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China Language

 

These two characters read Hua Xia, another name for China

People often have the impression that Chinese characters are extremely difficult to learn. In fact, if you were to attempt to learn how to write Chinese characters, you would find that they are not nearly as difficult as you may have imagined. And they certainly qualify as forming one of the most fascinating, beautiful, logical and scientifically constructed writing systems in the world. Each stroke has its own special significance. If you are familiar with the principles governing the composition of Chinese characters, you will find it very easy to remember even the most complicated looking character and never miss a stroke.

The earliest known examples of Chinese written characters in their developed form are carved into tortoise shells and ox bones. The majority of these characters are pictographs. Archaeologists and epigraphers of various countries have learned that most early writing svstems went through a pictographic stage, as did the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Most writing systems, however, eventually developed a phonetic alphabet to represent the sounds of spoken language rather than visual images perceived in the physical world.

Chinese is the only major writing system of the world that continued its pictograph-based development without interruption and that is still in general modern use. But not all Chinese characters are simply impressionistic sketches of concrete objects. Chinese characters incorporate meaning and sound as well as visual image into a coherent whole.

In traditional etymology, Chinese characters are classified into six different methods of character composition and use these six categories are called the Liu Shu.

The Liu Shu categories are:

  • (1)pictographs xiang xing;
  • (2)ideographs ji shi;
  • (3)compound ideographs hui yi;
  • (4)compounds with both phonetic and meaning elements xing sheng;
  • (5)characters which are assigned a new written form to better reflect a changed pronunciation quan qu;

(6)characters used to represent a homophone or near-homophone that are unrelated in meaning to the new word they represent jia jie.

There is a theoretical total of almost 50,000 written Chinese characters; only about 5,000 of these are frequently used. Among these 5,000, if you learn about 200 key words that are most often repeated in daily use, then you can say you know Chinese. Really learning to read and write Chinese is not nearly so formidable a task at all.

Dialects

Because there has long been a single method for writing Chinese and a common literary and cultural history, a tradition has grown up of referring to the eight main varieties of speech in China as dialects'. But in fact, they are as different from each other (mainly in pronunciation and vocabulary) as French or Spanish is from Italian, the dialects of the southeast being linguistically the furthest apart. The mutual unintelligibility of the varieties is the main ground for referring to them as separate languages. However, it must also be recognized that each variety consists of a large number of dialects, many of which may themselves be referred to as languages. The boundaries between one so-called language and the next are not always easy to define.

The Chinese refer to themselves and their language, in any of the forms below, as Han - a name which derives from the Han dynasty (202 BC-AD 220). Han Chinese is thus to be distinguished from the non-Han minority languages used in China. There are over 50 of these languages (such as Tibetan, Russian, Uighur, Kazakh, Mongolian, and Korean), spoken by around 6% of the population.

100% Han Chinese and some non-Han minority Chinese write and read the same Chinese, unlike the situation with dialects in China.

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