the right direction, I'd be grateful)

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:51 pm UTC

Cyrillic isn't slower to write than Latin, and I don't see why it would seem to be. There's a good cursive of it that works very similarly to Latin cursive.

Quite possibly, the best language-orthography-pairing is Finnish. However, it has to be said that Finnish phonology is really simple, too, so that problems other writer communities have (final devoicing, assimilations, vowel reductions) just don't arise there. Hungarian is also not bad, though it has some minor flaws. It fails on ease of input, though.

By the way, you forgot one of the worst: Irish.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Mar 26, 2010 7:33 pm UTC

(For the record, since other oldsters might remember it like I did, this isn't a repeat topic, but there was a thread about the coolest Asian writing system awhile back, that might be interesting to peruse for people contributing to the current thread.)
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Sat Mar 27, 2010 2:28 am UTC

/læŋwɪdʒ/
Crack Kid wrote:Which writing systems is the best?

While discussing which /læŋwɪdʒ/ is the best is clearly meaningless, there obviously is a set of criteria by which writing systems can be judged. Ie:

Ease of Learning
Ease of Writing (Or input, in this modern age)
Ease of Reading
well kanji doesn't fall into any of these The take a japanese student all the way up to highschool graduation to learn (i.e. In japan you aren't expected to read proper jap until you graduate) it's hard to write and hard to read and each kanji has many readings, some up to the 20's and yet there are advantages to using kanji, it helps clarify, it means that despite the reading you can understand the concept and compoud characters which may be entirely unrelated vocally give you a good hint as to their meaning.
Crack Kid wrote:And some orthography+/læŋwɪdʒ/ pairs are clearly superior to others. You could add aesthetics to this, I suppose, but I for one tend to view things a bit more pragmatically.

Hanzi+Mandarin is clearly a clusterfuck (I know that statements going to be controversial, but I stand by it. Pretty? Yes. Excessively complex and hard to learn? Definitely), only exceeded by Hanzi+(any other sinitic /læŋwɪdʒ/) or Kanji+Japanese (at least with Mandarin you've got some arguably phonetic clues).
again there are a lot of advantages to hanzi which other orthographies don't have. At least with hanzi unlike jap the characters adhere to a 1 character 1 pronunciation system.
Crack Kid wrote:The Roman and Arabic scripts seem like a really good compromises between readability and speed of writing (Cyrillic, Hangeul, etc seem like they'd be slower to write, but I confess I can't seem to find any actual data on this), and talky...word things that implement them very regularly (eg, Spanish?), seem like the optimum, though this clearly is subject to the bias of my familiarity with the Roman alphabet.

hangeul and cyrillic, like greek, take me about the same time to wright as latin. For the record handwritten cyrillic is a bit different to what you see on your screen, try putting it into italics to get an idea.

Arabic is not a good compromise for me It's an excellent writing system for Arabic where writing vowels would cluster the word whose meaning is conveyed in consonants. However, they do write long vowels but they write them like consonants which leads to some confusion. Usually the long vowels are enough to distinguish between 2 or more forms which contain the same consonants but differ in meaning. Unfortunately all the passive forms in Arabic are written identically to their active counterparts and there are more such problems.

Other /læŋwɪdʒəz/ which use arabic script however, like Persian, have less luck with it. Persian (like sorani Kurdish) is an IE /læŋwɪdʒ/ and as such they need to mark vowels to show the stem of the noun/verb. Because vowels are an inherent part of the stem and yet are not written, there is no written distinction between words differing in vowels only

I'm surprised that you didn't mention hebrew which is like arabic but not conjoined and with fewer letters.

Makri: what's wrong with hungarian? I have one or two bones to pick with finn. and Irish isn't /that/ bad if you know why it does what it does.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby AndrewT » Sat Mar 27, 2010 3:59 am UTC

If you're talking about adaptability and ease of use, then Hangul and the Greek-derived alphabets would probably be some of the only choices for a majority of the world's major languages.

As far as the Asian writing systems, I think you're a bit off by putting the Chinese ahead of Kanji/Kana on the ease of understanding scale. Written Japanese, depending on how technical the subject matter is, can have over half the characters be purely phonetic. Japanese also has a system for labeling difficult characters with phonetics characters either above (for horizontal writing) or to the right (for vertical writing) for ease of reading. Publications for children can have every single Kanji character labeled this way, but even novels for adults have a fair number of these phonetic reminders.

Plus one of the interesting things you can do with this system is to supply a phonetic reading that's not exactly how the Kanji should be read. It's possible to employ double meanings in writing this way and can be used quite effectively in poetry. For example I remember translating some song lyrics where almost every significant word had an alternate meaning inserted phonetically over it, so that if you read the lyrics based on how it's spoken you get a story of an abusive relationship, but if you read them based on the meanings of the Kanji used, you get a story of a butterfly caught in a spiderweb. I'll see if I can find a link for the Japanese-minded here.

So I guess my point is that there's a continuum between ease of use and complexity, and focusing on only one side can be quite limiting.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Meteorswarm » Sat Mar 27, 2010 4:21 am UTC

ZLVT wrote:
Crack Kid wrote:And some orthography+lang pairs are clearly superior to others. You could add aesthetics to this, I suppose, but I for one tend to view things a bit more pragmatically.

