One of the primary motivations for promulgating the adoption of simplified characters was the high rates of illiteracy in pre-modern China. Learning complex stroke order and forms for the 1-2000 characters used in common language was very challenging and time consuming. Passive and active command of ideograms is no mean feat, and requires much repetition in order to gain mastery of the common characters – never mind the other 104000 listed in the 2004 yitizi zidian (異體字字典).
Several prior simplifications have occurred, and indeed, this is a theme in the evolution of a languages. Typically, while the actual numbers of words increases, the syntax and grammar simplify over time. The debate surrounding simplification of Mandarin during the latter portions of the Qing raged as one might typically expect – simplification in a language like chinese, with the meaning and art of a character at risk, is an emotional subject for many. The goal however, is wider spread adoption of the language of discourse and access to writing.
The communist regime actually considered complete elimination of the Han script and adoption of Pinyin as a the sole language, thus implementing what had already happened with Vietnamese, and, to a certain extent with Japanese/Korean with their syllabaries. However, given the intense tonality of the language, and the number of homonyms, reading pinyin only Chinese was rife with unclear meanings.
Another problem with the pinyin only model was that the sound for a character differed regionally. Definitely with regional patois such as Cantonese/Shanghainese/Minan etc… but also with regards to local pronunciations of words as well. Thus, a pinyin system would remove the very unusual feature of chinese writing that allowed people that are vocally incomprehensible to be understood through writing alone.
So, Pinyin currently exists as a pronunciation system for standard Mandarin only.
Fast forward 60 years, skipping over early chinese typewriters, we come to the problem of how to take keystroke inputs and translating them into images. The major input methods are pinyin based and Changjie based. The latter utilizes the form of the character, using the keystrokes to tell the computer what character it is by pieces of it’s form. Pinyin based utilizes the mandarin pronunciation, using familiar roman keys.
The situation is now completely different. With input systems becoming the norm, writing is used less and less. Input via either pinyin or Changjie doesn’t actually require precise knowledge of a character’s stroke order or form – it requires a rough knowledge in both cases. Both systems will bring up characters that match the inputted keys, and give an array of options, thus rendering “writing” a near passive-knowledge experience.
If you can recognize the character, it’s enough…
So to me, the development of Chinese input methods has essentially obviated the need for simplified characters. With a pinyin/recognition system, you’re not writing each stroke anyway, right? Changjie as well…
So, with smartphones in ever increasing numbers of hands… and more word processing, why not bring back the more beautiful traditional script paired with modern input methods?