Talk:Written Chinese

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Menchi, please don't forget to add in this entry that, in areas where the Cantonese language serves as a formal, or official language, "Modern Standard Written Chinese", though based on Beijing Mandarin, still efficiently serves as the literary, and does so without leading to "Cantonese-Mandarin bilingualism" in the normal sense. In other words, "Modern Standard Written Chinese" is not only the written standard for Mandarin dialects, but also Cantonese and many other major Sinitic languages, perhaps with the exception of extremely divergent ones like Minnan and Dungan.

Chinese written characters are used in Minnan. Curiously Dungan isn't very linguistically divergent from Mandarin (much less so than Cantonese), it's just convention that they don't use characters.

The written language is an important unifying factor for speakers of Sinitic languages world-wide, despite the fact that these socially, regionally and culturally diverse groups sometimes can hardly communicate with each other colloquially.

Written Chinese not much harder to learn[edit]

Actually no. Written Chinese is not much harder to learn than any other language. I've known several adults that have mastered it.

The language does not have to be learned entirely as wrote; rather, the underlying logic and structure are apparent to the initiated. Given its depth and sophistication, it is considered challenging for native speakers to master, and difficult or impossible for foreigners who learn it in adulthood.
It depends on what one means by mastering the language. If mastering the language means being able to use all the different forms of written Chinese, then I don't think that there is a single human being that has mastered it. I would dare say that it is only an extremely small number of native Chinese speakers that could write a coherent eight-legged essay in wen-yan (5-10% at most).
On the other have if you mean mastering the language, being able to have a working functional knowledge of Chinese (i.e. being able to write a letter, read a newspaper etc), I know a lot of adult learners that have been able to get to that level of Chinese. My experience has been that the writing system is much less of a barrier to English speakers than the pronounciation. I know a few native English speakers who can't speak the language very well, but read and write classical Chinese much better than most Chinese.
One other thing, I also know quite a number of Chinese who only learned how to read Chinese after becoming adults. Keep in mind that mass literacy programs were only introduced in the 1950's, and it's not uncommon for someone (especially females) to grow up without learning to read and write the language. -- Roadrunner

My experience with adult learners of Chinese is that the written language is not particularly difficult. What is almost impossible for them to get write if they were originally English speakers are the tones.

I think one reason people say Chinese is "more difficult" is that pronunciation and the shape for most characters are not related.
In an alphabet language, people's ability to write is governed by their ability to spell (some memory and some inference to pronunciation). In Chinese, their ability to write is governed almost entirely by their memory of the character shapes.
This also hinders the ability to read. In an alphabet language, an illiterate speaker needs to learn pronunciation in order to be able to read. In Chinese, an illiterate speaker needs to memorize shapes of sufficient characters in order to be able to read. Of course, both speakers will need practice. --voidvector
I can see that it is not noticeably harder to gain some basic proficiency in written Chinese than in written English. Basic English has 800 or so words (plus inflections) in it that permit the user to get around reasonably, and I'm sure someone could select 800 Chinese characters that would do the corresponding job.
However, in my opinion, enlarging one's written vocabulary in English is easier than it is in Chinese. In English, once gets beyond the very common Germanic words, where spelling is fairly irregular, one gets into the somewhat more regular French imports, and then into the even more regular Latin borrowings. In Chinese, however, one only encounters further arrays of characters that must be memorized. The logic of xingsheng construction is not sufficiently deterministic to allow for someone to "shape out" a Chinese character in the same way that one can "sound out" an English word.
At any rate, certain written languages are easier to "get" than others. In comparison with English, which has exceptions galore, the European languages are rather easier to read out loud--notably Spanish, which has practically no exceptions to speak of. Chinese, by comparison, can be thought of (though somewhat unreasonably) as consisting solely of exceptions, each of which has to be learned separately. Again, the logic of Chinese character construction is just not consistent enough for one to make a reliable determination of how to pronounce a new character.
Speaking of Chinese tones, they certainly are a problem--even for Chinese speakers. Mandarin speakers often have trouble picking up the finer tone distinctions in (say) Cantonese and Taiwanese. I think that it is not difficult to teach the tones of individual characters, but getting beginners to string even a short sequence of them together and still get the tones correct is a task. Not to mention the usual 3-3 sandhi rule, which by Chinese dialect standards is fairly simple. BrianTung 19:41, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Unicode links?[edit]

An idea: How about making all Chinese characters used in Wikipedia articles link to the proper pages? For example, the beginning of the article about Wushu could look like this:

Wushu ( - wu3 shu4).

Or would this type of external linking be wrong?

- Wintran 12:58 Mar 7, 2003 (UTC)

Chinese poems, constrained writing[edit]

Should add more on Chinese poems, Chinese constraint writings, etc. --Wshun

Chinese poems are, without a doubt, an integral part of Chinese written language, but it deserves it own page on Chinese poetry. You don't need to be comprehensive at the 1st try, of course. Just cover what interests you.
I have no idea what "constraint writings" refer to. Please add it.
--Menchi 02:02 27 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Oh! Sorry, that should be constrained writing. Wshun

Input requested[edit]

Input requested at Talk:Chinese_language#Rewrite needed. --Jiang 13:54, 22 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Written Standards[edit]

The article mentions "formal written Cantonese" in doing a comparison to "colloquial written Cantonese." To my knowledge, "formal written Cantonese" is standard written Chinese. However, when reading it, Cantonese people will pronounce the characters using Cantonese rather than Mandarin. I don't think it's necessary to make "formal written Cantonese" a distinction. --Umofomia 09:33, Feb 11, 2005 (UTC)

Actually I decided to make an edit that clarifies the situation much better. --Umofomia 09:56, Feb 11, 2005 (UTC)

On a similar note, what is the difference, if any, between the terms "古文" (gǔwén) and 文言 (wén yán), and why does the page say 文言? In my experience, studying classical Chinese, the term was always the former. siafu 04:51, 6 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I think both terms are used pretty much synonymously, however in my experience, the latter term 文言 has been more common, especially when talking about it in the context of being a written standard. 古文 may be more common when talking about it in the context of literature. These are just my observations though. --Umofomia 05:42, 6 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Actually 文言文 is used in reference to the Classical Chinese language in both Mainland China and Taiwanese sources . 古文 represents the literature in Classical Chinese. 古文 translates directly to "Old Writing(s)" while 文言文 translates to "Written language". --Darthanakin 07:21, 13 December 2005 (UTC)


I read this page to find out which direction Chinese is written in. The page says nothing about this, but I went on to find some sort of answer in Chinese character. I'm thinking something short should be said about it in this text also, but since I know nothing about written Chinese I don't know what to make of this:

On a larger scale, Chinese text is traditionally written from top to bottom and then right to left, but it is more common today to see the same orientation as Western languages: going from left to right and then top to bottom.

