Chinese characters - one of the oldest writing systems in the world

Baku, April 26, AZERTAC

Writing systems are considered as a unique way of reflection of people’s feelings, needs, as well as daily life actions.

Discovered thousands of years ago, before first ever humans invented language, these mysterious signs, drawed on bones, cave walls and any other surface, give us a clear understanding about the life of our ancestors.

Scroll down to explore one of the greatest and ancient writing systems in the world- the Chinese characters.

It is not known when Chinese writing originated, but it apparently began to develop in the early 2nd millennium BC.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the earliest known inscriptions, each of which contains between 10 and 60 characters incised on pieces of bone and tortoiseshell that were used for oracular divination, date from the Shang (or Yin) dynasty (18th–12th century BC), but, by then it was already a highly developed system, essentially similar to its present form.

By 1400 BC the script included some 2,500 to 3,000 characters, most of which can be read to this day.

The script was fixed in its present form during the Qin period (221–207 BC). The earliest graphs were schematic pictures of what they represented. For instance, the graph for man resembled a standing figure, which for woman depicted a kneeling figure.

It is now recognized that the system represents the Chinese language by means of a logographic script. Each graph or character corresponds to one meaningful unit of the language, not directly to a unit of thought.

Although it was possible to make up simple signs to represent common objects, many words were not readily picturable. To represent such words the phonographic principle was adopted.

A graph that pictured some object was borrowed to write a different word that happened to sound similar. However, because of the enormous number of Chinese words that sound the same, to have carried through the phonographic principle would have resulted in a writing system in which many of the words could be read in more than one way, making a character extremely ambiguous.

The solution to the problem of character ambiguity, adopted about 213 BC (during the reign of the first Qin emperor, Shihuangdi), was to distinguish two words having the same sound and represented by the same graph by adding another graph to give a clue to the meaning of the particular word intended.

Such complex graphs or characters consist of two parts, one part suggesting the sound, the other part the meaning.

Chinese, like any other language, has thousands of morphemes, and, as one character is used for each morpheme, the writing system has thousands of characters.

The basic stock of characters are simple graphs, some of which represent the names for objects or parts of objects, and others of which stand for more abstract terms. There are approximately 1,000 of these simple characters or graphs.

Chinese characters are arranged in dictionaries according to the radicals of which they are composed or with which they are traditionally associated. The 214 radicals are arranged in modern dictionaries according to the number of strokes used in writing them.

Since the mid-1940s, the grammar and vocabulary of modern Mandarin Chinese has served as the standard written language.

Chinese government’s latest regulations on use of Chinese characters came on April 6, 2022, with the launch of a nationwide campaign to regulate the use of Chinese characters in publications and on radio, TV, and the internet.

The notice stressed the actions to regulate typeface designs of Chinese characters, removing the designs that deviated from the accepted writing principles and cultural or aesthetic tastes.

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