The Economist: The Coexistence of Pinyin and Chinese Characters Highlights the Role of Emotion in Language Decisions

I found this very interesting, even though I knew some of it already. Pinyin the system for using Roman letters to write Chinese, which is also used to telling computers what Chinese character to put down. The key passage is this:

Why don’t the Chinese just adopt pinyin? One is the many homophones (though these are not usually a problem in context). Another is that Chinese characters are used throughout the Chinese-speaking world, not just by Mandarin-speakers but also speakers of Cantonese, Shanghainese and other varieties. These are as different from each other as the big Romance languages are, but the writing system unifies the Chinese world. In fact, character-based writing is, in effect, written Mandarin. This is not obvious from looking at the characters, but it is obvious if you look at pinyin. If China adopted it wholesale, the linguistic divisions in China would be far more apparent.

But there is another reason for attachment to the characters. They represent tradition, history, literature, scholarship and even art on an emotional level ...