Hanzi+Mandarin is clearly a clusterfuck (I know that statements going to be controversial, but I stand by it. Pretty? Yes. Excessively complex and hard to learn? Definitely), only exceeded by Hanzi+(any other sinitic talky...word thing) or Kanji+Japanese (at least with Mandarin you've got some arguably phonetic clues).
again there are a lot of advantages to hanzi which other orthographies don;t have. At least with hanzi unlike jap the characters adhere to a 1 character 1 orinunciation system.


Yeah, I wish. 行: xíng, háng, xìng, hàng, héng, used in everything from "bank" to "sidewalk" to "popular." And the 10-20:1 relation of characters to pronounceations makes understanding written text read aloud quite difficult.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Silas » Sat Mar 27, 2010 5:15 am UTC

Makri wrote:Кириллица isn't slower to write than Latin, and I don't see why it would seem to be. There's a good cursive of it that works very similarly to Latin cursive.

No, it's not slower to write, but it is harder on the eyes. In print, there are only eight lowercase letters with features below the baseline or above the x-height. A string of text is too frequently a featureless ribbon of thick vertical strokes, with occasional diagonals or loops.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Sat Mar 27, 2010 8:29 am UTC

Silas, that's probably a valid point.

ZLVT wrote:and Irish isn't /that/ bad if you know why it does what it does.


It had some kind of system in Old Irish, but now the words have gotten melted down further and now the orthography seems ridiculously ambiguous in writing and to some extent also in reading direction. Though I wonder whether English isn't actually worse in reading direction.

what's wrong with hungarian?


From the point of view of input, ő and ű are pretty bad characters. But from from any other point of view, they make perfect sense. The two minor flaws I had in mind are the existence of <ly> and the fact that non-harmonizing /i/ is not marked. They also have some minor problems with their di- and trigraphs at morpheme boundaries.
What's your issue with Finnish? I'm curious, because I though Finnish was really perfect.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Sat Mar 27, 2010 8:19 pm UTC

ly was separate from j until recently but many people swear they hear a distinction. Personally I think there is a rule, esp. since I've not found a single minimal pair (except hej and hely, but hej is a recent thing) Non harmonising vowels don't exist. What we have is the issue of the back versions of i and e merging with various vowels, usually their front counterparts. One day I hope to implement a scheme to mark them. What's the di- ?
to be entirely honest, I'd like to reform some finer points of our orthography. alas while perfect it would be impossible to input as well. Sigh.

Finnish is great but I've occasionally found things. Like the fact that ng is a gemminate nk irks me and they really should use g Even though g /ɣ/ is silent today in most dialects or has merged with v, I think it should be marked to show a mutated k. Finn is perfect from a sound->spelling->sound perspective but I would prefer ti to show historical phonemes (maintained in some dialects) and show grammatical things as well like an i that becomes an e as opposed to an i that does not, or consonants which mutate/have mutated as opposed to those which don't
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Sat Mar 27, 2010 10:07 pm UTC

What we have is the issue of the back versions of i and e merging with various vowels, usually their front counterparts.


Which is pretty much the same as saying that a non-harmonizing i exists...;)

ly was separate from j until recently but many people swear they hear a distinction.


I've been told that there are some dialects that still distinguish them. Maybe there are enough older speakers who really hear a distinction. All the Hungarian speakers I know are in their twenties and don't distinguish them and considered written ly a relic.

Personally I think there is a rule, esp. since I've not found a single minimal pair


Well, if you haven't figured it out by now, then there probably isn't one. I mean, such things aren't usually that hard to find, if they exist.

What's the di- ?


Di[graphs] and trigraphs. Especially <zsz> bugs me, somehow. ;)

Like the fact that ng is a gemminate nk irks me


Well, seeing as there is no /n+g/ in Finnish (to my knowledge), what's wrong with writing <ng> for /ŋŋ/? It's really a simple digraph, and it avoids the introduction of an additional symbol like ñ.

I'm very reluctant to making an orthography less phonemic on morphological grounds, and showing historical phonemes is, I think, going to far if there's a standard that clearly doesn't distinguish them. There might be a point in marking mutated /k/, though, as in Turkish. I don't know enough about Finnish morphophonology to know what i you're referring to. Are you sure, though, that it doesn't amount to just marking a declension class orthographically?

alas while perfect it would be impossible to input as well


Yeah, that's the problem with our using an alphabet that was designed for a language with relatively few phonemes (by European standards)...
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Silas » Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:09 am UTC

Makri wrote:What's your issue with Finnish? I'm curious, because I though Finnish was really perfect.

It seems like the main issue with the Finnish alphabet is that it's used for writing the Finnish language. [/burn]

The biggest issue I see- after five minutes on the wiki- is that Ä and Ö are supposed to be independent letters, but they're- visually- obviously modifications of previous ones (I have mixed feelings about и/й in Cyrillic, too- at least е/ё are the same letter in the dictionary*).

*now that I write it, I'm not sure, and I don't have any of my paper dictionaries at hand. Anybody? Does жёлтый come before or after жестокий? Is ёж before or after ещё?
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:33 am UTC

The biggest issue I see- after five minutes on the wiki- is that Ä and Ö are supposed to be independent letters, but they're- visually- obviously modifications of previous ones


How's that an issue? I mean, what would you do, given the limited inventory of the Latin script? In fact, it even makes sɛns phonologically, as there is a phonological relationship bɪtwiːn a and ä and o and ö, respectively.

I have mixed feelings about и/й in Cyrillic


Do you have a problem with Latin i/j too... ? I mean, the latter is derived from the former ɑːlsɔʊ here.

