Dear CAIS families,
Last May at the State of the School address, I remarked that a discussion about the transition from traditional to simplified Chinese characters at CAIS was long overdue. Over the summer I was rummaging around the attic of an old house of mine in Madison, Wisconsin, and I came across a paper on the topic of Chinese script reform that I wrote as a first year graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in 1990 (the same year my son Joe was born—he’s now a college senior).
Re-reading the paper, I was struck by a number of things; one of them was the inaccessibility of academic writing, or at least my academic writing. The assumed audience for this paper was Chinese linguists who were knowledgeable about and interested in orthography. But for the average reader, this paper is like a non-narcotic tranquilizer—I really hope that over the past 21 years, my writing has become a little more relevant and accessible. A more gratifying thought that I had as I re-read the paper was that the topic, abstruse as it was at the time, has now become relevant to a much larger group of readers who, while not Chinese orthographers, are certainly not average: CAIS parents. Where else could I go and be part of a community of adults who not only are interested in the traditional vs simplified character discussion, but actually have skin in the game?
So I am kicking off that long overdue, open discussion about the transition from traditional to simplified characters by putting a PDF copy of the 1990 paper here. It explains the principles and rules employed by the mainland Chinese linguist who simplified the Chinese script in 1956. The paper is very wonky—don’t say I didn’t warn you. But for those of you who care to wade through it, I think you’ll find that the move from traditional, full form characters to simplified characters was not, as it has been mischaracterized, a disrespectful break from cultural tradition. Rather, it was a well-thought-out transition that respected the history of the language and the integrity of the script.
Click here to read the paper.