Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 9th Aug 2018 21:26 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Nominally a book that covers the rough century between the invention of the telegraph in the 1840s and that of computing in the 1950s, The Chinese Typewriter is secretly a history of translation and empire, written language and modernity, misguided struggle and brutal intellectual defeat. The Chinese typewriter is 'one of the most important and illustrative domains of Chinese techno-linguistic innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries ... one of the most significant and misunderstood inventions in the history of modern information technology', and 'a historical lens of remarkable clarity through which to examine the social construction of technology, the technological construction of the social, and the fraught relationship between Chinese writing and global modernity'. It was where empires met.

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A nice glimpse
by r_a_trip on Fri 10th Aug 2018 08:40 UTC
r_a_trip
Member since:
2005-07-06

What a delightful intriguing piece and food for thought. It highlights large cultural differences. Where the west went with roughly 26 inherently meaningless symbols and deriving meaning out of the combination of those symbols, the far east went with defining meaning through representing concepts with a unique attached character.

It's curious to realise that we build representations of reality with only 26 building blocks and expanding the total canon of what we know by coming up with a new combined string of symbols selected out of those 26.

Reply Score: 4

RE: A nice glimpse
by dhaen on Fri 10th Aug 2018 10:14 UTC in reply to "A nice glimpse"
dhaen Member since:
2015-10-26

Yes, rather like RISC vs CISC.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: A nice glimpse
by r_a_trip on Fri 10th Aug 2018 10:23 UTC in reply to "RE: A nice glimpse"
r_a_trip Member since:
2005-07-06

That is a good metaphore and a good find.

Reply Score: 3

RE: A nice glimpse
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Fri 10th Aug 2018 20:20 UTC in reply to "A nice glimpse"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:
2006-07-14

Well, except for math...

Reply Score: 2

RE: A nice glimpse
by Treza on Sat 11th Aug 2018 00:30 UTC in reply to "A nice glimpse"
Treza Member since:
2006-01-11

And then emoji conquered the world...

Remarkably, Emoji came from Japan, a country which mixes ideographic and syllabic alphabets (kanji & kana).

Reply Score: 3

RE: A nice glimpse
by gus3 on Sat 11th Aug 2018 02:22 UTC in reply to "A nice glimpse"
gus3 Member since:
2010-09-02

Your comment gave me an idea: what about UTF-8? Specifically, the storage requirements for UTF-8 octets?

The Lord's Prayer takes 338 octets in English (basic ASCII), 372 octets in simplified Chinese, 492 in modern Russian Cyrillic, and 702 octets in Greek, after stripping out extra spaces and verse numbers.

To express the same concepts, Chinese uses roughly 10% more storage than English to express broad speech. For a Unicode code-point that takes 3 or 4 octets in UTF-8 space, I'd say that's a remarkably efficient computer transcription of written ideograms.

Greek is stuck with being multi-byte, alphabetic, case-based and inflected (verbs), along with liberal use of direct articles; that's why it's 208% the size of English in storage. Russian has no articles at all, so it's 30% smaller than Greek, but it still has pervasive noun cases & verb inflections, so it's 46% larger than English.

Oh, I think I just found my next project: how do a language's characteristics affect its storage in UTF-8? Navajo, Hungarian, and Tibetan might be a good place to start.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: A nice glimpse
by Vanders on Sat 11th Aug 2018 07:10 UTC in reply to "RE: A nice glimpse"
Vanders Member since:
2005-07-06

That is one of the nerdiest things I have read in a while. God speed!

Edited 2018-08-11 07:10 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Comment by kurkosdr
by kurkosdr on Fri 10th Aug 2018 21:38 UTC
kurkosdr
Member since:
2011-04-11

This article re-enforced my perception that Chinese scripts are basically glorified Pictionary pages. If we Greeks were brave enough to get rid of Greek numerals (which are like Roman numerals but worse), the Chinese can get rid of their writing system. When a computer has to try and predict as much as possible, not as a convenience but to make typing possible, and a simple typewriter is impossible to make, something has gone wrong...