Does жёлтый come before or after жестокий?


Before.

at least е/ё are the same letter in the dictionary


Which maybe makes some sɛns in light of the alternations. I'm not sure, though. In any case, it makes me furious that Russians almost never bother to write ё. I'm always like "Why the hɛl don't you write the phoneme that's actually there?!"...
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Sun Mar 28, 2010 7:28 am UTC

From my understanding ё is actually morphologically related to e. I'm not 100% on how, but I've been told it is so distinguishing isn't all that important.

Makri wrote:
The biggest issue I see- after five minutes on the wiki- is that Ä and Ö are supposed to be independent letters, but they're- visually- obviously modifications of previous ones


How's that an issue? I mean, what would you do, given the limited inventory of the Latin script? In fact, it even makes sɛns phonologically, as there is a phonological relationship bɪtwiːn a and ä and o and ö, respectively.


Exactly, I mean ideally finnish y would be ü since äöü are counterparts to aou and in finnish whether to use the umlauted or non-umlauted forms is decided by the word itself. This is to say any finnish affix containing an a or o or u will have an counterpart containing ä ö y so really, maximising the similarities between the counterparts is a good thing because the affix -lla is exactly the same as the affix -llä except that they're used with different words.


Makri wrote:
What we have is the issue of the back versions of i and e merging with various vowels, usually their front counterparts.


Which is pretty much the same as saying that a non-harmonizing i exists...;)


I honestly don't understand what you mean by "non harmonising". I assume you mean neutral, but such a thing does not exist for us historically. Every instance of an <i> is either front or back and requires harmony just like the word víz requires front vowel harmony making vizet and híd needs back vowel harmony making hidat.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:35 am UTC

From my understanding ё is actually morphologically related to e.


ё developped from /e/ under certain conditions (stress and a following non-palatal consonant). The morphological relation comes through morphology manipulating stress. The problem is that former /æ/ (yat) then merged with /e/ and did not become ё under any circumstances. Therefore, the letter ё is not redundant. Also, it is the only cue on stress that Russian orthography provides.

I honestly don't understand what you mean by "non harmonising". I assume you mean neutral, but such a thing does not exist for us historically. Every instance of an <i> is either front or back and requires harmony just like the word víz requires front vowel harmony making vizet and híd needs back vowel harmony making hidat.


I see now why you don't understand. That was indeed my fault, because I only thought of suffixes and not of stems with back i. No idea, why... In suffixes, it would have made sense to describe it as non-harmonizing: Regardless of the stem, it would always be i. But of course, if it is in stems, it has to have a back/front value, so you're quite right that that's not an appropriate term.

Regarding Finnish, I'm fine with y instead of ü because it just looks cooler. :mrgreen:
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Mon Mar 29, 2010 4:04 am UTC

but going by that logic ALL endings with i are free of harmony.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby dbh2ppa » Mon Mar 29, 2010 6:23 am UTC

Crack Kid wrote:While discussing which language is the best is clearly meaningless, there obviously is a set of criteria by which writing systems can be judged. Ie:

Ease of Learning
Ease of Writing (Or input, in this modern age)
Ease of Reading


Why are those obvious criteria to judge orthographies? What about complexity of meaning? Allowance for stylistic variance? Easy of typesetting? Ease of inferring meaning from unknown words? (I'm not saying that those are all good criteria, just that there are conceivable more or better criteria, depending on what you want the orthography for).

My personal opinion is that, as long as the recipient understands the message, it makes no difference what orthography you use.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Crack Kid » Mon Mar 29, 2010 7:02 am UTC

dbh2ppa wrote:
Why are those obvious criteria to judge orthographies? What about complexity of meaning? Allowance for stylistic variance? Easy of typesetting? Ease of inferring meaning from unknown words?


That's true. I really should have said eg instead of ie, as I was simply suggesting a set that I believe are the most important criterion. As for the ones you propose, I'm not sure how complexity of meaning is a function of orthography and not the language itself, I suspect stylistic variation would inherently increase difficulty of learning (a negative in my opinion), and ease of typesetting is a concern for only a tiny minority of language users. As for ease of inferring meaning of unknown words, is there any writing system which effectively does this?

AndrewT wrote:As far as the Asian writing systems, I think you're a bit off by putting the Chinese ahead of Kanji/Kana on the ease of understanding scale. Written Japanese, depending on how technical the subject matter is, can have over half the characters be purely phonetic. Japanese also has a system for labeling difficult characters with phonetics characters either above (for horizontal writing) or to the right (for vertical writing) for ease of reading. Publications for children can have every single Kanji character labeled this way, but even novels for adults have a fair number of these phonetic reminders.


Do you not think it a little silly that an orthography requires an auxiliary system to help the vast majority of its adult, "literate" users to understand it? That's a pretty huge negative in my eyes.

(I confess, part of my bias against sinographs stems from a frustration with their potential compared to their implementation. A fully regularized phono-semantic system (ie, each character comprising one part which unambiguously indicates pronunciation, plus radicals hinting at meaning) would be pretty darn cool in my eyes.)

ZLVT wrote:I'm surprised that you didn't mention hebrew which is like arabic but not conjoined and with fewer letters.


