Extending Wednesdays

Chinese Characters

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the English A: Language and Literature section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide (which you can find in the Student EE section on the homepage of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal) where UCLA Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies and Chinese literary translator Michael Berry discusses the impact of the decision by the Chinese government to simplify Chinese characters in an effort to raise literacy rates.

This decision by the Chinese government to simplify Chinese characters in a way that wasn’t done in some other parts of the Chinese-speaking world effectively created a laboratory to study a number of intriguing effects related to a sudden change in the structure of a language.

“Chinese characters are made of radicals, and radicals do have meaning in and of themselves.  And sometimes, when a character is simplified, some of the radicals will be taken out, reducing the nuance and overall level of meaning.”

Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include an analysis of the impact of simplifying Chinese characters on literature, pronunciation, and literacy rates, as well as more general evaluations of how language can be used as an objective measure of sociocultural continuity.  Further topics include the distinction between languages and dialects and the use of the structure of language as political propaganda.  

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clip Character Development, and the eBook and hour-long video China, Culturally Speaking.

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