I'd try to write something to that effect myself on this page, but I don't know how to interpret the above. What is the larger scale where Chinese is written top-bottom,right-left? Other countries than the PRC? The Internet? Maybe someone with better knowledge about this could write something about it on this page, and maybe change the Chinese character page to be more clear? I may try writing something myself, and welcome peer review of that in that case. – Foolip 19:37, 12 May 2005 (UTC)

Perhaps Chinese books from mainland China in the 50s and 60s were written more and more in the horizontal L to R style as a first stage in the planned-for total Romanisation of Chinese, which of course never panned out.

p.s. Old-style Mongolian, still somewhat encouraged in Inner Mongolia as a counter-weight to the Cyrillic used in the (perhaps annoyingly) independent Republic, is written vertically, originally by taking the Syriac-derived Old Uighur writing system and turning it 90 degrees so it could be written in the civilised, vertical way. Tangut was also written vertically, again in deference to Chinese. Jakob37 (talk) 14:01, 15 October 2009 (UTC)


I don't see anything on punctuation here, which is an important aspect of written language, and differs a little between Chinese and English. I know I few things, but does anyone know of an online source with full information on ,、。【】〈〉etc? — Chameleon 14:16, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I wrote them at Punctuation#East Asian punctuation. --Menchi 14:20, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Great. I've linked to that now. — Chameleon 14:27, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Chinese written "language"?[edit]

As mentioned in Talk:List_of_official_languages_by_state#Official_Written_Languages, I am trully wondering why this article is being refered to as a language, along with the associated confusion over whether Vernacular Chinese is a "language" or not in its own right (Classical Chinese appears to suffer from less self-identity problems). Is it agreed amongst linguists that the Chinese writing system is a language? If so, what is it called in Chinese, because I dont seem to know this despite having writtern in Chinese since decades ago?--Huaiwei 21:20, 7 October 2005 (UTC)

Should be 書面語 or 書面中文. See {{漢語}}. — Instantnood 21:46, 7 October 2005 (UTC)
Should be? Meaning you arent even sure yourself? This is supposed to be a basic concept in the Chinese language. If we cant even pinpoint its Chinese equivalant, then what does this article actually mean? May I point out also, that this article started life as Chinese writing system. What was the rational in turning it into a language out of the blue?--Huaiwei 21:51, 7 October 2005 (UTC)
I can't tell if the term 書面中文 is universal among users of Chinese. Meanwhile I can't find any sign that this article started under that title [1] [2]. — Instantnood 22:39, 7 October 2005 (UTC)
Well, who uses that term? I find not more then 10 results on google, so surely it is not exactly widely used. Meanwhile, I was looking at the page's content changes over time. This article only started becoming a "language" with this edit [3] dated 23 June 2003. Prior to that, "Chinese writing system" was bolded [4], as has been so since the article was first created [5] on 25 September 2002 after being split off from Chinese language. Chinese character started life on the same date as a redirect to this page as "Chinese written language" [6], so I suppose the title has been inconsistant with its contents from day one. Interestingly thou, two edits later on 25 February 2003 showed the link "Chinese writing system" appearing in [7], although it was changed back to the redirect a few moments later. Left me wondering if Chinese writing system was really formed as a redirect only on 11 August 2003 [8].
Whatever the case, any objections to changing this title to Chinese writing system?--Huaiwei 00:09, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
I'd say that it's an awkward term that I've never seen used in Taiwan, in particular. --Nlu 22:59, 7 October 2005 (UTC)
I have never heard of any of those terms in Singapore either, or that of Chinese writing being a language itself. It would be quite absurd should this be shown to people who basically use the language, and I am surprised no one noticed this earlier.--Huaiwei 00:09, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

"Chinese writing system" would refer only to Chinese characters and how they're used. If you want to change the title, you should probably move "written standards" out. -- ran (talk) 00:18, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

An alternative will be to simply take out the last word and call it Chinese writing, or Written Chinese. While we are at it, would you consider Classical Chinese and Vernacular Chinese as "languages" or merely "styles"?--Huaiwei 00:37, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
The two are not mutually exclusive. For example, Written Singlish and Standard Written English are simultaneously different English dialects written down, and two different styles that writers can use to achieve intended effects. Classical Chinese and Vernacular Chinese differ in vocabulary and grammar as much as, say, Latin and Italian. As literate Chinese people are (or were) generally literate in both, the two were also used as two different styles for two different effects. -- ran (talk) 01:13, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
I am not too sure which two non-exclusive terms you are refering to, but anyway, writtern Singlish and Standard Written English are not exactly "writting styles", as they are mere writtern versions of the either language. It is not possible to write Standard English using Singlish "style" without basically writing Singlish, so I am not sure if this analogy is appriopriate.
On the other hand, I prefer to look at this from an Old English vs Modern English point of view. Anyway who has had to read Shakespear during his school days would agree with me that reading and writing "Shakespearean English" is almost as good as having to learn another language, but they are never considered a language in their own right. They are simply considered an older form of the same language, sometimes still delibrately used now to suggest the attainment of social stature. Not that different from how the best Chinese language students here in Singapore are expected to be deeply familiar with Tang poems and the like, as well as classic Chinese texts most likely writtern in Classical Chinese. Does this constitute learning a new language? Not exactly. Yes, differences do exists, but do linguists actually consider languages to evolve into a new language over time? Vernacular Chinese is in essense born out of frustrations with Classical Chinese, marking a change in style over the years. Does this mean a new language is born?--Huaiwei 01:44, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
do linguists actually consider languages to evolve into a new language over time?Of course! How do you think any language in the entire world develops? By your logic, are we typing in Proto-Indo-European right now?
BTW, Shakespeare's English is Early Modern English. It's not even Middle English. Old English looks like this (this is the first three lines of the Beowulf):
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Which translates to:
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Note that Zhou Dynasty Chinese (upon which Classical Chinese is based) and modern Chinese are separated by three times as much time as Old English is separated from modern English. The reason we don't notice it is because:
  1. The Chinese writing system obscures all the sound changes. The Roman alphabet doesn't do this as well.
  2. Chinese people study Classical Chinese a lot more than English speakers study Old English, so we end up more familiar with Classical Chinese grammar and vocabulary.
In other words, if you want to use Old English and Modern English as your analogy, then they are definitely separate languages, and thus, so are Classical and Modern Chinese. -- ran (talk) 03:36, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
Agree. In fact there are language codes assigned to Old English, as well as Ancient Greek. — Instantnood 09:43, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
Oh, so the same language which basically changes overtime becomes a new language (I am not refering to languages which branch out into a distinct branch. Say Singlish from English). Btw, I am not indicating that Shakespearen English = Old English. I am simply asking you: are Old English, Modern English, and everything in between different languages?
And in comparison to Chinese, are Classical and Ver. Chinese distinct languages from the "Chinese language" itself? Can we see some linguist views on this, because I have hardly ever seen these appearing in language trees? Is wikipedia breaking new ground in declaring them as distinct languages before others do so?--Huaiwei 10:51, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
I don't think linguists even talk in those terms. All languages change incrementally, and generally become incomprehensible (to its predecessors) in 1000 years, and all but unrecognizable in 5000. It is pointless to ask where one language begins and another ends, just as it's pointless to ask when the Ship of Theseus is no longer the original ship. Linguists talk in factual terms, e.g. this structure was first seen in this century; this sound change occurred in this century, etc. All these changes add up to the wide difference between Old English and Modern English.
For the same reason, linguists tend to avoid questions like whether Chinese is one language or multiple languages, etc., unless they are explicitly trying to promote a political or cultural POV. This is because there is a dialect continuum across Chinese, with small incremental changes that add up to wide differences; every location has its own dialect by definition. Instead, linguists divide Chinese into vague categories according to isoglosses (just as how they divide English and Chinese into stages according to arbitrarily-chosen changes) and describe those in factual terms. -- ran (talk) 23:02, 8 October 2005 (UTC)
But here we are, daring to call Chinese writing a "language", and calling classical and Vernacular Chinese "languages" too, even as linguists do not. Linguists are well known in not being able to decide if Chinese "dialects" are "languages" or not. Have they reached to the point of ever discussing if classical and Vernacular Chinese are languages? If not, why are we doing this before them?
Languages evolve over time. Sure. But linguists do make distinctions between language evolvements which involve a branch into another language, or one which just involves the evolvement of the same language. If not, we wont have language trees. Linguists do debate over stages in language changes, or else we wont have Old English being said to be distinct from Middle English and so forth. And where there is an evolvement, one naturally has to at least place an approximate temporal marker.
The crux of the issue remains hanging. Are we here to debate amongst ourselves if Classical Chinese is different enough from the Chinese language itself to be called another language? Ditto for Vernacular Chinese? Or should we be the ones debating in the first place? Who authorised wikipedia in calling them "languages", if we cannot pinpoint any said convention or agreement amongst linguists?--Huaiwei 01:00, 9 October 2005 (UTC)
Your misconception about the evolution of languages is exactly the same as how some people misunderstand biological evolution. Ancient primates evolved into all the primates of today, humans included; it's not as if some monkeys "stayed" monkeys and others "became" humans. Humans did not "come from" monkeys. Similarly, ancient languages evolve into modern languages; no language ever "stays" as itself, whether it evolves into one descendent, or hundreds.
Frankly, this kind of hair-splitting debate that doesn't even have any application to historical linguistics is a waste of everyone's time. Classical Chinese and modern Chinese are more different than Latin is from any Romance language. If you wish to call Italian, French etc "modern Latin", there is really no technical reason why you can't. But if you wish to call Classical Chinese the same language as modern Chinese, just as how other peoples with proud literary traditions, e.g. Tamils, Persians, Arabs, Greeks, etc. like to do for cultural reasons, there is no reason why you can't either.
If you're really bothered by the term "language", do what Old English does then. Say that Classical Chinese is a form of Written Chinese that is based on the grammar and vocabulary of Old Chinese. -- ran (talk) 01:24, 9 October 2005 (UTC)