Hebrew has the same problem as mentioned about cyrillic, where all the letters are pretty much x-height (can you make reference to x-height for non-Roman alphabets?), which'd be a big negative if bouma is in fact important to reading speed.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:39 am UTC

well that's not entirely true, some hebrew letters do break the normal height י ן ך ף ל but for the most part yes, although in a nice font I really think that's all irrelevant. As for x-height, well most scripts are, yes, thai, lao, devanagari(ish), and so on but arabic for instance is not.

Regarding hanzi, I think you're underestimating the value of characters which while vastly different in pronunciation across different languages, all share a common meaning. Also for kanji, they have many pronunciations in different situations but the glyph and meaning remain constant which written communication as long as you don't try to force written communication to reflect the spoken 1:1
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Mar 29, 2010 9:25 pm UTC

AndrewT wrote:If you're talking about adaptability and ease of use, then Hangul and the Greek-derived alphabets would probably be some of the only choices for a majority of the world's major languages.

I'd tend to agree with this as well. Syllabic writing systems, or consonant-plus-some-vowel-dots systems, might be really amazing for writing words native to those languages, but aren't nearly as adaptable as a system which always breaks up consonants and vowels, in my opinion. I mean, I guess you can make consonant clusters in Devanagari, for example, but something like the last sound in "sixths" would be pretty atrocious looking (if it were even writable in that script, which I don't think it is unless one of the more modern languages uses a th sound and has a way to write it at all...).

I personally like Vietnamese as an example of how one can add a great deal of versatility to the basic Latin alphabet, if you want to use it for more distinct sounds than there are Latin letters.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Meteorswarm » Tue Mar 30, 2010 2:05 am UTC

ZLVT wrote:Regarding hanzi, I think you're underestimating the value of characters which while vastly different in pronunciation across different languages, all share a common meaning. Also for kanji, they have many pronunciations in different situations but the glyph and meaning remain constant which written communication as long as you don't try to force written communication to reflect the spoken 1:1


Do you actually speak one of these languages? Sure, the gross meanings are usually the same, but please don't underestimate what 2,000 years of divergence does to a language. 本 in Chinese means "root" or "origin," as in 本來-"originally." In Japanese, it means "book."

Not only do these languages' orthographies have two millennia of divergence, but, because they do not share a common oral lineage, the Chinese writing system, which had at best a tenuous tie to the spoken oral language's pronounceation, but a very strong tie to its vocabulary was shoehorned into use on the completely unrelated languages of Japanese, Korean, etc. This mis-fit is still evident today, and is why the Koreans eventually said "consarn this shit" and invented their own orthography, as did the Japanese, to an extent.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby AndrewT » Tue Mar 30, 2010 4:08 am UTC

Crack Kid wrote:Do you not think it a little silly that an orthography requires an auxiliary system to help the vast majority of its adult, "literate" users to understand it? That's a pretty huge negative in my eyes.

(I confess, part of my bias against sinographs stems from a frustration with their potential compared to their implementation. A fully regularized phono-semantic system (ie, each character comprising one part which unambiguously indicates pronunciation, plus radicals hinting at meaning) would be pretty darn cool in my eyes.)


There's a reason that they prefer to retain ideographs and indicate a phonetic pronunciation rather than just using a phonetic transcription (which they can do easily with no special typesetting tools), and it's not because it makes them look smarter :) The writing system is customized for the Japanese language specifically, and as such can be used to great effect with written Japanese, which is something that you can't say about English and the Roman script.

As for your second point, you should check out ancient Egyptian.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Tue Mar 30, 2010 8:19 am UTC

The writing system is customized for the Japanese language specifically, and as such can be used to great effect with written Japanese


And what effect, specifically?
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Tue Mar 30, 2010 9:29 am UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:
ZLVT wrote:Regarding hanzi, I think you're underestimating the value of characters which while vastly different in pronunciation across different languages, all share a common meaning. Also for kanji, they have many pronunciations in different situations but the glyph and meaning remain constant which written communication as long as you don't try to force written communication to reflect the spoken 1:1


Do you actually speak one of these languages? Sure, the gross meanings are usually the same, but please don't underestimate what 2,000 years of divergence does to a language. 本 in Chinese means "root" or "origin," as in 本來-"originally." In Japanese, it means "book."

Not only do these languages' orthographies have two millennia of divergence, but, because they do not share a common oral lineage, the Chinese writing system, which had at best a tenuous tie to the spoken oral language's pronounceation, but a very strong tie to its vocabulary was shoehorned into use on the completely unrelated languages of Japanese, Korean, etc. This mis-fit is still evident today, and is why the Koreans eventually said "consarn this shit" and invented their own orthography, as did the Japanese, to an extent.

a/ no I do not :(
b/ I was refering to the uniformity of meaning among the "dialects" of chinese as opposed to the link between jap and chinese which I know is growing ever more tenuous.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby AndrewT » Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:18 am UTC

Makri wrote:
The writing system is customized for the Japanese language specifically, and as such can be used to great effect with written Japanese


And what effect, specifically?


Besides the effect I noted in my first post, the use of ideographs mixed in with phonetic writing allows for easy parsing with minimal punctuation (including spaces), allows for great variety of word play in a language full of homonyms, and can be used when writing dialogue to show a good deal of the speaker's background. If you were to write a conversation in Japanese between three characters of different generations, you could convey the generational difference entirely with the use of ideograms and leave out the filler sentences like "the boy asked '...' and the old man said '...' to which the boy's father replied '...'" You can also convey a foreign accent in writing by using the syllabry commonly used for foreign words as the primary phonetic characters.

