The Corner

Death of Cursive

Our own problem with the death of cursive writing (if it is a problem) is nothing to what the Chinese are going through.  To write English by hand you need only memorize the 26 letters of the alphabet, with the half dozen variant forms of each you find in cursive, in print, in italics, etc.  To write Chinese by hand you need to memorize 5,000 or so complicated squiggles, with a similar number of variants each to allow for Mainland Simplified script, different fonts, different cursive styles (hint:  they’ve been practicing for 3,000 years), and so on.

It’s all way too much for the on-the-go, portable-phone jabbering, IM-and-text-messaging, emailing Chinese yuppie.  (NB:  Text input for Chinese mostly works via an alphabetic interface.  To enter the Chinese squiggles for “Beijing” you first key “b-e-i.”  A row of squiggles pop up on your screen, all the squiggles–there are about 30–pronounced “bei.”  You click on the one you want, and it’s inserted into your text at the cursor point.  Then you key “j-i-n-g”…)  It is now quite common to meet well-educated and successful Chinese people who can’t hand-write a letter without great difficulty, and frequent recourse to a dictionary.

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