Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Mandarin won't be a world language: part 3

A few additional points to follow up on my previous posts about why Mandarin won't replace English as the world's most prominent second language:
  1. In the last few centuries, we have seen two large Asian languages shift from Chinese characters to alphabets: Korean and Vietnamese. In Korea, the homegrown Hangul alphabet has almost completely replaced Chinese characters in written usage, and knowledge of Chinese logograms is steadily diminishing from generation to generation. In Vietnam, meanwhile, the vast majority of the country became literate on a modified Latin alphabet, promoted by nationalists and colonialists alike as the path to reading and writing, and it now also dominates that language. In both cases, alphabets won because they are simply much easier to learn than logographic systems. When there are thousands of non-phonetic characters to master, the barriers to entry are formidable.

  2. I know many extremely smart Chinese-American students, people who came over from China somewhere between 7 and 12 and are fluent in the spoken language, who are nevertheless barely literate (or not literate at all) in the written one. I have not seen this happen to a comparable degree with any other group of immigrants. If young people who grew up in China—and whose entire extended families, in many cases, remain in China—can't muster the energy to become fluent in Chinese writing, how can the rest of the world?


Noah said...

To this I would add that it's very hard to hear Chinese tones if you didn't grow up speaking a tonal language...and most world languages are not tonal.

overmatik said...

You are totally right! China will inevitably become the world's number one economic power, but English is the world´s language. Not only that, English is widely taught as a 2nd language in China, so with time even the Chinese will master English and that will be it.