My experience with the world's languages and writing systems is obviously limited, but from what I've seen, I think Japanese has the most expressive relationship between its spoken and written forms. As far as being adaptable to other languages, it's one of the worst, but I think that fixing that would ruin what makes it so special now.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Tue Mar 30, 2010 1:27 pm UTC

the use of ideographs mixed in with phonetic writing allows for easy parsing with minimal punctuation (including spaces)


I have no idea how that would work, but if it does - why's that a benefit? What's so bad about punctuation? :p

If you were to write a conversation in Japanese between three characters of different generations, you could convey the generational difference entirely with the use of ideograms


As if there weren't already enough tools for that in Japanese grammar... ;) No, seriously, this is interesting, and surely fun for writers and educated readers, but I find such stylistic benefits to be of vanishing importance when compared to ease of use. I find it positively ridiculous to have a writing system that part of the community, notably including children with a supposedly finished language acquisition, can't read.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Tue Mar 30, 2010 2:04 pm UTC

I do love a script which hints at meaning/grammatical features but it always bothered me that Japanese, a language which doesn't have as huge a variation in pronunciation as Chinese, and which uses not one but two phonetic systems still uses kanji. I mean surely even roumaji with pitch accent markers could be used to encode the spoken word in writing which at the end of the day is the basic function of a script.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Meteorswarm » Tue Mar 30, 2010 4:08 pm UTC

ZLVT wrote:a/ no I do not :(
b/ I was refering to the uniformity of meaning among the "dialects" of chinese as opposed to the link between jap and chinese which I know is growing ever more tenuous.


Ah, well, that's sort of true, although in practice the local vernaculars (particularly canto) contain a lot of characters not used in Mandarin, and often the word order is dramatically different, so as far as I can tell, it takes extra work for speakers of other Chinese languages to understand even written Mandarin, likely in the same way that, with practice, a Spanish speaker can understand Italian without too much extra effort.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby AndrewT » Tue Mar 30, 2010 6:08 pm UTC

ZLVT wrote:I do love a script which hints at meaning/grammatical features but it always bothered me that Japanese, a language which doesn't have as huge a variation in pronunciation as Chinese, and which uses not one but two phonetic systems still uses kanji. I mean surely even roumaji with pitch accent markers could be used to encode the spoken word in writing which at the end of the day is the basic function of a script.


What's wrong with having two sets of the same phonetic script? It works just fine for the Roman alphabet. The only difference is that Japanese doesn't mix them up in the same word.

Makri wrote:
the use of ideographs mixed in with phonetic writing allows for easy parsing with minimal punctuation (including spaces)


I have no idea how that would work, but if it does - why's that a benefit? What's so bad about punctuation? :p


It works because Japanese is an inflected language, and all the inflections are written phonetically. Therefore when you see an idiograph you know that it's the start of a new word. It helps making reading quicker and more efficient because you can get more information in a single "eyefull".

No, seriously, this is interesting, and surely fun for writers and educated readers, but I find such stylistic benefits to be of vanishing importance when compared to ease of use. I find it positively ridiculous to have a writing system that part of the community, notably including children with a supposedly finished language acquisition, can't read.


I think we'll have to chalk this one up to cultural differences. While many of the younger Japanese are turning towards a more anglicized culture, there's still a lot of pride in the traditional language, and even with a complex system the 99% literacy rate means that "educated readers" are not the minority.

As far as the learning curve, basically when Japanese children learn a new word, they learn how to write it as well, so it seems a bit odd to me that you're complaining about children not being able to read words they don't know. The only difference between an American 5 year old and a Japanese 5 year old looking at complex writing, say an EULA on a piece of software, is that the American kid can spend 10 minutes sounding out the first sentence and the Japanese kid could not. In the end though, neither of them understand a word of it.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Tue Mar 30, 2010 6:32 pm UTC

It helps making reading quicker and more efficient because you can get more information in a single "eyefull".


Any evidence for that? I think that this should be so is not at all obvious.

While many of the younger Japanese are turning towards a more anglicized culture, there's still a lot of pride in the traditional language, and even with a complex system the 99% literacy rate means that "educated readers" are not the minority.


Even if educated readers made up 85% or 90% of the literate people, it would still be ridiculous that the rest couldn't read the words. Also, I don't see why this thing about national pride and culture or whatever is relevant. After all, the question of the quality of orthography is one about whether they have certain reasons to change there attitude.

As far as the learning curve, basically when Japanese children learn a new word, they learn how to write it as well, so it seems a bit odd to me that you're complaining about children not being able to read words they don't know. The only difference between an American 5 year old and a Japanese 5 year old looking at complex writing, say an EULA on a piece of software, is that the American kid can spend 10 minutes sounding out the first sentence and the Japanese kid could not. In the end though, neither of them understand a word of it.


Well, English orthography is severely defective as well, so let's take an Italian child: when that child reads a knew word, it knows how to pronounce it, and when it hears one, it knows how to write it. And if it manages to infer its meaning, it learns a complete new word.
Also, I wasn't talking about 5-year-olds, but about children with a finished language acquisition. So, say, 12-year-olds.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby MrHan » Tue Apr 06, 2010 4:52 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:the Koreans eventually said "consarn this shit" and invented their own orthography

Actually, it wasn't the Koreans in general, but one king and 50-or-so scholars that said that. Everyone else was either:
1. Totally against it, or
2. Too busy farming to give a damn.

but now that we have the new alphabet we love it (it's featural, bitches), and we love the king that made it as well (hence the statue in downtown seoul).