Contrary to Huaiwei's claim, there are 12 hits by searching with site:sg, 1 360 with site:tw, 4 830 with site:hk, 40 900 with site:cn, and 17 with site:mo. In an overall search gives 91 800 results.

There's no deletion history for Chinese writing system, therefore the link [9] pointing there was very likely a red link. This article starting with moving out the written aspects of the Chinese language [10] [11], including Han characters, wenyan and baihua, etc. [12], but it was not like an article to address the Chinese written language until this edit when it is reorganised, bridging the two parts of materials on the written langage. Chinese character was split from this article [13] [14] at a later stage in late June and early July 2003. No matter what, edit history of a Wikipedia article is not the evidence to justify if Chinese written language is or is not a language. If it's not a language shared by several spoken languages, are you going to say it's just the written form of Standard Mandarin? — Instantnood 00:47, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

I do not know what kind of google you are using, but by clicking on those search links, I get 0 hits by searching with site:sg, 11 with site:tw, 34 with site:hk, 40,900 with site:cn, and 65 with site:mo. (the last one is an apparant error). You seem to be using the Chinese edition to do your searches, while I am using the English. Funny thing is most of your searches are done in English, with only one in Chinese...the one for .cn.
The edit history tells us that the original text of this page refers to tbe "Chinese writing system", and that is all I need to show the fact that this article did not have an appiorpriate page title for a long time before some effort was made to correct it. Even then, it remains doubtful. I dont think I intepret things as simply as you do. And just like for some reason, you again think I am trying to say that "it's just the written form of Standard Mandarin". Like I said before, please grow up and dont constantly give me the impression that I am talking to an early teen. I have much more educated and productive discussions with others, such as with Ran above, even if we have some disagreements.--Huaiwei 01:44, 8 October 2005 (UTC)

I think that some of the confusion over whether written Chinese constitutes a language probably arises from a difficulting in identifying what it is the written form actually records. In the various "Western" languages, we don't have a lot of trouble covering both the spoken and written variety under the general heading of "language," because the written form records (possibly imperfectly, as in English) the sounds as heard in the spoken form. Even in forms that are fairly old, such as Old English (before about 1000), the written form captures the spoken form, and if one is familiar with the pronunciation rules of Old English, then one can speak it and be reasonably confident that the sounds are close to what they would have been a thousand years ago.

The situation in Chinese is rather different. In other languages, the writing units (letters, typically, although they may be syllables) correspond to phonemes; in Chinese, the characters correspond to morphemes. They make no less sense when spoken with modern Mandarin pronunciations than with Old Chinese (say, Han dynasty) pronunciations. And yet, from a historical perspective, it leaves us speaking a language that never existed as such--one with modern pronunciations but with a grammar and meaning frozen in time over two thousand years ago. Conversely, we have Classical Chinese and Vernacular Chinese, both of which use the same set of characters, but with considerably different syntax and somewhat different semantics.

It's not a situation we're accustomed to in Western languages and it may make it more difficult for us to identify the written form as a language on the same level as modern Mandarin and the Confucian-era Chinese (which are undeniably two distinct spoken languages, just as Old English and modern English are). I don't think it's unreasonable to refer to the whole as simply "Written Chinese," because although there are considerable differences between Chinese as written in Confucius's time and as written today, there are enough commonalities to warrant a single article to cover them. BrianTung 20:34, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Written Chinese spoken as acrolect?[edit]

The article says " Standard written Chinese spoken aloud using Cantonese pronunciation (usually with some colloquial words substituted in) serves as an acrolect used in newscasts and other formal contexts. ". In fact the situation is not very true for Cantonese. Newscasts are seldom in written language being spoken, although the range of vocabularies used is affected by the written language. It's used in public announcements tho, say, in underground stations, but people would just consider it as plain reading from the written text, not speaking. As far as I know this is more true for Min Nan, that newscasts in Min Nan on CCTV are written Chinese spoken with Min Nan pronunciations. — Instantnood 21:46, 7 October 2005 (UTC)

Number of chinese characters and how chinese dictionaries work[edit]

It would be good to have a section on the number of Chinese characters - Hanzi(?), Simplified, etc..

It would also be good to have another section on how Chinese Dictionaries 'work' - Radical/number of strokes, initial stroke/number of strokes, etc., then reference to main body of dictionary...Duncan.france 04:39, 24 November 2005 (UTC)

Writing direction[edit]

Easy question, but unfortunately not answered yet in this article: in which direction does one read Chinese written language? From left to right? Are there special rules of reading (like right column first, then next left column), as there are in Japanese written language (see Yokogaki and tategaki for the issues I mean)? --Abdull 15:56, 26 November 2005 (UTC)

Of particular problem, if you're not very familiar with the language, are store signs, which can run in any of three directions: top to bottom, left to right, or right to left. Often times, there are cues that can tell you which way it goes (for instance, the presence of the two characters jiu lou), but there are plenty of other times when you're just on your own. BrianTung 19:47, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Basically the same as Japanese for Traditional Chinese. For Simplified Chinese, vertical writing is very rare. -- ran (talk) 00:02, 27 November 2005 (UTC)

One thing I've found --living here in Taiwan--that is rather amusing: When large-character signs are painted on roadways (on the pavement) as reminders of traffic rules etc. the phrases or sentences are of course placed vertically; this is also the practice in the U.S., but in the U.S. the driver will see the first part of the message, then drive further on and see the next part, and finally the end. But in Taiwan, the driver will see the last part first, then the middle, and finally the beginning of the sentence. I don't think that this method leads to easily absorbing the message, especially if it is a bit long, but it seems it would be inconceivable to a native Chinese speaker to follow the American way, because the Chinese already have a tradition of writing vertically, but ALWAYS top to bottom. Since Americans don't have that tradition, it's not difficult to adjust to a bottom-to-top order in certain rare situations (like on the road) where it may be more convenient.Jakob37 (talk) 05:30, 15 November 2008 (UTC)
You know (answering this more than a year later), I have always found the U.S. practice annoying, because the words (let's say, "SLOW DOWN PED XING") simply aren't far enough apart for my eye to see them as separate entries. It's not as though they're Burma Shave signs. Instead, I end up reading it in one solid block as "XING PED DOWN SLOW", which is nonsensical. BrianTung (talk) 23:28, 16 February 2010 (UTC)

Written Chinese[edit]

The title is just unnecessarly verbose. The "language"-part is used for language articles only when there's a need to disambiguate from articles that could have an identical title. See Hindi and Inuktitut for examples.

