To the Editor:
I read with interest your article on the recent decision to require Chinese language students to spend more time learning traditional characters (“Univ. to focus on traditional Chinese script” 11/29.)
As you characterize it, professors of Chinese history and literature see this need acutely while language professors fear that it is adding an additional and unnecessary element to an already heavy course load when the vast majority of Chinese language students will have no need for the addition.
While I understand that the needs of the few should not dictate the practice of the many, surely it is also true that a university that prides itself on its study of the humanities cannot stand idly by while history and literature students are functionally illiterate after three full years of language study.
But why all the hubbub?
There is a simple solution that should satisfy everybody. This semester, there are 14 sections of Elementary Modern Chinese and the classes are full. Next semester, why not offer 13 such sections and one section of Elementary Traditional Chinese?
Surely among the hundreds of students currently engaged in first-year Chinese language study at Yale, there can be found 10 or 20 who would rather learn traditional characters (whether for use in the study of Chinese literature or in the course of future business transactions in Taiwan) — and, of course, this idea of bifurcated Chinese language tracks could be continued in further years of study. Traditional Chinese classes could easily spend additional time on character study in order to better prepare students of the humanities (by reading old documents, for example, even if sacrificing some time spent on the spoken language), while modern Chinese classes could continue to teach tomorrow’s leaders the written and spoken language of modern mainland China — which they already do extremely well here at Yale.
Lowey-Ball is a first-year graduate student in the History Department.