It helps making reading quicker and more efficient because you can get more information in a single "eyefull".


Any evidence for that? I think that this should be so is not at all obvious.


yes, writing in chinese makes the writing more dense (as in more meaning on less paper). but the thing is that most people tend to read at the speed in which they talk, so relative to the quickness and efficiency of the spoken language, the writing isn't going to be much more efficient than other writing systems. i guess it could be faster if you devoted a large chunk of your time on speed reading, but i think this is more of an issue with clarification rather than the speed of reading.

The thing is, no matter how "tenuous" the ties between Chinese and Japanese or Korean has gotten, it's undeniable fact that the latter two languages get a large part of their vocabulary from chinese. Korean, for example, derives about 70% of its vocabulary from chinese, and the figure for japanese shouldn't be too different.
the problem with this comes from the fact that chinese is tonal and korean and japanese are not. so we koreans had to cram in 4+ chinese characters per syllable, and because of that, even with our (relatively) new writing system that's better than everyone else's (just kidding... ish), the use of chinese characters is actually more convenient, sometimes inevitable, for the purposes of clarification. in fact, academic papers in korean are full of chinese characters. i'm sure this is the case for the japanese as well; they might have multiple ways to read each character, but with their limited range of phonemes it's pretty much guaranteed they have as many homophones as we koreans do. conclusion: it's fucking confusing without hanzi.

also, in defense of hanzi, it's actually very easy to learn. chinese characters have bushou, which is kind of the chinese equivalent of the latin roots for english (wiki for more info). basically, after a certain point, all you need to do is assemble complex characters from a bunch of simple ones. yes, it's very different from phoenecian-derived alphabets like latin, hebrew, arabic, greek, etc. (which i think is why people seem so scared of them), but it's not like it's insanely complicated to the point where it's an entirely new letter for each different word.

btw, japanese, like korean, is an agglutinative language, not inflected (but, yes, there is some inflection).



going back to the original topic, i think hangul wins hands-down in this competition. I think it could use a little reform to make the featural-ness of it more flexible and adaptable to other languages, at which point i think it could even replace the IPA. it's incredibly easy to learn (once you get how a couple letters work you can figure out the rest pretty easily), easy to write (it takes about the same amount of time to write a syllable in korean as it does in latin), easy to type (more important than easy to write imo), easy to text (cuz it's featural), and easy to read.

i cast my vote on hangeul.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Tue Apr 06, 2010 7:59 am UTC

hangeul should find a way to mark vowel length
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Monika » Tue Apr 06, 2010 11:42 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I mean, I guess you can make consonant clusters in Devanagari, for example, but something like the last sound in "sixths" would be pretty atrocious looking (if it were even writable in that script, which I don't think it is unless one of the more modern languages uses a th sound and has a way to write it at all...).

OTOH most languages written with Latin letters don't have a way to signify the th sound. Except for English all pronounce th as t AFAIK. Only Icelandic has a thorn or something similar. Spanish as spoken in some parts of Spain (I think the Northern part) but not in South America pronounces c like English th. That's about it.


On the topic of Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic writing:

Latin <-> Cyrillic: They are both equally easy, hard or fast to read and write. Cyrillic as the advantage to have some more letters to signify e.g. a "sh", "soft sh" (as a j in French journal), "tz" or "tsh" sound, to name only a few. Because Cyrillic was designed for writing Russian, Russian has a pretty phonetic / phoemic spelling (almost all letters have only one possible pronunciation), though not completely (e.g. unemphasized o sounds like a, there are occassionally silent letters). The additional letters for ya [ja] and ye [je] are an interesting concept, but I don't feel they make things easier ... maybe Russians feel different. I like the hardening and softening signs, but as I cannot hear the difference between a hard and a soft L they make spelling for me harder - not for Russians I suppose. Cyrillic handwriting has drawbacks in that the handwritten letters sometimes differ significantly from the printed once. E.g. a printed lower-case t looks like a small T, but a handwritten or cursive one looks similar to a very edgy lower-case m ... see http://freestylelanguage.com/files/russian-alphabet.jpg fifth line at the very right.

Latin <-> Arabic: Arabic has the advantage of not having uppercase and lowercase letters. So fewer letters to learn :D . On the other hand a) capital letters make reading faster b) Arabic has a base form, start form, middle form and end form of each letter. But in almost all cases they are very similar, especially the start and middle form and the end and base form. Arabic has the disadvantage that there is no real print, they only have handwritten / cursive / connected writing. This is harder to read. Especially certain letters get kind of mashed into one. E.g. m's that are connected to the letter before them end up kind of under that letter and are easily overlooked. And a connection of L + A looks ... well not very much like a connection of L + A. The A is kind of on top / on the side and slanted while it is normally straight. But I suppose this doesn't give Arabic or Persian people any trouble, because they are used to it. Dropping the short vowels - just as in Hebrew - is evil and was only invented to throw off poor learners :evil: . Vocalization (small markers on top and below the letters to signify the short vowels) should be made mandatory :!: . There are no problems with long vowels (I don't understand what problem one of the above writers is refering to regarding their being supposedly written as consonants). Right-to-left writing is a disadvantage for right-handed people, but lefties will rejoice ;) . Arabic is very nice for calligraphy to a point that is unreachable with Latin writing.