Peter Isotalo 22:27, 14 December 2005 (UTC)

True. I too requested for a rename of this article to Writtern Chinese as you can see above.--Huaiwei 09:58, 4 January 2006 (UTC)

Chinese is not logographic[edit]

It is sad that the myth that Chinese is logographic is being perpetuated here. Chinese is not logographic. Each character does not have a meaning. Each character is a syllable. Most characters have associated meanings when used in context, but this is no different than English with our prefixes and suffixes. The whole article is a complete mess and gives the reader a completely incorrect idea of the Chinese language. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

"Logographic" and "ideographic" are not the same thing. The whole purpose of the word "logograph" as opposed to "pictograph" or "ideograph" is to get across the idea that the characters don't correspond directly to ideas. Written Chinese is in fact the epitome of a logographic system. - furrykef (Talk at me) 04:51, 7 July 2007 (UTC)
A more absurd concept echoed in the current version of the article is that Chinese is a "phonetic script". It is obvious to anyone that although not all characters now have an independent meaning, it is far further from the truth that they simply represent sounds, especially as there are several ways of pronouncing written Chinese other than Standard Mandarin. Surely it is the characters that distinguish the huge number of homophones occuring in Chinese, such as at least 86 characters pronounced yì? Given that, should one individual's assertion that written Chinese is a phonetic script remain in the article? (talk) 15:53, 21 July 2008 (UTC)
I think it is evident from the current text that this view (that written Chinese can be seen as a large, inefficient phonetic script) is in fact a minority view, championed by de Francis, but not followed by many. The article mentions this view, but does not give it equal time, by any means. The rest of the article, such as the character structure section, and the evolution section, are written from the perspective that characters convey meaning and sound.
Furthermore, the objection that there are 86 characters pronounced yi is not particularly compelling, since the same objection exists with respect to spoken Chinese, and that is clearly purely a phonetic system. Yet, people have been able to communicate via spoken Chinese for thousands of years. One should not make the mistake of confusing the characters of written Chinese with the words of either spoken or written Chinese. My own opinion is that one can consistently view written Chinese as possessing an essentially phonetic script, but that this view is not especially illuminating with respect to understanding how people read Chinese, nor how written Chinese evolved over time. BrianTung (talk) 00:20, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

Logos = "word"; a word is, according to modern linguistics, an element one level down from a syntactic structure, i.e. a "word" is a noun, or a verb, or a sentence-final particle, or a numeric classifier, etc. etc. Therefore the Chinese script is not logographic, although it may have approached that status in the earliest millenium or so of its usage. Now, anyway, each graph represents a syllable, and, with only minor exceptions, each syllable represents a morpheme. Whether that morpheme can function by itself as a part of speech (a verb, an resultive complement, etc.) or whether it needs to combine with another one or more morphemes in order to form a "word" will depend on each individual case.Jakob37 (talk) 07:15, 18 November 2008 (UTC)

I do not recommend relying on etymology to judge the meaning of the term "logographic"; etymology is a notoriously bad guide of definitions. Wikipedia's own entry for logogram indicates that correspondence to morphemes (rather than words) still qualifies. One can dispute that, but based on current consensus within the linguistic community, not by appeal to etymology. (Well, you can appeal to etymology; I just don't think it's particularly useful to do so. Linguists will continue to use "logographic" the way that they do.)
Of course, this is ultimately a subtle point: The actual issue—what Chinese characters correspond to—seems to be agreed upon. BrianTung (talk) 01:49, 19 November 2008 (UTC)

Spoken Language came first, then written[edit]

Numerous parts of this artcle talk about Chinese spoken languages/dialects (let not split hairs on this one) "deriving" from a unified written. First off, the spoken language came first historically and people learn to speak before they learn to read. Second, the written language was historically elitist. Talk of "literate Chinese" would include a few thousand among millions of people. Third, there was never a unified Chinese spoken language/dialect. This means that Cantonese and Mandarin had their languages applied to characters (as Japanese did at one point) ratehr than their languages being derived from. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

Although it is true that Chinese regionalects did not derive from a unified written system, it is nevertheless inaccurate to say that Cantonese and Mandarin had their languages applied to characters in the same way that Japanese did. Mandarin is a fairly recent development, having appeared in its present form only several centuries ago. Cantonese is somewhat older, but there is consensus that both derived from Middle Chinese, as spoken during the early Tang dynasty (6th or 7th century). To the extent that Middle Chinese was not unified, it was still considerably more unified than the Chinese spoken language is today, and it is considered the wellspring for just about all of today's regionalects.
The written language is, of course, even older than that, having arisen in some form during the Shang dynasty in the second millennium B.C. and being more or less standardized with the advent of the Qin dynasty. By that time, the spoken language must have already been around for some time, but that would have been Old Chinese, and would have borne as little resemblance to today's regionalects as proto-Indo-European bears to English.
In short, the article should emphasize that the written language was developed to represent the spoken language, rather than the other way around, but it was developed organically, not applied after the fact to existing tongues like Mandarin and Cantonese. BrianTung 19:01, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
I moved these 2 comments to the bottom, the traditional place for new topics. Someone should archive this page.... --Alvestrand 11:43, 19 September 2006 (UTC)

Although lingustically incorrect, this view that the many Chinese languages/dialects are just different readings of the characters is commonly held by Chinese people, in particular people who do not speak Modern Standard Chinese (putonghua). Yes, historically only a very small minority of the Chinese were literate, but this is perhaps not so very different from other regions of the world in the pre-modern era. LDHan 16:31, 7 November 2006 (UTC)

Quote Mandarin is a fairly recent development, having appeared in its present form only several centuries ago. Cantonese is somewhat older, but there is consensus that both derived from Middle Chinese
All the current Chinese languages/dialects today developed from Old and Middle Chinese, it is inaccurate to say that Cantonese is "older". All the Chinese dialects have developed and changed in different ways, Cantonese has lost some features which have been retained by other dialects from Old and Middle Chinese. So the idea that Cantonese somehow is "older" is linguistically and historically wrong. Standard Chinese (Putonghua/Guoyu), or Standard Mandarin as wiki and no one else calls it, is a 20th Century development, but it is based on the Beijing variety of the Mandarin group of dialects (spoken in N and SW China), and can be traced back to at least to the Yuan Dynasty. LDHan 15:48, 14 November 2006 (UTC)
Can we agree that Cantonese is a more conservative tongue (retaining more properties of MC) than Mandarin? Based on what you wrote, I'm not sure we disagree on a matter of fact. I admit I put that pretty crudely. BrianTung 16:37, 18 November 2006 (UTC)
Of course each dialect or language may be conservative in its own way; many northern varieties of Chinese retain differences in initial sounds ( 聲母 ) which have been lost in southern varieties, but the southern varieties retain much more complex codas. A simple way to resolve the question of which varieties are more or less "conservative" is to count up the number of possible syllables (tones included) in any particular dialect. This has been done by many researchers. I believe I first saw some figures in Chao's old Mandarin primer. In any case, these statistics make it obvious that the southern dialects (Yue, Min and Hakka par excellence) are in general much more conservative.Jakob37 (talk) 05:43, 15 November 2008 (UTC)

Article Needs Re-factoring...Badly[edit]

I started editing the first couple of sections of this article, because of numerous errors in language and fact, but it's apparent that the entire article badly needs to be re-factored. The principles of character formation are repeated throughout the article, and the presentation is substantially out of order. I'm willing to take a crack at this if people are agreeable to that. BrianTung 22:51, 6 November 2006 (UTC)

I agree. It's a mess. -Adjusting 00:06, 7 November 2006 (UTC)

I'm making a massive refactor, with some initial citing that needs to be refined. Feel free to revert, but I think it will be an improvement. BrianTung 00:04, 17 August 2007 (UTC)

Requested Move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived debate of the proposal. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the debate was move to Written Chinese. If you have any questions, please contact me at my talk page. Ian Manka 15:07, 7 January 2007 (UTC)


Add "* Support" or "* Oppose" or other opinion in the appropriate section followed by a brief explanation, then sign your opinion with ~~~~

