Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cursive (Part Two)

I received a very interesting article from DQ reader Michael in reference to the post yesterday about the death of cursive writing.

Living in Japan, I immediately put your post about cursive into perspective. The same problem is in Japan, only a bit more serious, I think. And is a bit more widespread, possibly. What I'm talking about is kanji, the Japanese characters that Japanese people use to communicate. Basically, one form of their "letters." People here use their cellphones and text-messaging so much that they never write anymore. Like cursive, and anything else that is a "use it or lose it"-type thing, kanji is slowly fading away. Computers are also to blame, but computers aren't as widespread or popular here in Japan as in the US. Slowly getting there, but not the same nonetheless. However, add the computers to the cellphones and now we've got a problem, Houston. Considering that it seems that everyone has a cellphone (including middle-schoolers), the younger generation is losing the ability to communicate in written form.

Personally, I believe this is serious. However, most of the people that I talk to don't really give it much thought. Kind of a c'est la vie type of deal. Way I see it though is this: English is increasingly popular with the Japanese. More and more foreign words (English, as well as others) are being adopted into the language. Eventually, the younger generations are going to tire of some of the kanji and replace many of them with borrowed words or word combinations made up of foreign words (i.e.- "speed down" means "slow down," to them, but doesn't mean anything to us, even though we understand the connotation). I just wonder what the difference will be in 50-100 years. Or when computer become so ubiquitous that kids don't even write in school, rather use a keyboard (or whatever we'll use in the future for data input).

I hadn't thought about this, but in cultures where the written language consists of hundreds of characters, and mastery of the written language could take years, typing must be a very attractive alternative (although I would think that a kanji keyboard must have so many characters that it would be very difficult to master as well).

When I was in college, my philosophy professor told us that Mandarin Chinese (which he spoke fluently) was such a difficult and complex language that typing ten words a minute was considered "expert."

And since he told me that twenty-five years ago, probably 90% of those details are absolutely incorrect.

There's a gaming connection here, believe it or not. Yesterday, over at Kotaku, I saw a story about a console-style RPG (featuring Knucles from the Sonic series)--that is used to teach Kanji. And it does even more than that--here's an excerpt from the game site
Gameplay is similar to traditional console RPGs, with the exception of the battles. In these battles enemies take on the form of Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji or Japanese, Indonesian, & German vocabulary.

Knuckles in China Land contains all the characters from the Hiragana and Katakana syllabries, over 6000 Kanji characters (1000 of them are ordered from 'more common' to 'less common'), and hundreds of Japanese, Indonesian, & German words.

If you are not satisfied with the included content, you are free to add your own using the included Vocabulary Editor.

It's a PC game (although it is accurate when they say it's "console style"). I've downloaded it but haven't installed it yet. I'd like to learn some Kanji (or Katakana--whatever is the language used in most game menus for Japanese games), but never thought I'd find a way to learn it that would be interesting. So I may give this a try and I'll let you know how it goes.

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