Language Hat points to this strangely timely article in the New York Times, which not only mentions the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but mentions it in the context of East Asian languages. How interesting, thinks I to myself, as I follow the link, hoping it will be germane to all the fascinating and erudite discussion in the neighbourhood that’s sprung up around and taken off in a multitude of interesting directions from my brain dump last week.
In it are described the ideas of a certain William C. Hannas, “a linguist who speaks 12 languages and works as a senior officer at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service,” author of a newly released book which claims that Asian science has suffered because the main Asian languages are written in “character-based rather than alphabetic” systems.
Not to get off on a rant here, but : in and of itself, this seems to me to be the most vile form of egregiously wrongheaded bullsh-t, and I suspect Mr Hannas is precisely the sort of person that I’d take great pleasure in pummelling until he whimpered like a frightened infant (a reaction that may reveal to some extent why I left academia many years ago, having dipped no more than a toe in its calm waters). But that’s not the thing that bothered me.
The article states, presumably parrotting Mr Dipsh-t, that “Western specialists are better informed today […and] now recognize that the writing systems of East Asia, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean, are “syllabaries,” in which each character corresponds to a syllable of sound.”
Now, I can’t speak for written Japanese (for which I think this may in part be true, depending on which way of writing the language one chooses – Jonathon may be the better person in the immediate neighbourhood to address that), and I’m only semi-certain it is true as far as my knowledge goes for Chinese, but this is completely and laughably wrong in the case of Korean.
I’ve been promising for over a year now to write a piece about the Korean language and alphabet, and this may have me riled enough to actually do it.
“Mr. Hannas’s logic goes like this: because East Asian writing systems lack the abstract features of alphabets, they hamper the kind of analytical and abstract thought necessary for scientific creativity,” says the New York Times.
Replies the wonderchicken : Mr Hannas should take his head out of his ass, because having one’s cranium so firmly lodged up one’s rectum can hamper the kind of analytical and abstract thought necessary for actually making some f–king sense.
A googlesearch takes literally about 5 seconds to find a multitude of sites that describe hangul, the Korean alphabet, and make Mr Hannas look like the idiot (or at the very most gracious, ‘mind-bogglingly poor researcher’) he would seem to be.
What is also distressing to me is that Sapir-Whorf (to the weak formulation of which, as I’ve mentioned, I have a degree of sympathy) is being talked about in connection with such worthless, badly thought-out crypto-racist twaddle.
Here’s a rude bit of English, sloppily and phonetically rendered into the Hangul alphabet in 5 letters and two syllables for Mr Hannas, sounding something like ‘puhk kyu!’. Wonder if he’d be able to read it…
[Gah! I thought I had all my ranting out of my system for the week. Ah well.]