Word power a vanishing skill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 3:25am

To say technology is creating a cultural crisis may be an exaggeration. But our growing dependence on gadgets is definitely revolutionising the way we read and write. Acronyms like OMG and LOL are used in favour of proper words in text messages. Spelling and writing devices further enable one to type without knowing the correct word. As helpful as they are, critics lament that it is corruption of the language and culture. Technocrats, on the other hand, argue that the consequence is just inevitable as technology advances.

Most Chinese would agree they benefit much from such devices. Similar to word prediction and auto-correct softwares for Western languages, Chinese typing can be done with just a few strokes or pronunciation of the word today. This is, of course, good news to those learning one of the world's most difficult languages. But it also means memorising the complicated radicals and strokes for tens of thousands of words is no longer necessary.

Fears of Chinese losing grasp of their written language have been reinforced by a popular television dictation competition run by state broadcaster CCTV. The programme rings the alarm bell after most adults randomly picked from the audience could not write some common words correctly. Another survey by a Beijing-based consultancy group found that nine in 10 respondents in 12 mainland cities could not write correctly a character they assumed to know. If the findings are anything to go by, better effort is needed to brush up writing proficiency.

Whether Hong Kong is better off cannot be said with certainty. Our traditional Chinese characters are much more complicated than the mainland's simplified version. Given the craze for new technology and gadgets here, it would be hardly surprising if the locals are facing bigger problems in writing.

Technology helps as much as it corrupts. It is important we guard against the loss of culture and heritage as we enjoy the convenience it brings. It would be a shame if people can only write with aiding devices in future.