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Visible Speech (Asian Interactions and Comparisons) Hardcover – June 1, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0824812072 ISBN-10: 0824812077

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Product Details

  • Series: Asian Interactions and Comparisons
  • Hardcover: 322 pages
  • Publisher: University of Hawaii Press (June 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824812077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824812072
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,547,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Brendan O'Kane on December 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have to address the other review on this page, which penalizes DeFrancis for the reviewer's own naivete when it comes to the Chinese writing system. The case DeFrancis makes for the phoneticity of Chinese characters is based on the fact - so uncontroversial and apparent to anybody familiar with the language that it is recorded in even the first dictionary of Chinese characters, Shuowen-Jiezi, compiled in 121 AD - that the overwhelming majority of Chinese characters are formed by combinations of semantic ('radical') determinatives and phonetic components. (Figures over the years are given on p. 99 in my edition -- perhaps the earlier reviewer missed this page.) This hardly represents a break from the conventional wisdom.

Regarding the question of how phonetic components can function across dialects: These phonetic components were relatively reliable as guides to the pronunciation of given characters at the time of the characters' creation, but over the centuries as Chinese has split into different languages, the phonetic components have become less and less reliable except as "rhymes-with" indicators of pronunciation at best.

Now that that's out of the way: I first read this book when I was beginning my study of Chinese some years ago, and many of the principles inherent in the creation of writing systems - not just Chinese - that are described here have come in useful since then. The topic of writing systems might seem abstruse at first glance, but DeFrancis has an easy style and the text is a pleasure to read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By MMD on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read a number of books on writing and writing systems, and I think this is the most remarkable and impressive of all the books I've read. DeFrancis demolishes widely-held myths about Chinese, particularly the myth that it is a way of encoding meaning directly, without reference to sound. He shows convincingly that every full writing system ever created codes for sound at one level or another. It may code partially, it may code at the phonemic or syllabic level, the coding may be ambiguous or imperfect, but every full writing system has a phonological component. I highly recommend this book to people who are interested in writing systems and have read works by people like Coulmas, Sampson, Pinker, and Diane McGuinness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cultural ghost on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Is writing separate from speech? DeFrancis says "no" and proceeds through all the cases of confusion and debate, knocking down each one to demonstrate that even languages like Chinese (and others you have never noticed) have a phonological kernel.

This book is so much more interesting and readable than typical linguistic writing. It will be of interest to anyone who is curious and prepared to dismiss stereotypes and get down to the issue.
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8 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Chris Crawford on May 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John DeFrancis is Emeritus Professor of Chinese at the University of Hawaii. In this book, he addresses the many writing systems that humankind has developed, pointing out similarities and differences. Here's a simplification of the basic thesis: there are three core approaches to writing: morphemic, syllabic, and alphabetic. Morphemic writing systems use pictographs or icons to represent words in their entirety; they require memorization of thousands of such words, but the pictographs usually have some mnemonic value.

Syllabic systems use a smaller set of symbols representing the syllables that make up words. Typically a few hundred symbols are adequate, but some languages, such as Japanese and Hawaiian, can get by with a smaller set of syllabic symbols, whereas others, such as English, have thousands of distinct syllables, and so cannot use syllabic systems.

Lastly come the alphabetic systems, with one symbol for each distinct sound. English has about 40 such sounds, represented by 26 letters (we use pairs of letters, such as th in "this" to represent some sounds).

Professor DeFrancis discusses these issues in depth, explaining that in few real cases are the above simple generalizations truly applicable; there are almost always variations and exceptions in any writing system, and he explains these for a wide range of writing systems. Particularly impressive and useful is his wide discussion of many different writing systems, from such obvious ones as Babylonian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphic to obscure ones such as Cherokee, Hmong, and Naxi. The Korean writing system has long been lauded as the cleanest, clearest system in use, but Dr. DeFrancis explains in detail WHY it's so impressive.

Despite the large array of knowledge Dr.
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