Apart from this introductory chapter, the book consists of three parts: Part I on Chinese contains 9 chapters (chaps. 210); Part II on Korean contains 6 chapters (chaps. 1116); and Part III on Japanese contains 8 chapters (chaps. 1724). Each of Parts I, II, and III begins with an introduction to the nation and its people and a chapter describing the language covered in that part. The rest of the chapters in each part deal with scripts and literacy, sometimes similarly and sometimes differently among the three parts.
Part I on Chinese contains several chapters on Chinese characters: How they began and evolved, how they are structured and classified, and how many there are, and so on. Part I has a substantial chapter on the reform of spoken and written Chinese, which is an urgent and important problem. It also has one chapter on learning to read and write characters, and another chapter on the history of education and literacy. Part I contains two chapters that deal with topics that concern not only Chinese but also Korean and Japanese: Logography vs phonetic scripts, and text writing conventions in East Asia.
Part II on Korean needs a few more chapters on the use of Chinese characters. Though the Koreans borrowed characters from the Chinese, they use characters somewhat differently from the Chinese. More importantly, they supplement characters with their own phonetic script, an alphabet used like a syllabary. The Korean phonetic script deserves extensive coverage, both because it is the major script of South Korea and the sole script of North Korea, and because it is indigenous, unique, ingenious, and effective. Part II asks questions such as how this phonetic script was created, how it is structured, how it is used, and how it is learned. Not to be overlooked is the fact that over the past few decades North Korea and South Korea have taken somewhat different policies on education and scripts. As in Part I, Part II has a chapter on learning to read and write the Korean scripts, as well as a chapter on history of literacy and education.
Part III on Japanese needs yet a few more chapters on Chinese characters. The Japanese use characters in a more complex way than do the Chinese and the Koreans. They also created two forms of a simple syllabary out of characters, which are used along with characters. The way these three scripts are used is complex yet interesting. Part III contains one substantial chapter on the Japanese educational system, which is of great interest to us all because of its success in turning out literate workers. To these well-educated workers and managers, Japan owes her spectacular economic success.
Parts I, II, and III discuss some research on how people recognize, read, and write characters and other graphs, words, and sentences. Emphasis is on word recognition, which seems to be most affected by types of scripts. Out of the masses of research data available, mostly in technical journals, often in Japanese, I select a small amount for its relevance, interest, and comprehensibility.
The one-page Postface drives home the core message of the book.
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