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Saturday, June 20, 2009


Separated by a common language

I'm talking about Taiwan and China. But President Ma Ying-jeou has a solution to that "problem."

Yesterday, President Ma called civic groups from both sides of the strait to work together on a joint dictionary, and while he did not provide many details, such a dictionary would presumably close the gap between Chinese and Taiwan dictionaries. So we would see a listing of both Hanyu Pinyin and Zhuyin Fuhao, simplified and traditional forms, cross-referencing of variant vocabulary, inclusion of slang from both sides, etc. Ma even proposed a name for this dictionary, the Comprehensive Zhonghua Dictionary (中華大辭典).

It sounds to me like Ma's thinking just a little too much. For one thing, if I am not mistaken, work along these lines has already been done. There are already very comprehensive dictionaries published both in Taiwan and China which allow for look up by stroke count, radical and Hanyu Pinyin (though I imagine only Taiwan also publishes Zhuyin). Plenty of dictionaries list simplified and traditional forms together. Still, I imagine few dictionaries cross-reference cross-strait variant vocabulary or include slang from both areas (correct me if I'm wrong!).

For another, this is a baldly political proposal despite its apparent innocence. Ma is amped up for more joint-strait "Greater China" projects that emphasis shared cultural heritage. There's nothing wrong with the idea for a dictionary like this; it's just politically stupid of the president to mention it mere days after drawing fire for implying Taiwan should learn to write simplified characters (he instantly retreated). And all this comes at the same time the government cuts down mother language instruction in elementary school.

Really, the publishing of such a dictionary is trivial, which gives you insight into why Ma would even care about it. Symbolism matters, and the KMT is doing all it can to re-introduce a very China oriented cultural framework in Taiwan which aims to slowly transform the boundaries of domestic political debate and opinion.



At 2:58 PM, Blogger Άλισον said...

Ma cannot keep up with the technology change?

just now I checked if I could use Google translation tool to switch the two types of Chinese writings, it works well either way, so there is no need for a "Greater Chinese Dictionary".

What we need is for the Ministry of Education to sponsor private efforts on editing dictionaries for the other languages of Taiwan.

Ma should move his government to Kinmen or Matsu, then think about his new cultural project, and leave Taiwan intact.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Kuaile Long said...

Doesn't he know Dr. Eye?

It seems, that "Mister Ma" now does too much.

1.) First 識正書簡 which he cannot success with now

2.) Then this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yufujamar/3645019777/?ref=nf

3.) And now this unnecessary dictionary.

If he continues like this, people maybe will wake up and see, that he is not as clever, as everyone said. (I think this was mostly because he learned Taiwanese and Hakkanese or something)

At 12:53 AM, Blogger Richard said...

I recently heard from a friend about something along the lines of the government (KMT) revising history books for middle school/high school? Have you heard of anything like this? My friend said they were set to be rolled out later this year, perhaps for the new school year. If so, they would likely be very "Greater Chinese" oriented as well, and likely starting a new decade of kids that are taught that way of thinking.

The DPP did a great job promoting Taiwan/Taiwanese over their 8 years, and we can see the fruits of that today in the percentage that continue to view themselves as Taiwanese vs Chinese, as well as those that want to unify with China (has dwindled).

At 6:32 PM, Blogger 阿牛 said...

Not sure about history texts, Richard; will see if I can find anything.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Thanks for looking that up. Since my Chinese is not that great, I wouldn't have been able to find that. But, as a result, I had to use a translator to fill in the blanks that I couldn't read. I'm surprised I couldn't find much of anything (on the English side) about the history books. It would be a nice story to blog on. :)


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