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A Historical-Linguistic Approach to Language, Script and Literacy in East Asia

Chinese characters are considered by many to be an important and inherent part of Chinese culture, as well as an important and inherent part of other cultures that are traditionally included within the so-called “Chinese character cultural sphere” (漢字文化圈). This course will engage in a detailed exploration of the various historical, linguistic, cultural, and philosophical roles of Chinese characters in different regions across this sphere: the PRC, Taiwan, Japan, the Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. As we shall see during the course, Chinese characters have evoked strong and often opposing ideas and emotions throughout history, ranging from almost blind and total admiration to utter abhorrence and a desire for their abolishment. Accordingly, we shall examine how these conflicting worldviews regarding Chinese characters came to be, mainly by way of focusing on different historical milestones in different regions such as the character simplification reforms in Japan and the PRC, as well as the replacement of the Chinese characters with a Romanized script in Vietnam and an alphabetical script in Korea. In addition, and toward the end of the course, we will deal with the ways in which modern digital technology has been effecting the world of Chinese characters by – for example – focusing on the “character amnesia” phenomenon, which has been the cause for a considerable degree of concern, especially in China

Credits in elective courses: 
2 credits in elective courses