writing systems


writing systems
Chinese characters (sinographs, logographs), have a known history of approximately 3,200 years, with the earliest forms visible on the so-called oracle bones used by Shang diviners to query the future. At origin somewhat pictographic, this aspect of the script is only vestigial. As they now exist, characters typically have both a phonetic component and a signific component, together giving clues to pronunciation and category of meaning. Though over 100,000 characters have been used at some time in China’s long literary past, for most purposes only 6,000 to 8,000 characters are used in high-level contemporary writing (such as newspapers and novels), and a vocabulary of approximately 4,000 characters is considered adequate for basic literacy. The lengthy process required to learn characters has been blamed for China’s historically low literacy rates, leading to writing reform movements. These have largely been discarded and the writing system remains a beloved symbol of civilization, education and Chineseness.
One of the most admired aspects of some ethnic minorities is the existence of an indigenous writing system. Those most widely known for such systems are the Uighurs, Manchus, Naxi, Yi and Tai. Roman scripts also have been designed for ethnic minorities without their own script. Scripts designed by missionaries have been replaced by more ‘scientific’ Roman scripts. In cases where an indigenous script, such as Old Thai, has been replaced by a new Roman script, resistance has often forced the restoration of the old one.
DeFrancis, John (1984). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
——(1989). Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
SUSAN D.BLUM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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