  • Comment While WP need not be stuffy, I have my doubts about this: "Written Chinese" would apply equally well to Chinese in pinyin transliteration. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:56, 27 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose A move is useless energy wastage; current title is good enough. --Alvestrand 20:58, 27 December 2006 (UTC)
    • Actually, it wasn't a waste of energy until Anderson moved it from the uncontroversial section and turned it into a vote about... uhm... a waste of time. I think. / Peter Isotalo 23:41, 27 December 2006 (UTC)
      • Well, I see the move's not uncontroversial, anyway. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 19:35, 28 December 2006 (UTC)
        • That's pretty darned contrived, I'd say. Opposing moves by complaining that the move itself is problematic is about as relevant to the issue as the pinyin-argument. / Peter Isotalo 00:01, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Support since it defuses any Chinese language/languages strife. —  AjaxSmack  06:22, 29 December 2006 (UTC)
    • A point; but is it a problem for writing? The position I know, even from someone who holds that there are several Chinese languages, is that they all use the same written language. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:26, 29 December 2006 (UTC)
      • Well, they use the same script just as English, French, and Swahili use the Latin alphabet but "language" implies tongue or spoken form. The written form of "Have you eaten yet?" is written 你吃飯了沒? in Mandarin but 汝食飽未? (or 汝有食飯無?) in Minnan. Both of these are Chinese but cannot be said to have the same "written language" any more than English and Dutch. —  AjaxSmack  04:45, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
        • That is a deceptive example that overstates the issue. First, the phrase 汝食飽未, while certainly different from the typical mainland expression 你吃飯了沒, is nevertheless, perfectly understandable to any reasonably literate Chinese reader regardless of province. Hardly a difference between English and Dutch. More like the difference between American and British. To make the point for anyone who can't read the two phrases, a literal, word by word translation of the standard expression 你吃飯了沒 reads: you eat food or not? The phrase supposedly unintelligble to non Minanhua speakers, 汝食飽未 reads: you food full no? The unusual use of the character 汝 for you, while not common in mainland Chinese, is extremely common in literary Chinese. Also, the character being used for "food" in the Minan version 食 is, in written Chinese, quite commonly used as a verb just like in the Minan greating. Having never learned any southern or island dialects, I have no trouble at all reading the Minan version. bailewen
  • Support. Removes the need for piping of links, follows guidelines and does not make the title more or less ambiguous. Peter Isotalo 00:01, 30 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Oppose. No sufficient reason for a change. This is a quite reasonable name for a subset of Chinese language. Gene Nygaard 17:02, 31 December 2006 (UTC)
  • Support - Analogous to "spoken Chinese", in agreement with WP guidelines on usage of "language" in titles, and definite improvement over clumsy/amateur current title. But even better would be Chinese writing system, which is now a redirect, because it would enable simply writing The Chinese writing system originated... instead of the current clumsy beginning The Chinese written language is a writing system that originated.... (A short look at the WP intro and comparison with Britannica's opening sentence [Chinese writing system - basically logographic writing system using symbols of pictorial origin to represent words of the Chinese language[s].] shows that the intro is clearly amateur, clumsy, and user unfriendly for other reasons too, including unnecessary immediate use of technical terms like "character" and "morpheme" without prior explanation -- not to mention the article's contradictory statements on whether the system is logographic or not. Instead of the current The Chinese written language is a writing system that originated roughly 3,500 years ago in China. It employs about 5,000 commonly used characters that each represent a Chinese morpheme. something similar to Britannica would be better, e.g. The Chinese writing system employs about 5,000 symbols (usually called characters) to represent words of spoken Chinese. The system originated about 3,500 years ago in China...) --Espoo 17:59, 2 January 2007 (UTC)
  • Support per Espoo above. It makes perfect sense. Titles should be precise and concise. No need to get overly wordy. 03:56, 7 January 2007 (UTC)
  • Support. "Chinese written language" is awkward and grammatically suspect. --Nlu (talk) 09:54, 7 January 2007 (UTC)


Add any additional comments

I don't see the problem, Anderson. The article already includes a section on romanization, albeit rather minor. It would indeed be very stuffy to claim that transliterations aren't a form of written language and even moreso that "written Chinese" would be more ambiguous than "written Chinese language". The "language" is there to disambiguate and there's nothing to it disambiguate from. At least I don't see any candidates.

Peter Isotalo 20:36, 27 December 2006 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the debate. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Assessment comment[edit]

This article has tons of info. Now it just needs references. --Danaman5 07:51, 13 January 2007 (UTC)

Reassessment Request[edit]

After refactoring this article, I'd like to request a reassessment from the various projects. How should I go about doing that? Go through the peer review process? BrianTung 03:00, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

My advice would be to list it at WP:GA. I don't really like to give out A ratings, so you probably won't get any rating increase from me if I reassess it, but it looks like it is probably GA quality.--Danaman5 04:41, 30 August 2007 (UTC)
Would you care to comment on what changes you would like to see made to the article to further justify its upgrade to GA? BrianTung 07:04, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

Added additional labels[edit]

Added additional labels to running, grass, and regular. Intranetusa 01:02, 2 October 2007 (UTC)


I find the following paragraphs confusing. They seem to assume some unstated context which was obviously clear to the writer but may be unclear to readers who don't already understand what points are being made.

Chinese characters do not unambiguously indicate their pronunciation, even for any single dialect. There is therefore considerable appeal in transliterating a dialect of Chinese so that it may be read by those who are not literate in either the traditional or simplified scripts.

Does "transliteration" mean transliteration into the Roman alphabet or from one Chinese dialect to another? I would have assumed the former, but the phrase "transliterating a dialect of Chinese" makes it sound like its talking about the latter. The section title is also offputting in this respect: "Transliteration and romanisation" suggests that "transliteration" in this section means something other than Romanisation. The purpose of the "therefore" in the second sentence isn't clear. "Considerable appeal" to whom, and for what purpose? If it's actually talking about transliterating from Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet for Western readers then the main motivation is much less to do with Chinese characters not unambiguously indicating their pronunciation in whatever dialect it might be, and much more to do with the fact that the characters are all completely unintelligible and unrecognisable. But are the people "who are not literate in either the traditional or simplified scripts" supposed to be Chinese people or non-Chinese?
Into the Roman alphabet. I've made the appropriate change in the article. I hope that this establishes sufficient context to resolve the following ambiguity as well.
With respect to transliteration vs Romanization, zhuyin fuhao (mentioned in this section) is an example of a transliteration that is not a Romanization—it goes to a completely different set of symbols (derived from Chinese characters, but generally not characters themselves).
I contend that the motivation is still (at least in part) not unambiguously indicating their pronunciation. The issue here isn't homographs, but instead the imperfect functioning of the rebus system in constructing most characters. Any transliteration—whether it's a Romanization or not—would help people who are fluent speakers of the dialect but not literate. I welcome any suggestions on how to better indicate this in the article. BrianTung (talk) 22:57, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

In the modern world, the dominant candidate for such transliteration is Mandarin, as about two-thirds of the Chinese population speaks some variety of Mandarin. (There exist variations throughout the Mandarin dialect region of China, but these variations do not generally impact mutual intelligibility.)[52]

"Candidate" in what sense? Does this mean transliterating from another Chinese dialect into Mandarin, or from Mandarin into the Roman alphabet? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:21, 25 April 2008 (UTC)

Name in Chinese[edit]

Shouldn't the article mention that Written Chinese is called 'Zhongwen' in Chinese? I am not able to type Chinese myself. (talk) 19:46, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

That seems a reasonable addition to make. I'll do it. BrianTung (talk) 00:21, 21 October 2008 (UTC)

What language should be used in this article?[edit]

Of course, this is an article ostensibly written in English about the Chinese language, so has to include fragments of Chinese and pinyin. But should we as a matter of principle use Pinyin within the text? For example, I would advocate the use of the English proper noun "Pinyin" rather than "pīnyīn" within the text, except where it discusses the representation of the Chinese word using Pinyin. Otherwise we have an article which is written in a hybrid of English and Pinyin, which is unnecessary and idiosynchratic even if it does little harm. (talk) 16:48, 21 July 2008 (UTC)

