Sunday, September 04, 2005

Are you a culture-egoist?

Yesterday I read a discussion thread on a website about Han-characters employment in Taiwan. A guy posted something that I think worthy for further crunching on.

He suggests Taiwanese to invent a new alphabet to perform writing function of Mandarin, Taiwanese and all other languages in this country. The reason to craft a new set is because he thinks the Asian languages that adopt western alphabet, for instances Vietnamese, Indonesian and Filipino (Tagalog) seem in lack of unique styles. Well, the judgement is sort of subjective. The point is in the following.

The guy then said in '80s Time magazine had ever covered immigrants in California. The magazine described Vietnamese writing as Rococo spelling, being appraised eerie. (I myself have not read the essay and can't be sure it's true) He didn't find in some aspects it represents a unique style. Instead of that, he took this view to introduce more examples to support his stand against of Occidental alphabet employment in the Orient.

Here are the examples. If there's a chap whose name is 游世庭, the pronunciation in Mandarin would be Yu Shi-ting (In Taiwan, no matter what's your ethnic identity is, your name is forced to be written in Han-characters and pronounced in Mandarin). It sounds like "you shiting". This example is similar to another one I've heard. An American asked a Chinese student how to say "thank you" in his mother tongue. The boy answered that "shie-shie" means "thank you" in Mandarin Chinese. The American felt weird for that sounded like "shit shit". To make sure the boy was not kidding, he then asked the second question. "When someone says 'shie-shie' to you, how to reply 'you're welcome' in Mandarin Chinese." The boy gived the answer, "bu-shie" that infuriated the American. He just could not believe besides the "shit shit" as "thank you", the Chinese say "bullshit" to mean "you're welcome. (The truth is that the boy told the truth.)

I'm not that punctilious to blame the joke. It's OK to make fun of the cultural and linguistic differences. What makes me uncomfortable is the guy who joined the discussion in the thread considers these are more than jokes. He went on indicating a Vietnanmese restaurant named in a Vietnanmese name, "PHUC DAT". The name was so frequently teased by his American friend for the American thought the name probably pronouced "fuck that". (Of course not, even in the West, the pronunciation rules could be quite different in different languages.) And the teases were taken as his silly ground to oppose the adoption of western alphabet.

To adopt or not is another issue. But the said reason is so culture-egoistic, man. If we're going to find examples of similar (or misunderstood as similar) pronunciations but totally different meanings, and cultural shocks for an oppositely thinking. We surely can write a book that is very thick and heavy like a brick. But for what? Why we should consider them seriously? In what kind of angle? In your cultural backgound or mine? In your language or his/hers?

Stop the culture-egoism! The world has always been colorful from the time human beings showed up. Learn to switch the viewpoints when diversities are encountered. Isn't this a basical attitude of modern global citizens?