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Origin of Chinese Characters Chinese characters evolution Hieroglyphics ~ 5000 B.C. Pictures of nature found on ceramics dating from this period. River.

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Presentation on theme: "Origin of Chinese Characters Chinese characters evolution Hieroglyphics ~ 5000 B.C. Pictures of nature found on ceramics dating from this period. River."— Presentation transcript:

1 Origin of Chinese Characters Chinese characters evolution Hieroglyphics ~ 5000 B.C. Pictures of nature found on ceramics dating from this period. River is three wavy lines; horse has mane and four legs. These pictures would later be a basis for the construction of more complex ideas. In fact, many modern characters still resemble their ancestral forms, thereby connecting China's present to its past. Preclassical 1500 to 500 B.C. Oracle bone divination introduce d. Tortoise shells and oxen shoulder blades are engraved with important questions and their possible answers. Bones then heated by fire, and predictions made based on crack patterns. Divination process elevates Chinese characters and calligraphy to sacred status. Any paper with writing on it was not thrown away, but burned in a “Pagoda of Compassionating the Characters.” Classical Bronze Age to Han Transition from pictures to stylized symbols. Introduction of radicals to categorize words by pronunciation and/or meaning. Monosyllabic language becomes polysyllabic. Postclassical 200 AD to Present

2 Sample of the evolution of Chinese characters


4 1. How old is the Chinese language? Legend has it that the Chinese characters were invented by a scholar named Cang Jie ( 仓颉 ) during the time of China's first Emperor Huang Di ( 黄帝 ) about 4,500 years ago. The oldest recorded scripts and symbols were found on the unearthed pottery etchings from the Banpo Village Site in the East suburb of Xi'an, which dates back to 6,000 years ago. About 3,500 years ago in Shang Dynasty, characters and symbols were found on oracle bones (see picture below) or tortoise shells. About the same time, a complete Chinese writing system was formed. This is the oldest writing system among the early civilizations that has survived the millennia and is still in use today.

5 2. Is there an alphabet for Chinese? No. The Chinese language does not have an alphabet like the Roman languages. Chinese characters are built using building blocks called radicals. While radicals may appear to bear some resemblance to an alphabet, they are not the basic linguistic unit in the Chinese language. Radicals are barely used to build the characters and contribute only in giving a character certain meaning and pronunciation. On the other hand, the characters themselves have complete meaning and can be used as a single character word. More importantly, unlike the alphabets in Roman languages where the alphabets are used directly to form a word. Radicals are not taken unaltered to form the characters. Instead, they are often adjusted to give the resulting character the best aesthetic appearance.

6 Traditionally, Chinese is written from top to bottom in a column fashion. The vertical lines are read from right to left. For short displays, such as horizontal banners, the characters are also written from right to left. The graphic below shows an example. It reads from right to left as 難得糊塗 (Where ignorance is a bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.) The text is displayed in ancient print type ( 古印体 ) to provide some historical relevance.

7 Nowadays, in Simplified Chinese, almost all publications are printed from left to right with only occasional deviation when some layout variations are desired. Even with Traditional Chinese, most books and newspapers are also printed from left to right.

8 Characters are combined to form words while most of the characters themselves can be considered as single character words. The commonly used 3,000-5,000 characters can easily create 40,000, 50,000 or even more words. In Chinese, there are many two- character words and four-character idioms. Chinese characters have many homophones. It is not uncommon that when you type in the pinyin of one character, you end up with a list of dozens or even hundreds of characters for you to choose from. Therefore, when you say a one-character word, people might wonder which character you are talking about. That is probably why we have so many two-character words in Chinese.

9 The history of the Chinese character is truly a history of change. The earliest known Chinese characters are symbols etched on pottery found in the Banpo Site and dates back to 6,000 years ago. By Shang Dynasty (later changed to Yin), about 3,500 years ago, the oracle-bone characters ( 甲骨文 ) were used. By the end of the Shang, Great Seal ( 大篆 ) characters were adopted and were mostly seen inscribed on bells and cooking vessels made of bronze. As the characters were mostly in scripted on metals, Great Seal was also called 钟鼎文 or 金文 (bronze inscription).

10 Currently, there are two main versions of Chinese: Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese is the result of reducing some strokes from the traditional characters to make it simpler to remember and write. Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, the Chinese government has been quite active in Chinese character reform. On February 2, 1956, the government published a document called A Scheme for the Simplification of Chinese Characters ( 汉字简化方案 ). This scheme consists of three tables. Table 1 lists 352 simplified characters that cannot be used as radicals. Table 2 lists 132 simplified characters that can be used as radicals, plus 14 simplified radicals. Table 3 contains 1,754 characters that were derived using the 132 radical-capable simplified characters and the 14 simplified radicals. The three tables simplified a total number of 2,236 characters.

11 DialectChinese Name% Population* Mandarin 普通话 74.8 Wu 吴语 8.0 Yue (Cantonese) 广东话 4.8 Xiang 湖南话 4.0 Southern Min 闽南话 2.7 Northern Min 闽北话 1.0 Hakka 客家话 2.7 Gan 江西话 2.0 How many dialects are there in Chinese? While Chinese has a unified written form, thanks to the first emperor of the Qin dynasty who unified China in 246 BC, the spoken language is far more varied. In southeastern China, where there is the most diversity of dialects, it is even said that people living in neighboring villages speak differently. Generally, there are eight dialects in the Chinese language: * Data source: David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1997

12 Where are the Simplified and Traditional Characters used? Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China and Singapore and Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities. With Hong Kong's return to China in 1997 and with the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, Simplified Chinese is gaining popularity in Hong Kong as people have more and more business interactions with mainlanders. Job seekers have advantages if they speak Putonghua ( 普通话 ), which is another name for Mandarin, the official spoken dialect in China.

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