Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Character Amnesia

Like most people who study Chinese, I recognize them better than writing them.

I depend on a dictionary -- online no less -- so that I can write it down correctly -- for almost every other word.

But for those, especially young people where Chinese is their first language, many are forgetting how to write the characters thanks to their dependence on software programs on their computers and mobile phones. Through typing in the pinyin, they can choose from a selection of characters instead of having to write them out by stroke, though there are a few programs that use stroke recognition.

The phenomenon of forgetting how to write Chinese characters is called "character amnesia" or tibiwangzi 提筆忘子 "take pen, forget character".

Many young people realize this problem is getting chronically worse and with it they lose bits of their own culture.

The problem is that learning characters must be done through rote memorization -- you cannot "spell" out a character; you just have to know it.

Siok Wai Ting, assistant professor of linguistics at Hong Kong University says forgetting how to write could eventually affect reading ability.

"Through writing, we memorize characters. Reading and writing are more closely connected in Chinese," she said.

Interestingly her research has found Chinese reading even uses a different part of the brain from reading the Roman alphabet -- a part closer to the motor area which is used for handwriting.

What's also worth noting is that the internet and mobile phone technology have led to the development of new words and forms of writing. This also reflects the age group of the users, the vast majority of whom are under 40 years of age.

So perhaps if people are forgetting Chinese characters, they can create new ones instead to replace them... but will they remember how to write those ones too?

1 comment:

  1. one way to revitalize chinese in the young nowadays is to have compulsory writing lessons in school much like in the our time. each day there should be a session of brush stroke writing in class. the teacher goes over with every student and correct their mistakes. reciting passages is another way. strangely enough the chinese language is suitable for reciting sometimes with much emotion,much like reading shakespeare aloud.

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