Most people will say it is because there are too many homonyms in the Chinese language. But when I realize that homonyms do not bother people very much in oral communications, I begin to question this answer. As a matter of fact, Vietnamese writing system has been successfully romanized. They have a lot of homonyms too, but they are doing fine.

Ever since Sejong the Great invented the Korean alphabet in 1446, Korean vocabulary has become a superset of the Chinese vocabulary. In other words, hangul has no problem with Chinese homonyms.

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    What are the real advantages of romanizing Chinese characters? – Henry HO Sep 9 '14 at 4:49
  • @HenryHO-Easy to learn, easy to expand, easy to import loan words. Traditional Chinese range of activity was mostly agrarian. Our vocabulary does not rise above our range of activity. Now all of a sudden we joined the world's merchant economy. There are many activities, ideas we don't really have words for. – George Chen Sep 9 '14 at 8:03
  • Russia had similar problem two hundred years ago. Pushkin simply borrowed roots from western European vernaculars and popularized them in Russia. – George Chen Sep 9 '14 at 8:06
  • Great poets herald great civilization. Pushkin to Russia is Homer to Hellas, Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare to Great Britain, together with Milton, with Shelley, Byron, Blake and many others. – – George Chen Sep 9 '14 at 8:52
  • Our great poets belong to a bygone era. Their languages are those of literati with no popular root. – George Chen Sep 9 '14 at 8:52

Nong si gangdu va?

Romanizing Chinese would effectively sever the cultural and historical continuity, and it would also be detriment to the many minority topolects that share the same script.

You would need to romanize not only Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, Min, Sichuanese and so on, but also the many dialects of these regional tongues.

Furthermore, you would completely lose the poetic charm that Chinese characters carry. Chinese culture and language would be much poorer without the characters, as they are a defining element of the culture.

There used to be a movement for abolishing the characters, since they were perceived as an obstacle to learning. This is no longer the case, and nobody would propose such a reform today.

Japan has long had not one but two alphabets, but still retains the characters, for the same reasons as stated above.

  • Could Europe have had Renaissance without the rise of vernaculars? Of course the rise of European vernaculars also gave rise to nationalism which eventually lead to WWI. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 17:05
  • I think poetic charm has more to do with sounds than with looks. And poetic power, the vividness of words, comes from how closely related between the meaning of a word and its ostensive origin. Much of Chinese words are so far removed from its ostensive origins that our poems are no longer as powerful as they used to me. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 18:21
  • Reading English poems can be a very emotional experience. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 18:23
  • Paradoxically, those who appreciated calligraphic beauties of written Chinese were mostly aristocrats; those who genuinely appreciate poems were rather unsophisticated. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 19:01
  • I don't think the Chinese language is a people's language. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 19:03

As I see it, a major, practical, problem with romanizing Chinese is deciding on the word boundaries and where to put that little space. In English, as well as many European languages, this seems a small matter. You just put a space between words. But in modern Chinese this is not as simple, because "character" and "word" are two different things. The latter is based mainly on semantics whereas the former is not. Should each character be spelled as a separate unit, we'd run into problems with terms like "珊瑚" (shan hu - coral) or "玫瑰" (mei gui - rose). The two characters in these terms clearly form one unit and intuitively, should not be written separately. Common Verb-Object construction also poses a problem. Should "吃飯" (chi fan - eat, eat a meal, eat rice) be one "word" or two "words". What about "吃了飯" or "吃一頓飯" or "吃不吃飯"? I think you get the point. Until there is clear consensus as to what constitute a "word" in Chinese, it will be very hard to standardize romanization in any meaningful manner.

  • Spoken Chinese doesn't have this problem. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 18:17
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    Spoken Chinese doesn't have this problem. Of course not, but we are talking about romanization (written Chinese) in the first place, aren't we? – monalisa Sep 8 '14 at 18:33
  • @GeorgeChen Spoken Chinese doesn't have this problem when it is directly spoken out from meta (mind) language. There is only a small problem when it's read out from Chinese characters - sometimes there's ambiguity and people read it more than once to make sense. There will be a big problem if the romanization is unable to carry the semantics that characters do, which it doesn't, hence people need to read it multiple times to get the semantics right, then intonation, then pauses and stress. Speaking is not only about pronunciation but romanization is. – NS.X. Sep 8 '14 at 18:38
  • My point is, if a writing system is totally phonetic, what it looks like doesn't really matter. When I first real Chaucer, it was like a foreign language. But when I read it out loud, everything became understandable. – George Chen Sep 8 '14 at 18:42
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    That would only be a problem for people speaking English and other languages with strong analytical syntax. We do not have this problem in other Germanic languages, but always concatenate true words (we would write englishspeaking rather than English speaking). When we see ridiculous statements like Wo Shi Zhong Guo Ren, with all morphemes split up and also capitalized (or sometimes in equally silly CamelCase), we can almost be sure it is an English speaking person behind the offense. Pinyin as it stands already has adequate rules for forming words, and uncertainties would soon be remedied. – user4452 Sep 8 '14 at 20:21

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