China Worries about Losing its Character(s)

The Los Angeles Times looks that the ways technology is usurping the written Chinese language:

Almost any Chinese person you meet will confess to a lapse of memory, almost like a senior moment. The hand clutching the pen or pencil is poised above a sheet of paper about to write a character learned in childhood and memorized in countless repetitions when — suddenly — an embarrassing pause.

In an April poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily, 83% of the 2,072 respondents acknowledged problems with writing characters. The phenomenon is so common that there is even a name for it, tibiwangzi, which translates to “take pen, forget character.”

“The other day I was writing a note by hand and when I came to the word zaijian [goodbye], I did sort of a double-take because I wasn’t sure I’d written the zai correctly,” said 18-year-old Cheng Jing, a college freshman.

To some extent, similar problems arise anywhere that people rely on technology rather than memory — outsourcing of the brain, as they call it in the many treatises that address the question of whether computers and the Internet are stifling our intelligence.

In China, the situation rises to the level of a cultural crisis since the characters, more than any other facet of life, epitomize thousands of years of tradition.


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