Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pinyin: Word vs Syllable

I am catching up on some other blogs that I read. First, Mark, of Pinyin Info, has posted a new page on the role of the word vs the syllable in Pinyin input titled "Pinyin-to-Chinese Character Computer Conversion Systems and the Realization of Digraphia in China" by Yin Binyong. This is a very practical and helpful selection since anyone who uses Pinyin input knows that it has changed, but this explains how it has changed and what this actually means about the concept of words in Chinese. Here is an example.

"The second stage may be called “whole words and phrase-based conversion systems”, in which entire spoken words or set phrases are entered as input and Chinese characters appear as output. For example, if we input “fengguang”, this system will convert it into the Chinese characters 風光; if we input the phrase “fengherinuan”, meaning “warm and sunny weather”, the Chinese character output will be 風和日暖 , etc. Obviously, this approach does not follow the outdated myth of Chinese as a monosyllabic language, but is rather based on the realities of the present-day spoken language, and thus it has achieved some significant results. Nowadays, both in China and abroad, most Pinyin-to-Chinese character conversion systems are based on this principle. By taking whole words and phrases as the basic input units, the rate of confusion of homophonic characters has been greatly reduced."

From Pinyin News I was directed by this post back to Gary Feng's Shadow. Here are two of his recents posts that intrigue me and link to issues I have thought of in the past.


"《小学汉语拼音教学研究》 is a collection of papers from a PinYin Instruction conference held in Dalian, China in 2001. Most of the papers were written by teachers and county educational institutes. Few touched on theoretical issues. Nonetheless it make available some of the arguments for the "whole-syllable" based method of teaching PinYin."

Teaching Pinyin and word parsing in Chinese

"I am reading 徐通锵’s new book on 字本位, an attempt to build Chinese linguistics on the basis of 字, which usually corresponds to a syllable in the language and a character in the script, and a concept (not morpheme) in the mind of the speaker. I hope it will provide a new angle on the age old debate on word parsing. "

Sadly,for me, the rest of these posts are in Chinese.

I only do 'pseudo' Pinyin input since I don't speak or read Chinese. However, I am actually beginning to put a few sounds to characters every once in a while. Scary thought! As far as words are concerned in Chinese, I can only remember a couple. When I was in Beijing last year I learned to say "I am a teacher" in Chinese. Teacher, 老师, lao shi, is a two syllable word, but I never once thought that I was saying two words instead of one when I said 'teacher' in Chinese.


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