Sunday, July 13, 2014

快樂 ☺ :-) (^_^)

Long before today’s ubiquitous Smiley Face replaced the multi-letter “Have-a-nice-day”  human beings communicated through pictures. About 3500 years ago, the Chinese began to create a written communication system composed of brushed line drawings – with one to over 33 strokes -- called hanzi, It remains the only complete living logographic writing system in the modern world and the only one serving as the primary writing system for hundreds of millions of people, including Korea (hanja) and Japan (kanji).

These ink brushed images evolved from over 200 basic symbols or radicals, that, when combined and sometimes even contorted, could be basically understood because of the graphic similarity to a well-recognized symbol. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then by adding three more zeros to the already 54,000 distinct hanzi, the opportunities for expressing ideas to this day seem endless. (The total is unknown, as are some of the meanings and vocalized values of many today.)

“You can put so much in the volume of Chinese words because the structure is so symbolic and dense with meaning, said bilingual Ai Weiwei, China’s renown contemporary artist turned political dissident in the August 2013 Interview magazine. Ai, an inveterate Twitterist noted, “I can write a novel in 140 characters. ”His @aiww is automatically translated into English.

While it is possible to conduct daily life (and read a newspaper) in the 21st century by knowing how to read “only” 3500 of them, the average East Asian needed something simpler that would enable literacy to spread, not to mention to allow “new” ideas to be expressed.

According to tradition, the 9th century the Japanese Buddhist priest Kukai invented the bilateral Kana system: two sets of 51 characters, with one set for foreign (originally Chinese Buddhist scripture) words and, later, another for the vernacular. In 1443 Korea’s King Sejung the Great created the 24 characters for Hangeul, to expand literacy and were designed to replicate the position of the tongue in the mouth when speaking. Around the same time, Koreans invented moveable type (78 years prior to Guttenberg.) Much later, during the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, the progressive linguistic democratization movement simplified the written hanzi system, and the majority of the population was lifted out of illiteracy. (Taiwan does not use this simplified system.)

A major challenge to rendering meaning through hanzi and its related brush-and-ink system of writing. Because 1/ a single character have many meanings and 2/ many characters produce a similar vocalized sound, all writing must be understood in context of cultural realities, historical and cotemporary.

All of this accommodation to language follows the evolution of the complexity of life; while verbs and modifiers haven’t changed much, the stock of nouns have grown with each new planetary exploit and thing-a-ma-jig. So, while the sounds value of the characters didn’t change, the choice of appropriate written character to render a new word required a creative, open mind. It is not unusual for a reader of hanzi (or its cousins) to be stumped about meaning of a statement when seeing an unexpected logograph in an “unlikely” place or rendered with a writing style that seems illegible. In the case of the later, a character may be reconstructed through its official stroke order by tracing it with one’s finger in the palm of the other hand.

As the distance between East and West grew shorter, the use of the Latin or Romanized alphabet became known in the East. Not only did it enable the learning of proper vocalization of Germanic and Romance languages, but it also became fashionable. In Japan, it is possible that four writing systems (kanji, katakana, hiragana and Romaji) might appear in a single sentence, if only to lend a splash of westernized spice.

What seems more important is that , for all their complexity, hanzi logographs themselves do not fully convey emotional intent of the writer. This is inferred from the style of the calligraphy. There are five to eight recognized basic calligraphy styles of the hanzi-based symbols. It is easy to see how brush rendered “words” have been seamlessly incorporated into paintings, including the artist's signature as well as poems. In the case of literature, the choice of one character over another can add a critical poetic / thematic / historic reference.

No matter which character is used, however, emotionality has been lost since the mechanical renderings of hanzi, from moveable type utilized in early printing to the digital forms familiar today. Despite its other limitations, this is not a problem for Romanized writing. All Latin-based letterforms but “I” have no intrinsic meanings. Computer keyboards, reliant on Unicode text, are even more limiting, however compact. Sourcing hanzii via phonetic Romaji spelling is laborious. Beyond the @ and # symbols that have been appropriated for a variety of technical functionality, it is no wonder that symbols, such as began to creep into communications.

With the explosive use of mobile phones for text messaging, emoticons, emotional icons have been informally crafted and widely adopted to efficiently express emotionality for written communications. Wikipedia defines “emoticon”, emotion icons, 表情符号 in hanzi (literally, surface sentiment feeling mark) as “metacommunicative pictorial representations of “facial expression which in the absence of body language and prosody serves to draw a receiver's attention to the tenor or temper of a sender's nominal verbal communication, changing and improving its interpretation.”

Unlike brushing a hanzi character with a just a breath of ink onto a thirsty piece of rice paper or playing a piano with a soft touch to produce a quiet sound, or might both be appropriate for a lullaby, pressing lightly on the keypad will not make a difference in the sentiment of a Twitter posting. “Spelling”, or in this case, constructing a prs did.oper image from available elements, is the key to uccess.

There is almost universal consensus that for Westerners, the Smiley Face is rendered from the keypad as :) or :-). On the other hand, Japanese emoticons, kamoji (literally “face mark”) render it as (^_^).  Beyond the distinct vertical vs horizontal readings, there is a critical difference in these two basically similar anthropomorphic symbols.

According to a behavioral scientist in Hokkaido University, the selection or creation of the right “mouth” or “eye” styles are critical to meaning. “In Japan people tend to look to the eyes for emotional cues, whereas Americans tend to look to the mouth. ... Perhaps it is because the Japanese, when in the presence of others, try to suppress their emotions more than Americans do.” He further notes, “American subjects in the research rated smiling emoticons with sad-looking eyes as happier than the Japanese subject.

When you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!!!!

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