Please Enter Your Search Term Below:
 Websearch   Directory   Dictionary   FactBook 
  Wikipedia: Chinese written language

Wikipedia: Chinese written language
Chinese written language
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Chinese written language (中文) employs the Han characterss (漢字 pinyin Hnz), which are named after the Han culture to which it is largely attributed. In Japan and Korea, Han characters were adopted and integrated into their languages and became Kanji and Hanja, respectively. Japan still uses Kanji as an integral part of its writing system; however, Korea's use of Hanja has diminished (indeed, it is not used at all in North Korea).

The Chinese writing system is mostly logographic, i.e., each character expresses a monosyllabic word part, also known as a morpheme. This is helped by the fact that 90%+ of Chinese morphemes are monosyllabic. Multisyllabic words have a separate logogram for each syllable. Some, but not all, Han characters are ideographs, but most Han Chinese characters have forms that were based on their pronunciation rather than their meanings, so they do not directly express ideas.

Chinese characters appear to have originated in the Shang dynasty as pictograms depicting concrete objects. Over the course of the Zhou and Han dynasties, the characters became more and more stylistic. In addition, characters were added for words based on the sound of the word.

The relationship between the Chinese spoken and written languages is complex. This complexity is compounded by the fact that the numerous variations of spoken Chinese have gone through centuries of evolution since at least the late-Han dynasty. However, written Chinese has changed much less than the spoken language.

Until the 20th century, most formal Chinese writing was done in classical Chinese, which was very different from any of the spoken varieties of Chinese in much the same way that Classical Latin is different from modern Romance languages. Chinese characters that are closer to the spoken language were used to write informal works such as colloquial novels.

Since the May Fourth Movement, the formal standard for written Chinese has been Vernacular Chinese, the grammar and vocabulary of which are similar, but not identical, to the grammar and vocabulary of modern spoken Mandarin.

Chinese characters are understood as morphemes which are independent of phonetic change. Thus, although the number one is "yi" in Mandarin, "yat" in Cantonese and "tsit" in Hokkien, they derive from a common ancient Chinese word and still share an identical character: 一. Nevertheless, the orthographies of Chinese dialects are not identical. The vocabularies used in the different dialects have also diverged. In addition, while literary vocabulary is often shared among all dialects (at least in orthography; the readings are different), colloquial vocabularies are often different.

The complex interaction between the Chinese written and spoken languages can be illustrated with Cantonese. There are two standards forms used in writing Cantonese: formal written Cantonese and colloquial written Cantonese. Formal written Cantonese is very similar to written Mandarin and can be read by a Mandarin speaker without much difficulty. However, formal written Cantonese is rather different from spoken Cantonese. Colloquial written Cantonese is more similar to spoken Cantonese but is largely unreadable by an untrained Mandarin speaker.

Cantonese is unique among non-Mandarin dialects in having a widely used written standard. The other dialects do not have alternative written standards, but many have local characters or use characters which are archaic in "bai hua".

As with other aspects of the Chinese language, the contrast between different written standards is not sharp and there can be a socially accepted continuum between the written standards.

Chinese characters have also been adapted to write Japanese and Korean, neither of which are linguistically related to Chinese. It has therefore been necessary to make complicated adaptations in order to take into account radically different grammars.

Classification of writing styles

One can classify Chinese writings into four basic types:

  • bai hua (白話) (Vernacular Chinese)
  • wen yan (文言) (Classical Chinese)
    • ban wen yan (半文言) (Half-Classical Chinese -- a form of Classical Chinese which uses archaic idioms while at the same time employing characters/phrases used in modern contexts)
  • "written colloquial Chinese"-In particular, written colloquial Cantonese.
Cantonese is unique in that it has a commonly used written character system that is different from "bai hua" or "wen yan". Colloquial Chinese usually involves the use of "dialectal characters".
  • Poems and other Chinese constrained writings.

Chinese grammar

Chinese grammar.

Character forms

There are currently two standards for printed Chinese characters. One is the Traditional system, used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Mainland China and Singapore use the Simplified system, which uses simplified forms for some of the more complicated characters. In addition, most Chinese use some personal simplications.

The Chinese characters are also used to write the Chinese numerals.

Transcription and Romanization

The official, PRC-sanctioned transliteration of Putonghua into the Latin alphabet is Pinyin, though other systems are still sometimes used, such as the older Wade-Giles and the pedagogic Yale system. Other Chinese languages are transliterated with more or less ad hoc systems, sometimes without a clear standard, sometimes with several.

A Romanized phonetic system called "Penkyamp" and modeled on Pinyin is designed for the Cantonese language and will serve as the standard for transliteration from this language to any Latin-based writing system.

See also

External links


  • Hannas, William. C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 082481892X (paperback); ISBN 0824818423 (hardcover)
  • DeFrancis, John. 1990. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824810686


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona