John Cowan cowan at
Thu Sep 25 16:46:05 CEST 2008

Tracey, Niall scripsit:

> To us the differences seem minor as all pinyins fall far outside of our
> "western" frames of reference.

Not that far.  There are parallels to almost every Pinyin convention in
Western European orthographies.

> But the more familiar something is to the observer, the more the
> differences are exaggerated. Conversely, the difference is massively
> de-emphasised when both are unfamiliar. Remember that many white
> people can't tell the difference between (for example) Chinese, Thai
> and Japanese people despite a massive difference in phenotype.

Doubtless, but that case is not this case.  We are dealing here with
sophisticated grammatogenies, in which the orthographies have been
consciously designed to resemble one another.  Europe, on the contrary,
is full of orthographies that have been half-consciously designed
*not* to resemble one another.

> Would you be happy if Danish, Swedish and Norwegian shared a single
> top-level "Scandinavian" tag because a few Chinese intellectuals noted
> that they "are substantially similar in character" and "form a family
> of related languages"? Because what you're proposing is not radically
> different from this.

The resemblance among the Scandinavian languages is genetic, not a matter
of design.  (Historically, the standard languages and orthographies
run north and south, but the dialect isoglosses run east and west.)
No sensible Scandinavian person denies the resemblance, even if (or,
indeed, particularly since) they make jokes about how each other speak.

John Cowan                                <cowan at>
Yakka foob mog.  Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork.  Chumble spuzz.
    --Calvin, giving Newton's First Law "in his own words"

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