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436               The Loom of Language
or interrogative as head follows the numeral in three head of cattle
Different classes of words have different classifiers of this sort We
have already met one KO (piece) which keeps company with JfiN
(man) as in SAN-KO jfiN (three piece men> i e three men) KO is the
numerative of the largest class Others are K'OU (mouth) for things
with a round opening such as a pot or a well, PA (handle) for knives
spoons and the like, FENG (seal) for letters and parcels, KUA (hanging)
for a necklace, beard, and other suspended objects. Classificatory
particles of this sort are widely current in the speech of prehterate
communities the world over, and are highly characteristic of such
(p 311) Seemingly the numeranve of Chinese is not a new device for
dealing with the homophones but a very ancient characteristic of
human communication kept alive by a new need
If we disregard tone differences the number of distinct root words
in spoken Chinese is little more than 400, or slightly over 1,200 if we
make allowance for them These have to do the work of a much larger
number of things, actions, and concepts The written language (p 57)
is not embarrassed by the plethora of homophones. Each symbol has
a particular meaning, and several symbols may therefore stand for the
same sound Thus ten symbols of Chinese script stand for the various
meanings of LI in the second tone Unhappily this advantage has its
own penalty To become proficient in reading and writing the Chinese
pupil has to learn a minimum of about 3,000 to 4,000 characters This
entails several years of exacting work which might otherwise lay the
foundations of more useful knowledge So much thankless toil tempts
us to wonder why the Chinese do not discard their archaic script in
favour of our own more handy and more thrifty alphabet Turkey has
already given the world an inspiring object lesson Under the benevolent
despotism of Ataturk it has exchanged the involved and unsuitable
Arabic for Latin letters The result is that Turkish boys and girls now
master the elements of reading and writing in six months instead of
two or three years
Admittedly Turkey's problem is a simpler one. Turkish is an
agglutinative language, adapted as such to regular conventions of
spelling; but the Romamzation of Chinese script would lead to hopeless
confusion, if it followed the customary practice of transcription in
maps and Western newspapers. A satisfactory alphabetic orthography
has to bring the tones to life, and there are several feasible ways of
doing so We might distinguish the four Pekingese tones by diacritic
marks as in the French series. ey , e, e. In accordance with die system