As an active editor on this page (and the source of most of the pinyin on the page), I think it would be reasonable to leave the pinyin at first mention with any Chinese text, but then dispense with the tone markings at all subsequent uses.
By the way, I think your recent edit, regarding the unsuitability of phonetic scripts for representing Chinese, needs a citation; it's OK if someone else has concluded this, but it currently reads like an editorial comment. I also think the conclusion is somewhat dubious, given that spoken Chinese contains essentially no more information than is given in pinyin, and there is little problem in understanding that. Of course, there are amusing examples where the interchange of homophones leads to some embarrassing ambiguity, but the fact that we find these amusing indicates that these are exceptions, rather than the rule. BrianTung (talk) 22:52, 22 July 2008 (UTC)

world's longest continuously used writing system ?![edit]

In the Wikipedia article concerning the history of the alphabet, i.e. the writing system used not only by the ancient Greeks but by all modern European languages, plus numerous languages in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, also Tibetan, Mongolian, and probably even Korean [ < Phags-pa ], the first definitive forms of this writing system are dated somewhere between 2000 BCE and 1800 BCE, and of course these ALPHABETIC forms derive from older forms, similar in appearance if not in sound, that go back beyond 3000 BCE as parts of the old Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Therefore this article's assertion that Chinese, starting at the Oracle Bones stage, is the "world's longest continuously used writing system" smacks of Han chauvanism and displays a lack of familiarity with the history of that area of the world where the first urban civilisations and writing systems were developed: the ancient Middle East. Jakob37 (talk) 11:15, 4 November 2008 (UTC)

The difference between modern greek and heiroglyphs is incomparably greater than that between modern written chinese and oracle bone chinese. (talk) 07:53, 7 November 2008 (UTC)
We're not talking about hieroglyphs: the earliest versions of the Alphabet were already simplified, perhaps I should say incomparably simplified, into symbols which are roughly of the same level of complexity as modern alphabets.Jakob37 (talk) 11:31, 8 November 2008 (UTC)
p.s. To my anonymous reverter-editor: why put the word "continuously" in italics? Italics signal contrast or disagreement. This would strike the general reader as if there were some debate going on, to which they are not privy. Are you thinking of a particular language, or stage of alphabetic use, which you are particularly questioning??Jakob37 (talk) 06:12, 15 November 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, I didn't think I made that revert anonymously. Did I not register first? At any rate, that was me.
In response to this question, I intend contrast, with an implied distinction from writing systems that are older but are either not in use now, or are in use only in a scholarly or liturgical context. (Coptic/hieroglyphics, for instance.) It is not a particularly pleasing use of italics, but my main purpose was to put in a placeholder while we resolved some other questions.
As far as the larger matter is concerned, I find it plausible that alphabets as a whole can be considered a writing system at least on par, historically speaking, with written Chinese. I'm not entirely sure I buy it yet, but it really doesn't matter whether I buy it. What we need is a citation, other than another Wikipedia article. So if you have something else—a journal article, something in Discover magazine or L.A. Times, whatever—something that we can use to adduce contemporaneity, that would be very useful. Once that is done, then we can rewrite the lead to something smoother. Thanks! BrianTung (talk) 00:29, 17 November 2008 (UTC)

1) John C. Darnell (Yale) 2006 Two Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from the Wadi el-Hôl: New Evidence for the Origin of the Alphabet from the Western Desert of Egypt, Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 59/2 (with C. Dobbs-Allsopp et al.)
2) "Alphabet's ancestor discovered on desert rock" - By Steve Connor, Science Editor ("The Independent") Monday, 22 November 1999:

"The earliest example of an inscription written in letters of the alphabet will be revealed today by archaeologists. The discovery of ancient alphabetic inscriptions etched on to limestone rock in the Egyptian desert pushes back the date of the invention of the alphabet by several centuries. The earliest example of an inscription written in letters of the alphabet will be revealed today by archaeologists. The discovery of ancient alphabetic inscriptions etched on to limestone rock in the Egyptian desert pushes back the date of the invention of the alphabet by several centuries. Researchers have dated the two inscriptions to between 1900BC and 1800BC, and have identified some of the symbols as precursors to letters in the modern alphabet, but have been unable to decipher their meaning. The scientists, led by John Coleman Darnell, an Egyptologist at Yale University, will report the full details of their discovery at a meeting today of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston. The invention of the alphabet is considered to be one of the foremost innovations in civilisation and led to an explosion of literacy comparable with the development of the printing press 3,000 years later. Scholars originally thought the alphabet was developed around 1600BC by the Semitic-speaking people living in the area of present-day Palestine.{even this is earlier than the oracle bones} However, Dr Darnell's discovery, on the limestone rocks at the isolated Wadi-el-Hol, on the ancient road between Thebes and Abydos, has shown that the alphabet was invented in Egypt between two and three centuries earlier.

3) from the journal "Archeology": (= Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.)

hope this helps....Jakob37 (talk) 04:54, 17 November 2008 (UTC)

Since you're familiar with the citations and their significance, would you mind terribly putting them into the article appropriately? Thanks! BrianTung (talk) 01:52, 19 November 2008 (UTC)
I tried putting in some footnotes before, but I think my Wikiedit skills have gotten rusty, so I will try again later when I have more gumption.Jakob37 (talk) 08:00, 26 November 2008 (UTC)

Unusual q and x pronunciation[edit]

Also, the pinyin spellings for a few consonant sounds are markedly different from their spellings in other languages that use the Latin alphabet; for instance, pinyin 'q' and 'x' sound similar to English 'ch' and 'sh', respectively.

This could be rephrased "(...) in some languages that use the Latin alphabet (...)", or "(...) in most languages (...)". The letter x is pronounced [ʃ] in some contexts in Catalan (e.g. xarxa) and Portuguese (e.g. paixão), for instance. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:27, 8 November 2008 (UTC)

false translation[edit]

假借 jiǎjiè: False borrowing, in which a character is used, either intentionally or accidentally, for some entirely different purpose.

It seems to me that "假借" means just borrowing. Cause in old Chinese and have the same meaning borrowing. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:32, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

I just changed it. It bothered me too much. It seems that the writer knows little about meanings of common Chinese morphemes. The words "false borrowing" makes no sense even in English. Any problems against the change, see here first.Riskiest (talk) 12:31, 23 November 2008 (UTC)

Couple of things: One, 假 can of course mean "borrow", but it can also mean "false". And two, the only source I had at the time gave "false borrowing" as the translation. Given that Wikipedia places a premium on sourcing, I had to go with what the source said. Seems to me there's plenty of room to correct what you see as an error without denigrating others' knowledge. BrianTung (talk) 21:17, 21 January 2009 (UTC)
I apologize for the previous rude word. However, though 假 has two meanings, it is not hard to distinguish the right one. In the word, 假 and 借 explain each other. And as Xu Shen said, "假借者,本无其字,依声托事,令长是也。" which explained the meaning of 假借. I can call other proofs. And plus as i said, false borrowing does not make much sense.
I appreciate your precise attitude to Wikipedia rule. If I were in your place, I would probably do the same thing. However, I would not add something that I am not familiar.--Riskiest (talk) 22:46, 10 March 2009 (UTC)

Phonetic Syllabary[edit]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but before the Communist Government developed the Pinyin Roman character system of Mandarin Chinese transliteration, wasn't there already a phonetic chart derived from Chinese characters, much like Japanese Kana and/or the Korean Hangul system? I believe it was called "bo po mo fo" or something of the like. Even though it is no longer widely used, it would still be part of the history of the written Chinese language, and I think it bears mentioning in this article.Kogejoe (talk) 07:58, 15 January 2009 (UTC)