Regarding all the symbol-based writing systems: Pretty. Space-saving. Maybe time-saving when writing. Abominable to learn, even for native speakers.

I have to look into Hangul, as it is praised so much here.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby goofy » Tue Apr 06, 2010 1:39 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote: I mean, I guess you can make consonant clusters in Devanagari, for example, but something like the last sound in "sixths" would be pretty atrocious looking (if it were even writable in that script, which I don't think it is unless one of the more modern languages uses a th sound and has a way to write it at all...).


There's no problem with writing consonant clusters in Devanagari.

Hindi doesn't have the sound /θ/ but it uses थ to represent English /θ/. Thermos is थर्मस. Sixths would be सिक्स्थ्स.
Last edited by goofy on Tue Apr 06, 2010 1:47 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Bobber » Tue Apr 06, 2010 1:43 pm UTC

I can't help but feel that Ю belongs in Hangeul instead of Cyrillic. Is there a character (almost) identical to it in Hangeul?
I'm amazed that there is such a discrepancy between the written and printed /t/-character.
Also, your huge posts did not go unread or unsavored.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Makri » Tue Apr 06, 2010 2:04 pm UTC

Monika wrote:Because Cyrillic was designed for writing Russian


It wasn't. It was designed for writing Old Church Slavonic, which, if anything, is Bulgarian.

The additional letters for ya [ja] and ye [je] are an interesting concept, but I don't feel they make things easier


Actually, I think the idea of marking the palatality of the preceding consonant together with the following vowel is pretty ingenious for writing a language like Russian. It saves letters without making things significantly more complicated. If anything, it makes them easier, as the quality of the preceding consonant also affects the quality of the vowel. The only problem is their use for loans, where they use <e> after non-palatal consonants.

but as I cannot hear the difference between a hard and a soft L


Seriously? This is about as massive a difference as you can get in terms of palatality, as the non-palatal /l/ is so heavily velarized or pharyngealized. Should be pretty easy to perceive, actually...

I like the hardening and softening signs, but as I cannot hear the difference between a hard and a soft L they make spelling for me harder - not for Russians I suppose


Yes. They have their problems with their orthography, though: vowel reduction*, voicing assimilation, soft signs after sibilants at the end of words, and spreading of palatality in consonant clusters.

*This is actually a big challenge for any writing system.

Dropping the short vowels - just as in Hebrew - is evil


So true!:D
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Tue Apr 06, 2010 2:32 pm UTC

Monika wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:I mean, I guess you can make consonant clusters in Devanagari, for example, but something like the last sound in "sixths" would be pretty atrocious looking (if it were even writable in that script, which I don't think it is unless one of the more modern languages uses a th sound and has a way to write it at all...).

OTOH most languages written with Latin letters don't have a way to signify the th sound. Except for English all pronounce th as t AFAIK. Only Icelandic has a thorn or something similar. Spanish as spoken in some parts of Spain (I think the Northern part) but not in South America pronounces c like English th. That's about it.


Well those dialects also pronounce z as th in all situations whereas the c is only th before i e y. Also, in welsh tt singnifies a th also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_dental_fricative
On the topic of Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic writing:

Latin <-> Cyrillic: They are both equally easy, hard or fast to read and write. Cyrillic as the advantage to have some more letters to signify e.g. a "sh", "soft sh" (as a j in French journal), "tz" or "tsh" sound, to name only a few. Because Cyrillic was designed for writing Russian, Russian has a pretty phonetic / phoemic spelling (almost all letters have only one possible pronunciation), though not completely (e.g. unemphasized o sounds like a, there are occassionally silent letters). The additional letters for ya [ja] and ye [je] are an interesting concept, but I don't feel they make things easier ... maybe Russians feel different. I like the hardening and softening signs, but as I cannot hear the difference between a hard and a soft L they make spelling for me harder - not for Russians I suppose. Cyrillic handwriting has drawbacks in that the handwritten letters sometimes differ significantly from the printed once. E.g. a printed lower-case t looks like a small T, but a handwritten or cursive one looks similar to a very edgy lower-case m ... see http://freestylelanguage.com/files/russian-alphabet.jpg fifth line at the very right.
well the BSC alphabet has droped the ь й яюё and replaced the palatalisation with J. [je] is not an additional letter, it is the default. э is the latter adition. I have a german friend doing russians who explained once that е о ё form a sequence (which is occasionally represented in the morphology) and the hard e was latter added but its use is limited to loans and very few native words.
Latin <-> Arabic: Arabic has the advantage of not having uppercase and lowercase letters. So fewer letters to learn :D . On the other hand a) capital letters make reading faster b) Arabic has a base form, start form, middle form and end form of each letter. But in almost all cases they are very similar, especially the start and middle form and the end and base form. Arabic has the disadvantage that there is no real print, they only have handwritten / cursive / connected writing. This is harder to read. Especially certain letters get kind of mashed into one. E.g. m's that are connected to the letter before them end up kind of under that letter and are easily overlooked. And a connection of L + A looks ... well not very much like a connection of L + A. The A is kind of on top / on the side and slanted while it is normally straight. But I suppose this doesn't give Arabic or Persian people any trouble, because they are used to it.
well, there is the nicer version or writing though where you write all the stands and dots. Then you have nastal'iq which is far more cursive and nastal'iq shekasteh which is even worse. for instance my name is بنتسه in persian involving 6 stands, 4 dots, and a circle. In nastal'iq it becomes a flat line with 2 dots and a dash but you get used to all of these things really fast. I have some trouble with handwriting still but my teachers never hold back and I can usually read their writing.
Dropping the short vowels - just as in Hebrew - is evil and was only invented to throw off poor learners :evil: . Vocalization (small markers on top and below the letters to signify the short vowels) should be made mandatory :!: . There are no problems with long vowels (I don't understand what problem one of the above writers is refering to regarding their being supposedly written as consonants). Right-to-left writing is a disadvantage for right-handed people, but lefties will rejoice ;) . Arabic is very nice for calligraphy to a point that is unreachable with Latin writing.

