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Logographic Versus Phonetic Writing Systems Pros And Cons

1. Pros To Logographic Writing Systems

  • Links meaning to writing.
  • Historical texts are still readable to modern-day people, even if pronunciation changes over time (assuming word order and character shapes/strokes don’t change).
  • People with different native languages can read and understand most or all of the meaning in each other’s writings. In China’s case, it helps maintain national unity.
  • Block-shape characters enable support all the different text and writing directions (however, Hangul manages to accomplish this too by being writing in syllable blocks).
  • Memorization of logograms can slightly increase spatial and mathematical abilities. Source 1, i.
  • Pictograms and ideograms can be easily represented in characters, although they may only account for 5-10% of the all the characters.
  • Strong cultural associations.
  • Takes up less two-dimensional area, meaning that more information can transfer over less paper and digitally for the same character limits (for Unicode).
  • May take fewer eye saccades to read, which might speed up reading (especially if characters aren’t too hard to read).
  • Emphasizes stronger importance of calligraphy (both an advantage and disadvantage).
  • Characters’ semantic etymologies can be interesting for understanding why the characters are the way they are. However, having to know the etymologies can be a disadvantage as well.
  • Since meaning is linked to writing, more descriptive shades of meaning/word-senses can be indicated in written text (e.g. ’tā’ 3SG pronoun meaning “he”, “she”, or “it”.
  • Although extremely rare, the meaning of texts that include lots of homophones (such as the Shi-Shi poem) would still be understandable in logographic writing systems.
  • Phonetic writing systems on the other hand would only write just the sound, and the shade of meaning or homophone would be inferred from reading the context of the text.
    • For an example where homophones would be clearly distinguished, English ’set’ could be interpreted to mean either ’mathematical object’, ’batch of objects’, and more. But in a logographic writing system, these two homonymous words would be written as: 集合 and ēµ„ respectively, and this makes it more clear that the words are semantically different.
  • If a word (distinguished in spoken speech by its phonetic sounds) has multiple semantic senses, these different senses can each be disambiguated based on the characters used to write it, but then each character combination would be pronounced the same as the spoken speech.
  • In the case for Japanese, the two phonetic transcription systems (hiragana and katakana) can be used in combination with kanji to indicate grammatical morphemes, cuteness, foreign accents, foreign words, artistic works, business names, warning signages, and sometimes complex character simplifications. Though phonetic writing systems could these too by using typographies and altering the spellings.
  • The difficulty of learning and maintaining the ability to communicate with logographic writing systems can be greatly reduced when the typist is accompanied with a typing input system where phonetic transcriptions are inputted, and logographic characters are outputted (perhaps predictive text is provided with the software to make typing even easier). However if one learns a logographic writing system this way, then they won’t know how to write it by hand, and if they did originally learn it by hand, they could lose the ability and memorization for doing that if they don’t practice.
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2. Cons To Logographic Writing Systems

  • Doesn’t link pronunciation to writing, although morphophonemic hints can be preserved in logograms
  • Pronunciation is not immediately evident from just looking at characters
    • However, since writing tends to be more conservative to pronunciation, phonetic writing systems may lag behind modern pronunciation, and writing may be pronounced different in different dialects
  • There is no need for a phonological transcription system for native speakers versus a phonetic transcription system for non-native speakers
  • Harder to learn (will probably take at least hundreds of hours to learn)
    • Can decrease literacy rates if quality education is not widespread
    • Increases language barrier and cultural barrier to foreign speakers
  • A phonological/phonetic system must accompany the characters to communicate pronunciation
  • Dictionary indexing and searching becomes slightly more complicated since logograms must be organized by their indexing-components and stroke numbers (especially for logogram-to-foreign language decoding)
    • Side Note: Foreign language to logogram language would still be organized alphabetically for reference dictionaries
  • More complex character input methods/programs/software/OCR for electronic devices are required, though this could probably be easily accomplished by inputting text using the phonetic transcription system.
  • Although character encoding into electronic systems would require each character to take up more space (since there are thousands of characters, more bits are needed to uniquely distinguish every character), this isn’t really a problem if the same encoding system aims to present emoji as well (because emoji and logograms would both be presented in Unicode).
  • Note: Although sound-to-letter writing systems are easier to learn and pronounce, they typically only encode phonemes into the letters, not phonetic sounds unless it’s a transliteration system aimed at showing foreigners how to pronounce sounds. It is up to the speaker to learn how the phonemes can surface as all their various allophones. Nonetheless, this is still easier and since there is statistical variations in how phonemes can surface, it is definitely more reasonable in most cases to encode phonemes into the letters instead of phonetic sounds.
  • If a typist becomes reliant on using typing systems to type logographic characters and they don’t practice writing the characters by hand, they can forget to write by hand. But this isn’t a problem if the speaker has no need to communicate with handwriting.
  • Since predictive text software is the fastest way to text with logographic writing systems, this can be rigged by institutions like the Chinese government in order to control the language that people use, which can thus control the thought of the people to an extent as well.
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Last Modified: 2023 October 03, 10:14

Author: Zero Contradictions