Edited 2018-08-10 21:39 UTC

Reply Score: 0

who needs a typewriter
by cybergorf on Fri 10th Aug 2018 21:56 UTC in reply to "Comment by kurkosdr"
cybergorf Member since:
2008-06-30

or a computer-keyboard ... they will soon vanish.
Chinese people just draw a character on the touchscreen of their phone - or start to draw it, and the KI suggest a few likely symbols and you pick one.

that is not limited to phones of course, but works with all kinds of touch-interfaces...

Reply Score: 0

RE: Comment by kurkosdr
by kwan_e on Sat 11th Aug 2018 06:56 UTC in reply to "Comment by kurkosdr"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

the Chinese can get rid of their writing system.


No they really can't. There are too many homophones for completely different words to be expressed by a limited alphabet, and is really the best way to write Chinese due to co-evolution.

When a computer has to try and predict as much as possible, not as a convenience but to make typing possible, and a simple typewriter is impossible to make, something has gone wrong...


Sorry, is "typewriterable" now a measure of worth of a language? It's much faster to read Chinese than other languages (assuming you learnt it), and because of the whole one character per word thing, you can fit a whole lot more information in the same space. So you read faster in both senses: words over time, and ideas conveyed over time.

I wonder if the rapid development of mechanical writing is partly due to the fact that it is cumbersome to deal with alphabet-like language in hand writing. If you have an inefficient written language, of course you'd want computers to do the hard stuff. If you have a written language optimized for hand writing, you'd be less inclined to want mechanical help.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by kurkosdr
by JLF65 on Sat 11th Aug 2018 12:56 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by kurkosdr"
JLF65 Member since:
2005-07-06

Too many homophones? Sounds like they done goofed. Who'd thunk it - when you smurf your smurf, you get smurfed in the smurf. They'd better unsmurf their smurf if they don't wish to be smurfed for smurf.

Reply Score: 1

RE[3]: Comment by kurkosdr
by kwan_e on Sat 11th Aug 2018 13:30 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Comment by kurkosdr"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

Too many homophones?


Yes. Because when you have one syllable per word (modified by tones), you run out of sounds very easily. Luckily, sentences are composed of multiple words, and spoken Chinese is also very context-aware so there's no problem.

Sounds like they done goofed.


No, because languages don't get designed. Not even well designed programming languages. Languages with too many syllables, making speech necessarily rapid and still taking a long time to say something simple is the other extreme.

Reply Score: 3

RE[4]: Comment by kurkosdr
by gus3 on Sun 12th Aug 2018 00:02 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by kurkosdr"
gus3 Member since:
2010-09-02

Languages with too many syllables, making speech necessarily rapid and still taking a long time to say something simple is the other extreme.


Navajo is exactly that case. Oblig: https://xkcd.com/257/

Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo_language#Grammar

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by kurkosdr
by ssokolow on Mon 13th Aug 2018 19:57 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by kurkosdr"
ssokolow Member since:
2010-01-21

It's much faster to read Chinese than other languages (assuming you learnt it), and because of the whole one character per word thing, you can fit a whole lot more information in the same space. So you read faster in both senses: words over time, and ideas conveyed over time.


Which is why written Korean retained "Hanzi" for use in places like newspaper headlines in addition to their elegant "Hangul" system.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Korean "Hangul" writing system was designed at the behest of a Korean ruler to improve peasant literacy and, as such, is very elegant indeed. What appear to be characters represent syllables and each one is built by combining up to three "jamo" in an "initial consonant, vowel, final consonant" combination.

Essentially, the "jamo" are a phonetic alphabet which are combined into pseudo-characters, one per syllable, so it combines the best aspects of an alphabet and a syllabary.

(eg. Conciseness. They have somewhere around 35 to 40 jamo, which is probably the same range we'd wind up with if we solved our "English spelling is a mess because we don't have enough symbols for all our vowel sounds" problem.)

Edited 2018-08-13 20:00 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by kurkosdr
by tylerdurden on Mon 13th Aug 2018 05:04 UTC in reply to "Comment by kurkosdr"
tylerdurden Member since:
2009-03-17

If we Greeks were brave enough to get rid of Greek numerals (which are like Roman numerals but worse), the Chinese can get rid of their writing system.


*facepalm*

Reply Score: 2