John DeFrancis video

John DeFrancisTen years ago John DeFrancis was awarded the Chinese Language Teachers Association’s first lifetime achievement award. Since he could not be present at the association’s annual conference to receive the award, he sent a videotape of a 12-minute acceptance speech. The video was recently edited down to 6:27 and uploaded to YouTube: John DeFrancis remarks.

Here’s my summary of the main points:

0:00 — While working on what he intended to be a largely political study of Chinese nationalism, DeFrancis encountered references to people who wanted China to adopt an alphabetic writing system, an idea which he initially dismissed. But discovering Lu Xun’s interest in romanization led him to investigate the matter further. [I'm frustrated by the cut away from this discussion. Perhaps a fuller version of the video will be posted later.]
1:30 — Emphasizes he’s not in favor of completely abandoning Chinese characters. Rather, he favors digraphia.
2:30 — “I’d like to mention three aspects of the Chinese field which have interested me.”

  1. pedagogy (2:50) — lots of advancements
  2. linguistic aspect (3:20) — that’s also progressing well
  3. socio-linguistics (3:52) — the field isn’t doing as well as it should be

5:00 — computers and Chinese characters. DeFrancis tears into the Chinese government for its emphasis on shape-based character-input methods rather than Pinyin.

4 thoughts on “John DeFrancis video

  1. Sorry if you’ve posted on this before, but what’s the status of Chinese gov’t support for shape-based character input? Strikes me as simply bizarre — akin to the American government declaring a policy in support of betamax. Does it really matter?

  2. For the powers that be in China, it comes down to “Hanzi good, Pinyin bad … or at least highly suspect.”

    One of the reasons for this is that, with people increasingly dependent on computers to write their Hanzi for them, it’s getting harder and harder for people to produce Hanzi by themselves if writing with a pencil and paper. And that’s got the “Chinese characters are THE ONE TRUE WAY!” crowd really freaked out. To hear them describe it, every time someone in China, say, sends a text message in that “Martian” mix of Pinyin abbreviations, English, and slang expressions, the very foundations of Chinese culture are undermined and the end is near! Help! The barbarians are at the gates!

    So they do what they can to pump up other systems — however absurd and burdensome — at the expense of PINYIN, THE UNTRUSTWORTHY INTERLOPER.

    For a couple of examples, see Some character-input methods ‘Westernizing’ Chinese culture and making it ‘degenerate’: PRC official and If people keep using Pinyin input, China will die, says Wubi-input inventor. (The latter is one of my favorite headlines here.)

    If China actually taught Pinyin well as a system, not as just a pronunciation guide, people might start to use it more. And that’s just what the cultural conservatives are afraid of.

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