William Hannas, author of The Writing on the Wall: How Asian Orthography Curbs Creativity and Asia’s Orthographic Dilemma, will speak at the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, October 5. His talk will cover his controversial thesis on the impact of orthography on patterns of thought. For details, see the events calendar of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for East Asian Studies.
Those of you in the Philadelphia area should make an effort to attend.
What is your opinion on this? Are you still on the fence?
When I think in English or French, I often see the written form of words in my head. So I would not surprised if the written form affects my thinking patterns, in addition to the meaning and syntax.
However, my son is not yet two, so he is almost entirely pre-literate. Yet, according to educationists (and apparent before my eyes) he is going through a rapid learning phase, fuelled by his growing grasp of spoken English.
Surely a richness of _spoken_ language is the key to effective thinking. I find it hard to believe that the rich and intriguing written form(s) of Chinese are having a significant effect on people’s ability to think, and it is even harder to believe that the effect would be a negative one.
I don’t think I have sufficient background in the many fields Hannas calls upon in support of his thesis to be able to judge. But I have profound admiration for Hannas’s learning, and I think much of the reaction against his most recent book has been shallow. It’s easy to dismiss what we don’t want to hear.
“Rich” and “intriguing” are all very nice, but the fact remains that Chinese characters, the world’s most difficult widely used script, can also be a real pain to use (for Chinese as well as non-Chinese). Hannas’s point is more about the benefits of alphabetic systems, though he certainly points out troubles with Chinese characters as well.