You are right. The system is called Zhuyin and it's mentioned at the top of the section. It's still widely used in Taiwan Cababunga (talk) 21:43, 19 January 2009 (UTC)
By the way, it is not a syllabary; each syllable is divided, following a practice over 1500 years old, into an initial and a rime (with a possible glide inbetween). Therefore, a single symbol, unlike Japanese kana, does not represent an entire syllable, nor is the system an actual alphabet like Korean or English. It's unique, it's Chinese.Jakob37 (talk) 06:56, 14 June 2009 (UTC)
It's true that it's not a syllabary, although some of the symbols can stand alone as syllables (e.g., zi and si, but not bo or po, I don't think). However, why do you contend that it is not an alphabet? It seems to function essentially as an alphabet, even though characters are not actually written using them. Or is that what you meant? BrianTung (talk) 01:04, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
Well, people mean lots of different things by "alphabet"; I guess the broadest definition would be any system which in some coordinated way shows more internal details of a syllable than does a syllabary. In that case, even Ugaritic or some other purely consonantal system would be an alphabet. Bo-po-mo-fo does not separate out the codas, e.g. there's a symbol for (PY) a, for u, and then there's a symbol for -ang, and another one for the -ng as in -ung, but there's no symbol for the phoneme -ng by itself. Some would say that a "proper alphabet" should have one symbol per one phoneme, but that really gets you nowhere because linguists often disagree on how many phonemes a language has and how to represent them. So, Bo-po-mo-fo is "sort of" an alphabet...Jakob37 (talk) 11:11, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
p.s. "bo po mo fo" (actually pronounced as pʷɔ - pʰʷɔ etc.) is now pronounced as pə - pʰə etc. by many younger people, which I think is quite strange since such syllables (unlike pʷɔ etc.) don't even exist in Standard Chinese. I wonder if other Chinese (Hong Kong, mainland etc.) do this, or is it just another example of Taiwan's occasionally weird Chinese?Jakob37 (talk) 06:56, 14 June 2009 (UTC)
Might be a regionalism. Those aren't syllables in Beijing Mandarin, but they do exist in other parts of the country. Some of my relatives, not all younger ones, use such syllables consistently; that is, they don't say pʷɔ, etc. BrianTung (talk) 01:04, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
I once (years ago) suggested to my Taiwanese Guo-yu teacher that writing in Chinese about foreign places, people, etc. would be a lot easier by adopting the bo-po-mo-fo to that purpose, just like the Japanese use katakana to spell out foreign words. Her reply: that would make a page of written Chinese look ugly. Apparently aesthetic concerns trump ease of communication. (Chinese-speaking friends tell me it is difficult to remember how to write all those foreign words since they are just (in most cases) strings of unrelated characters, i.e. the characters imply, as usual, morphemes, but the morphemes are not relevant to the transcription. Jakob37 (talk) 14:53, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

the embellished script of the oracle bone script?[edit]

In the "Evolution" section, what does "the embellished script of the oracle bone script" mean? (aside from the fact that it doesn't sound like regular English: the script of the script ?!)Jakob37 (talk) 03:09, 14 June 2009 (UTC)

Wow, that was my fault. A totally garbled transcription of Norman's selection. Not only was it redundantly phrased, but the sentence as written wasn't even correct; early jinwen was less regular and angular than oracle bone, not more. BrianTung (talk) 00:58, 16 June 2009 (UTC)

Evolution: script of the six states[edit]

"settled on a form, called 六國文字/六国文字 liùguó wénzì "script of the six states"

From 六國古文,又稱東方六國文字,簡稱古文,是戰國時代東方齊、楚、燕、韓、趙、魏等國文字的合稱

From the words I emboldened at the end, we can see that this was not a single script: anyone who takes the trouble to look at Zhan-guo period writing from various parts of China will see that the scripts in use in the different kingdoms were quite different from each other. Thus it was one of Qin's policies to promulgate its particular script at the expense of the various other kinds found to its east. From the later Qin-dominated perspective, we have the new "official" script, and then "anything else". The latter was obviously to be belittled, and one way of belittling something is to ingore its variety or complexity. Even in the editions we have of the Shuo-wen, when gu-wen or zhou-wen are quoted, they are reshaped into a standardized style which is quite different than what you actually see if look at modern books that show you photos or copies of the actual Zhan-guo documents (silk, bamboo strips, engravings etc.).Jakob37 (talk) 03:38, 14 June 2009 (UTC)

Do you have any thoughts on how this should be reflected in the article? BrianTung (talk) 01:05, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
Well, as for the section: "the script became still more regular, and settled on a form, called 六國文字/六国文字 liùguó wénzì "script of the six states", that Xu Shen used as source material in the Shuowen Jiezi.":

As for Xu Shen himself, I don't know where he got his gu-wen materials; as far as he was concerned, he wanted to help preserve the seal-script and not let the li-shu or kai-shu bury the older traditions. But he was no great supporter of the 六國文字, he only quotes from them occasionally. My general impression is that the various different systems were all becoming more regularized over the Zhan-guo period, but each in its own way; the main idea is that this diversity continued until the Qin unification. There is a 1986 dissertation in the Taiwan Normal (Taipei)library [I'm lucky to have made a copy], called 戰國文字分域與斷代研究 which would be a good source for details. I should check my other Ph.D. committee advisor (besides Norman): William Boltz and his "The Origin and Early Development of the Chinese Writing System", though I think mainland Chinese handboks(Gao Ming?) probably have more on the Zhan-guo period in general.Jakob37 (talk) 13:01, 16 June 2009 (UTC)


The punctuation marks are clearly influenced by their Western counterparts, although some marks are particular to Chinese: for example, the double and single quotation marks (『 』 and 「 」); the hollow period (。), which is otherwise used just like an ordinary full stop; and a special kind of comma called an enumeration comma (、), which is used to separate items in a list, as opposed to clauses in a sentence.

These marks are not particular to Chinese, they were introduced into Japanese in the early Meiji Era. I would guess that Chinese has adopted them from Japanese but I don't know for sure. I don't want to edit this myself as I don't know anything about Chinese. (talk) 06:55, 19 December 2009 (UTC)

Point taken, although the edit as made leaves a non-sensical sentence. I've restored the original wording, but replaced "Chinese" with "Asian." As we find out more we can be more specific. BrianTung (talk) 01:27, 6 January 2010 (UTC)

Translation dictionaries[edit]

The writing for this new section needs to be cleaned up a bit, but beyond that, I'm not sure this article is really the right venue for this. Chinese-to-Chinese dictionaries are represented here because the construction of Chinese characters makes ordering them in some simple way a difficult task. Chinese-to-English (or any other alphabetic language) dictionaries don't really introduce any new difficulties, so I don't feel that this merits another (very short) section. I propose absorbing the relevant point that translation dictionaries (in the Chinese-to-X direction) share the same issues that Chinese-to-Chinese dictionaries do in this regard. I'll leave this up for a few days, then make the change if there are no objections. BrianTung (talk) 23:35, 19 March 2010 (UTC)

Absent any discussion, I absorbed the above point into the Dictionaries subsection, then deleted the remainder of the Translation Dictionaries subsection. As always, it's possible to revert this change, as long as there is proper rationale. BrianTung (talk) 22:31, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Claims of "One of the Oldest Writing Systems"[edit]

It is popular for people to claim that Chinese is one of the oldest writing systems in continuous use, but that's factually wrong. There really are only a few basic writing systems in the world: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cuneiform, Chinese, and the writing systems of the New World; all modern writing systems derive from those. Modern Chinese letter forms were standardized somewhere in the first millennium AD, about a millennium after Latin and Greek. If you allow for the kind of shape variation that lets you consider earlier Chinese scripts to be "in continuous use", then Greek and Latin easily get pushed back another 1000 years as well to their predecessors (Proto-Canaanite, hieroglyph-derived alphabets etc.). And when looking at writing in general, the first documented use of true writing in the Mediterranean (as opposed to proto-writing) again predates Chinese writing by at least 1-2 millennia. Whichever way you cut it, the Chinese writing system is one of the youngest in the world, not one of the oldest. This is consistent with other Chinese cultural developments (Bronze age, Iron age), which tended to lag behind the Mediterranean cultures by about a millennium.

