Computers Can Already Understand Chinese

It's true that Chinese uses upwards of 4,000 characters, and it's also true that few Chinese (and, I assume, other Asians) learn keyboard skills at school ("Kissing Kanji good-bye?" Special Report, Feb. 23). But it's untrue that "there's no phonetic alphabet" for Chinese. On the contrary, for the past 40 years, children in China have begun to read by learning the "pinyin" phonetic spelling system for standard Chinese, and this system continues in everyday use.

One of the beauties of digitalization is that, to the computer, Chinese looks like English. Far from the ideographic nature of Chinese and Japanese writing constituting a barrier to the computerized world, the computer has in fact removed such barriers. In current use in China and Taiwan are several phonetic input systems that make it possible to type Chinese as fast as one types English. The use of computers--including training in keyboard skills--is rapidly being introduced into school systems, and many people are paying to take computer classes outside of school.

Computerized voice recognition has indeed made impressive strides in the past few years. But it seems unlikely that voice recognition will be any more important or any quicker to come into broad use in Asia than it will in the West.

James E. Dew


Editor's note: Pinyin is not used as an alphabet in ordinary printed Chinese material.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.