John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Tue Aug 26 09:06:58 CEST 2008

Frank Ellermann scripsit:

> | Chinese is the same in its written form for 
> | Cantonese and Mandarin
> Is that correct ?  This does not simply mean "same
> script", John's explanation here some weeks ago was
> clearer.

In short:

Classical Chinese can be *pronounced* in any Sinitic language, but the
result is not intelligible without the written text, as it is excessively

Written Modern Standard Mandarin is mostly a direct representation of
spoken Modern Standard Mandarin, except for borrowings from Classical
Chinese (the more elevated the text, the more such borrowings exist).

Written Modern Standard Mandarin can also be read in another Sinitic
language, but the result is about like reading French text word for word
in Spanish by substituting the Spanish cognates of the French words.
Core meaning is damaged, and nuance goes by the board.

There are improvised representations of Cantonese and to a lesser degree
the other non-Mandarin languages using both standard and non-standard
ideographs.  Reading these in Mandarin is possible, but difficult, and
comes to a halt when a non-standard ideograph appears, or a standard
ideograph used in a non-standard way (for example, purely to represent
a sound rather than a morpheme).

John Cowan   cowan at ccil.org    http://ccil.org/~cowan
[R]eversing the apostolic precept to be all things to all men, I usually [before
Darwin] defended the tenability of the received doctrines, when I had to do
with the [evolution]ists; and stood up for the possibility of [evolution] among
the orthodox --thereby, no doubt, increasing an already current, but quite
undeserved, reputation for needless combativeness.  --T. H. Huxley

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