Life without capitals

As I sat through Chinese class yesterday, I noticed how our teacher refused to write words like Nanjing, Zhongguo(China), and Wo(I) with capital letters in their non-character transcriptions. I found myself wondering, ‘Doesn’t she know those are proper names?’ It struck me then that this had been the norm all semester. How strange, I thought, that Chinese people don’t think of words in terms of capitalized versus non-capitalized ones.

This got me wondering about the English usage of capitals, and how this device adds a whole extra layer of thinking that is absent in a language like Chinese:
imagine a life where sally and spot visit washington d.c. to see the national mall.
I feel as though I’m in egregious error typing a sentence like this. But in a language like Chinese, how can you capitalize pictures that stand for words?
马丽住在北京。mali zhu zai beijing. (Mary lives in Beijing.)

I will have to fight my resistance to this new norm, trying to convince myself that life is still okay without having the comfort of capitals to mark all the ‘proper’ objects I think about. Who invented capitals anyway? And isn’t life easier with one less convention to follow? China has seemed to do fine without them for the past few millenia, so why start now?


5 Responses to “Life without capitals”

  1. 1 Rachael April 4, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    while i have no desire to learn chinese, the writing of their language is so beautiful!! i wonder what my name would look like in chinese…it might look so pretty that i might want to tatoo it on myself!

    notice i have used no capitol letters..i am ok with saves me time from having to press the shift key! =)

    ok except when i want to use some punctuation, but it is worth it to use the explanation point!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! one of my favorite symbols…maybe my way of being “loud” via typing!

  2. 2 Mom April 5, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    the internet and email are already helping us catch up to the chinese 21st century. but it will pretty much be up the creek without a paddle if we have to learn the picture words, too. does 🙂 qualify as a start?

  3. 3 Chris Burgwald April 6, 2008 at 2:23 am

    “China has seemed to do fine without them for the past few millenia, so why start now?”

    Or *has* it? Hmm….

    Why do we (in this thread, not more generally) presume that *we* need to catch up to *them*? Why is the lack of capitalization better than capitalization?

  4. 4 Becca April 6, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Ahhhhhhhhhh…always the Philosopher! I, of course shall use the Caps.! I am a rebel as is Chris! What I love about other cultures is that everybody has something different to offer. Reminds me of how God created us in our own unique way…unrepeatable! How awful it would be if everything was the same. Every time I ran into something “American” in Europe if kind of made me uncomfortable because I was in EUROPE! (Ok…Dunkin’ Donuts in Prague is just what I needed that afternoon…but I digress…).

    Enjoy your characters and your philosophizing! “Beauty. Truth. Why?” :o)

  5. 5 mjfalk April 6, 2008 at 10:08 am

    from the Green Bay Falks—Sometimes it seems that What is—simply is.

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