Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Keep UN out of languages

I've just signed the "Say NO to United Nations' abolishment of Traditional Chinese in 2008" petition. Based on the description provided on the petition's Web site, the rationale behind supporting simplified Chinese is to increase the Chinese literacy rate throughout the world.

Now, I know the literacy rate in the People's Republic of China (PRC) is lacking. While meeting Chinese refugees arriving in Canada, I noticed that most of them did not speak or write Mandarin. That could have been a skewed sample.

However, if decades of using simplified Chinese yielded a literacy rate of 95.1 percent for men and 86.5 percent for women, we would be fools to buy the argument that simplified Chinese will produce a higher literacy rate in or outside of China given that Taiwan's literacy rate is 96.1 percent, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

The argument itself -- to make the writing simple so more people can learn it -- is like saying let's use "U" for university and "A" for apple so we can bring up English literacy rates throughout the world.

The Chinese language in itself is a difficult language. It is complicated because there is no connection between how a character sounds and how it is written -- whether it be in simplified or traditional form. To learn Chinese takes much time, effort, and unfortunately, aptitude -- not all that different from any other languages.

This calls into question the reason behind this attempt by the UN to "unify" the Chinese language. Did it try to "unify" French? Well, why not?

The UN is supposed to be a place of diversity and integration, but I am not quite sure it lives up to its name or its mission. Since when is the UN in a position to unify any language? It was entrusted with looking after world peace and look what it has done.

I think it has confused world peace with world unification. In case I am mistaken and the UN really has the authority to meddle with languages -- with a liberal degree disrespect of those languages' host cultures -- then perhaps it is a good time to work on the languages of the Middle East. Communications in that region have not been working well lately.

Stephanie Lin

Taipei

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