As for the Jiahu symbols, there is not a shred of evidence that they represent a writing system. There is also not real evidence that they are continuous with Chinese writing. In fact, the two symbols that seem most familiar to Chinese, the eye and the sun symbol, resemble contemporary forms, which doesn't make sense if they were Chinese writing: if those symbols were the actual origin of Chinese writing, they should resemble the ancient forms of Chinese writings found on oracle bones (similar material to that found at Jiahu).

The current discussion of the history of Chinese writing is not NPV. I think the claims about the relative age of Chinese need to be moved into a separate section and presented as controversial, together with links to the relevant Wikipedia articles. Jcarnelian (talk) 13:48, 20 April 2010 (UTC)

The matter seems (to me) a bit more complicated because Chinese writing is morphemic (there are few "Chinese letter forms" per se), whereas the alphabetic writing systems are phonemic (Egyptian hieroglyphics are a hybrid, of course). Chinese characters combine two functions that are separated in alphabetic languages: letter forms combined to represent a sound, which in turn represent a morpheme and its meaning. Taking Chinese characters in isolation, unbound to their meaning, what you say makes sense, but it's relatively uncommon to treat Chinese characters that way, I think. In the context of their meaning, I think it's a stretch to say that it's "factually wrong" to say that they represent one of the oldest etc. etc., though I wouldn't balk at "misleading," and would support a removal of that sentence from the lead. And since "one of the oldest writing systems" is purely a matter of interpretation, I would prefer to remove it outright, rather than moving it into a "controversial" section, where it might garner more attention than it deserves. The real fact is the oldest date of attested Chinese characters, not how it compares to other systems (though that is of some interest, naturally).
Regarding the Jiahu symbols, I'll have to look at the text again, but I recall that it's made clear that the interpretation of the symbols is controversial (or at least problematic). Can you propose a rewrite? BrianTung (talk) 20:55, 20 April 2010 (UTC)

"Chinese characters do not unambiguously indicate their pronunciation"?[edit]

This opening sentence in the transliteration and romanization section of the article puzzles me: It seems to imply that somehow a character can give some indication of pronunciation.

Is what is meant here instead simply that a given character may have more than one pronunciation or indeed that one can get some idea, however ambiguous, of pronunciation?--Jrm2007 (talk) 06:45, 15 June 2010 (UTC)

That is basically what is meant there, but I'm not sure why you say "instead". Perhaps "reliable" would be a better word to use there? I will make that change now, as I think that choice is superior in any event, but if that does not clear up your confusion (I'm not entirely certain what particular confusion you're experiencing), please elaborate. BrianTung (talk) 22:01, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
What I do not understand is how pronunciation of a character may be determined at all from its form as it seems to me the opening sentence implied. Is it in fact that some idea of pronunciation may be determined by a reader who was unfamiliar with a given character? If so, how is this accomplished?--Jrm2007 (talk) 22:52, 15 June 2010 (UTC)
A large number of characters are constructed on the rebus principle (see xing-sheng in the structure section), which gives some ambiguous indication of the pronunciation. For instance, a character 清 is likely to sound something like 青, based on the presence of the latter in the former (in a position which generally indicates its use as a phonetic component). And sure enough, both are pronounced qīng. That sort of simple clue is all I meant in that sentence. BrianTung (talk) 05:59, 2 July 2010 (UTC)

Remove discussion of mutual intelligibility from lead?[edit]

Although I think this is an important discussion, my feeling is that it is not sufficiently central to the overall topic to merit inclusion in the lead. The lead, in my opinion, should follow the broad headings in the body of the article, summarizing them. As it stands, there's more discussion of mutual intelligibility in the lead than in the body of the article! I'm going to open this to discussion, and if there isn't significant reason to keep the discussion in the lead, I'm going to move it down into the body. BrianTung (talk) 01:41, 25 June 2011 (UTC)

Character knowledge in Japan[edit]

"Educated Chinese know about 4,000;[11][12] educated Japanese know about half that many.[10]"

I think the figure for educated Japanese may be too low, for reasonable interpretations of "about". (talk) 03:03, 2 August 2013 (UTC)

All of that is sourced, though they are offline sources which I can't check. But it also seems plausible to me; far fewer Chinese characters are needed to write Japanese as much of the language requires only kana. There's also the fact that many kanji have two readings. Looking at kanji it says "approximately 2,000 to 3,000 characters are in common use in Japan", and links to jōyō kanji, the 2136 kanji taught in schools.--JohnBlackburnewordsdeeds 08:49, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
I don't have access to the source either, but I suspect that someone just made the equation "Joyo kanji = regularly used kanji = kanji that are taught in school so all adults should know", without recognising that educated adults normally know rather more than are on that list. The figure I often see bandied about is 3000 (e.g. [15] [16] ). (talk) 17:34, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
As I suspected, the source (here) doesn't say that an educated Japanese person knows about 2000 characters. In fact, it doesn't say anything at all about how many characters an educated Japanese person knows. I have replaced that statement in the article with a sourced figure. (talk) 13:37, 4 August 2013 (UTC)


Article is missing information on basis and rates of written language acquisition by native-speaker children and by second-language learners. This would seem to be rather important information to have. (talk) 03:53, 22 June 2014 (UTC)

That would seem to fit better in an article on language acquisition, or perhaps Chinese language acquisition, and not here. If such an article exists, it could be linked from a relevant section of this article. For instance, if the number of characters has a bearing on Chinese language acquisition, there could be a sentence to that effect in the section of this article on the number of characters, with a link to that article. Barring that, however, I tend to think such content belongs elsewhere. BrianTung (talk) 01:04, 8 July 2014 (UTC)

Xiaoshuangqiao and Wucheng[edit]

I have reverted the addition of these two because there is no evidence that they constitute writing of Chinese.

In the case of Xiaoshuangqiao, the symbols occur singly with a few pairs, and the only symbols claimed to match oracle bone characters are rather generic: two or three parallel lines, or a cross. This is similar to the situation with Neolithic inscriptions, such as those at Jiahu. There is no justification for saying that the oracle bones are no longer generally accepted as the earliest Chinese writing.

The inscriptions at Wucheng are longer, and may well be writing, but no-one knows of what language, as they are too few to decipher the script. Kanguole 22:11, 1 June 2015 (UTC)

I agree. I had a look at both and neither is convincingly early Chinese. They could be or they could be something entirely different, it is impossible to say.--JohnBlackburnewordsdeeds 23:01, 1 June 2015 (UTC)
Well, if it's not written Chinese, I wonder what other language could it be? Any suggestions? Y-barton (talk) 04:20, 2 June 2015 (UTC)
For Xiaoshuangqiao, there's no evidence that the symbols record language. For Wucheng, there's no way of knowing without deciphering the script. In that period, Chinese was spoken around the middle Yellow River. We know that Miao–Yao and Tai–Kadai languages were widespread in southern China before Han expansion. Some authors add Austroasiatic, and there may unrelated languages that have left no trace. Kanguole 08:07, 2 June 2015 (UTC)


It is many "common mistakes" that started by semi-literate Chinese in the 19th century in the West when Westerners were trying to understand Chinese. West has continued the mistakes and never corrected it.

One of them is - There is NO such thing as "grass writing" as it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As the formal Chinese writing can be tedious and slow, a quicker less formal writing system was developed to speed up the process. It rounded off firm corners and linked separate strokes to make it fluid. The same as the Western "cursive". It is therefore called "quick writing", not "grass writing". The quick writing system has developed into an art form all by itself and has absolutely nothing to do with "grass".

The same Chinese word in some combinations that means "quick and careless" can also mean "grass" in different combinations or context. Unfortunately, some semi-literate Chinese, not knowing any better, mistakenly gave Westerners the wrong translation. So the error continued. BUT, it is time to correct this mistake. 2605:E000:854B:600:BC95:2D09:58AB:9C59 (talk) 17:13, 30 August 2016 (UTC)