I promised my friend Silver to write a post in reply to hers, my apologies to Silver in delaying this post for almost three months. Good or bad, here it is.
“對簿公堂” vs. “對薄公堂”
In an “absolute” world, things are set in stone and they never change with the times. And when a student is graded in an exam by her/his teacher, well, whatever way the teacher taught according to published materials (books, dictionaries, etc) will be the “right” and “correct” way to answer.
But in the world outside of classrooms, “living” languages like English, Chinese, French (as opposed to “dead” languages like Mayan) that are actively used by people, will and do evolve with time.
If we accept that languages belong to the “relative” category like our physical world (thanks to Einstein), then allow me to draw some insights from some examples in our real world.
In a pseudo-random sample of news items returned by Google News when searching “對簿公堂” vs. “對薄公堂”, I found 133 news items returned for “對簿公堂”, and 34 news items returned for “對薄公堂”.
In a pseudo-random total sample space of 167 news items (133 + 34), there are 80% of news articles using the supposedly “right” expression of “對簿公堂”, when 20% are using the supposedly “wrong” expression of “對薄公堂”. I don’t know about others, but to me, 34 articles are not a small number.
It is easy to claim the moral high ground and simply relying on the “authorities” and published books to say “this is right and that is wrong”.
But, in my humble view, if we look further ahead, than one may want to prepare for the day when the news search counts change. What if the news count rise from the current “80% vs 20%” to “50% vs 50%” or even “40% vs 60%”?
Some Chinese scholars may never want to change. But I can’t ignore the changes in spelling between British English spellings and American English spellings. Shall we declare the British English correct and American English wrong? Or is it more sensible to include both spellings of a word in a dictionary?
At the end of the day, the purpose of languages are to communicate. The spelling of English words evolve with time. Applying the same logic, I think the writing of some Chinese words should evolve with time too.
What do you think?