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Chinese Characters Are Futuristic and the Alphabet Is Old News


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A mechanical Chinese typewriter.

Stanford University professor Tom Mullaney believes use of the standard QWERTY keyboard is holding back Western countries.

Credit: Thomas Mullaney

Stanford University professor Tom Mullaney believes Western countries are lagging behind China technologically because they still use the QWERTY keyboard, whereas computers make Chinese--with its 75,000 individual characters in place of an alphabet--far more advantageous.

Mullaney says typing English via a QWERTY keyboard "doesn't make use of a computer's processing power and memory and the cheapening thereof." He notes there are now dozens of ways to input Chinese with software-augmented shortcuts.

With the arrival of the computer in the 1970s and 1980s came a boom in Chinese input options, and experimentation with pronunciation-based systems using the QWERTY keyboard yielded software-driven predictive English letter/Chinese character translation systems.

Tegic's U.S. introduction of the T9 predictive texting system in early cellphones offered much less input efficiency than China's deployment because it had to conform to the traditional keyboard letter arrangement. The Chinese version allowed fewer strokes per character, says Tegic co-founder William Valenti.

"In China, the proliferation of mobile over the last 10 years has meant an explosion of new users learning to type for the first time on a mobile device," notes ethnographer Christina Xu. "They don't have any attachment or experience in QWERTY, so getting them to adopt new input methods is way easier."

From The Atlantic
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