The Chinese Language: Fact and Fanstasy

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The Chinese Language  
Cover of the paperback edition
Cover of the paperback edition
Author en:John DeFrancis
Language English
Genre(s) Nonfiction
Publisher University of Hawai'i Press
Publication date 1984
Media type Hardcover, Paperback
Pages 330
ISBN ISBN 0-8284-0866-5, ISBN 0-8248-1068-6 (paperback)

Local Lede

Cloned en:The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. See discussion page.

English Lede 2010-01-29

The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy is a book written by en:John DeFrancis, published in 1984 by University of Hawaii Press. The book describes some of the concepts underlying the en:Chinese language and en:writing system, and gives the author's position on a number of ideas about the language.

Main points

Six myths

A good portion of the book is devoted to debunking what DeFrancis calls the "six myths" of Chinese characters. The myths are:

  • The Ideographic Myth: Chinese characters represent ideas instead of sounds.
  • The Universality Myth: Chinese characters enable speakers of mutually unintelligible languages to read each other's writing. (Also, to the extent this is possible, this is due to a special property that only Chinese characters have.) Furthermore, Chinese from thousands of years ago is immediately readable by any literate Chinese today.
  • The Emulatability Myth: The nature of Chinese characters can be copied to create a universal script, or to help people with learning disabilities learn to read.
  • The Monosyllabic Myth: All words in Chinese are one syllable long. Alternatively, any syllable found in a Chinese dictionary can stand alone as a word.
  • The Indispensability Myth: Chinese characters are necessary to represent Chinese.
  • The Successfulness Myth: Chinese characters are responsible for a high level of literacy in East Asian countries. (A weaker version of this myth is simply that despite the flaws of Chinese characters, East Asian countries still have a high level of literacy.)

All of these are dealt with in separate chapters, at length, in the book.

Significance and Criticism

The book is significant in a number of fields of discource, primarily linguistics of course, and its controversial theses have generated much cricitism.

See also

External links