How does script want to be read? 1920s debates on the horizontalization of Chinese

Tom Mullaney
Date and Time: 
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 4:15pm

Building 200, Room 307


Over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, foreign words began to appear in Chinese texts with greater frequency. These parenthetical terms from French, German, English, Russian, and other languages, alongside chemical and mathematical equations, were written horizontally, creating a mismatch with the vertically aligned Chinese writing of the day. A radical solution ultimately prevailed on the mainland: to horizontalize Chinese, or phrased differently, to rotate Chinese writing around the foreign parenthetical. Examining the early horizontalization of Chinese script, this talk focuses on the work of overseas Chinese PhD students here at Stanford University who helped pioneer the subfield of "Chinese reading psychology," propelled by anxieties over whether the reorientation of Chinese might sacrifice something critical to the way in which Chinese script demands to be read.

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