Both languages have their benefits and drawbacks.

English is a phonographic language, more or less. Each letter represents a distinct sound, and words are made up of multiple letters based on their pronunciation. Mind you, the standardization of spelling means that the way a word is written and the way a word is pronounced don’t always align. But chances are that you can pronounce an unfamiliar word in English, even if you don’t know what it means.

In comparison written Chinese is a logographic language. Each character represents a distinct concept, unrelated to its pronunciation. Some of these are obvious, the character for “Sun” is a sort of squarish circle. But some are more abstract, “Emperor” is a pillar connecting the Heavens and the Earth.

The downside of a logographic writing system is that it is difficult to learn. The Communists had to greatly simplify it it just to get literacy up, and if you encounter an unfamiliar symbol it’s next to impossible to deduce its meaning.

The upside is that the writing system is completely divorced from any sort of dialect or even language. English writing represents a sort of theoretical neutral dialect, and the further your speech is removed from that dialect the more difficult it is to use the writing system. But written Chinese is equally difficult to learn regardless of which dialect you use.

This is especially important because many Chinese dialects are mutually incomprehensible to one another, to the point that they would be considered completely separate languages if they were not united by a single government. A language is, after all, just a dialect with an army.

Mind you, Chinese can be written phonetically using Latin characters. The “Pinyin Alphabet” was developed back in the 50s for just this purpose. But it’s basically gibberish unless you speak Mandarin Chinese specifically.

Which is a problem because only 70% of Chinese citizens speak the dialect, compare to 91% of Americans speaking American English, or 98% of British speaking British English. And that number varies wildly by region, in Hong Kong it’s only 54%.

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