Might have been me. I dislike the dropping of short vowels and agree that the حَرَكَات should be made compulsory. Nonetheless I don't think they should have letters of their own because they move around for grammatical reasons e.g kitaab->kutub. The issue with long vowels is though that the vowels ai au ii uu are written as the sequences ay aw iy uw using consonants. The issue is that in this way it is hard to find the root of a word. Take for instance riyadh the capital of SA. The word means gardens (of paradise) written رِيَاض riyaaD. One would think the root of this word is ر ي ض with the vowels i and aa inserted but the singular is رَوضَة (not sure about that h) which is rawDa. Clearly the yaa in the plural like the waw in the singular was part of a long vowel added to the word to mark grammatical features. I am bothered by the fact that the letters yaa and waw can be either consonants and part of the root of a word (in which case this is a weak root, or "hollow" root in hebrew) or part of a long vowel/diphthong and added to some forms but not others.
I resent the statement that RtL writing is bad for right handed ppl. I find writing RtL and LtR equally comfortable. It honestly makes no difference to me. In fact i find it nicer to begin a line at the right because it's closer to my right hand. But the writing itself is all the same.
Regarding all the symbol-based writing systems: Pretty. Space-saving. Maybe time-saving when writing. Abominable to learn, even for native speakers.

I have to look into Hangul, as it is praised so much here.

I find hanzi and co had some fun points and aren't as bad as i had first thought although I am not able to write a character in less time than it takes to write the pinyin equivalent. i mean some characters sure, they only have like 2 strokes, but very quickly characters get complex while the length of a pinyin syllable stays loosly the same. Even taito is only 5 letters but 84 strokes. But i have 0 skill with hanzi anyway.

Hangul is win but i dislike the historic sound changes, loss of many letters, and lack of written length distinction. But it's so cool.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby MrHan » Wed Apr 07, 2010 5:55 am UTC

ZLVT wrote:Hangul is win but i dislike the historic sound changes, loss of many letters, and lack of written length distinction

i'm with you on the historic sound changes, especially those of ㅚ and ㅟ, as with some of the letters that were lost. the lack of written length distinction isn't too much of a problem, though, cuz yes, there is long and short syllables, but nobody really cares about it or notices it :P

i really wish someone from the hunminjeongeum society would go ocd-anal and do a hangeul reform to make it perfectly systematic, morphophonemic, and efficient to the limit. idk if it's just me, but feels to me like there are some issues with dipthongs and compound vowels that need to be cleared up. i also don't like the mess with ㅂㅍㅁand how it doesn't follow the patterns of ㄷㅌㄴ, ㄱㅋㅇ, etc. it's fantastic as it is, but i feel like it's lacking 1%. it's could be at 100%, but it's only at 99% and it's that missing 1% that sometimes frustrates me.

Bobber wrote:I can't help but feel that Ю belongs in Hangeul instead of Cyrillic. Is there a character (almost) identical to it in Hangeul?

if you mirror it, you get 어, which sounds like "uh". but that's about it.

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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Bobber » Wed Apr 07, 2010 9:03 am UTC

MrHan wrote:
Bobber wrote:I can't help but feel that Ю belongs in Hangeul instead of Cyrillic. Is there a character (almost) identical to it in Hangeul?

if you mirror it, you get 어, which sounds like "uh". but that's about it.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby ZLVT » Wed Apr 07, 2010 9:45 am UTC

MrHan wrote:i really wish someone from the hunminjeongeum society would go ocd-anal and do a hangeul reform to make it perfectly systematic, morphophonemic, and efficient to the limit. idk if it's just me, but feels to me like there are some issues with dipthongs and compound vowels that need to be cleared up. i also don't like the mess with ㅂㅍㅁand how it doesn't follow the patterns of ㄷㅌㄴ, ㄱㅋㅇ, etc. it's fantastic as it is, but i feel like it's lacking 1%. it's could be at 100%, but it's only at 99% and it's that missing 1% that sometimes frustrates me.


Agreed, it's th elittle thinsg which could have been done better which get me. Still very good system. i figure a smart person with a knowledge of phonetics could learn it in 15min and if they spent 5 min a day on follow up for the next week it'd be solid.
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Re: Best Writing System?

Postby Monika » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:57 am UTC

Makri wrote:
but as I cannot hear the difference between a hard and a soft L


Seriously? This is about as massive a difference as you can get in terms of palatality, as the non-palatal /l/ is so heavily velarized or pharyngealized. Should be pretty easy to perceive, actually...

You can hear that difference? :shock: No way, those Ls sound all the same!

In what kind of class could one learn the terminology you use so easily and I always need to look up on Wikipedia and still don't understand often ... this one maybe? (Of course I would have to sneak in and skip work ;)).
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