Chinese Symbols vs English Characters

Finding the beginnings of a language is a complicated process. The problem is that historical records only date back so far. We can only guess at how they were spoken in the beginning years by looking at the written symbols, characters, and drawings. Another problem with learning about the written and spoken word is that language is continually evolving. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary adds and deletes words frequently. A term that is considered to be slang today may appear as a real word within a few short years. Certain words go out of favour, are no longer used, but may come back again later on. It can become quite confusing.

The origin and history of Chinese symbols used in writing dates back thousands of years. The first use of Chinese characters is thought to be about 1500 BC. Scholars claim that classical Chinese evolved from Old Chinese and has been modified even more as modern Chinese. Before the twentieth century, Classical Chinese was always used to write formal correspondence. Other nations using it were Japan, Korea, and Viet Nam. Spoken Chinese evolved into different vernaculars and dialects, but for two thousand years Classical Chinese was always used in writing. Today Japan and Korea still use some of the same characters, but there are enough variations that one country has trouble translating the symbols of another.

Linguists tend to believe that the origin and history of Chinese symbols were based on the Aramaic alphabet. Language history thousands of years ago is quite sketchy. At some point this alphabet came to China via Christian missionaries. In any event Chinese symbols are known as logograms, meaning that each character stands for one word, or to be exact, a morpheme. Logographic systems are considered more difficult than alphabetic systems due to the vast number of characters and meanings that must be memorized. To make matters even more complicated, one part of the symbol refers to the meaning of a word, while another refers to pronunciation.

Written English uses the Latin alphabet and is considered a Germanic language. Tracing the origin and history of English characters is as confusing as finding the roots of most languages. We do know that the first English writings, similar to today’s, aren’t dated before the 9th century. Those found in the 7th and 8th centuries were “Old English”. Alfred the Great was the first person to use the word English to describe what the modern version evolved from. English really started to change into its present form around 1400. What is clear from researchers is that the origin and history of English characters is what led to any standards in the language. In other words English speakers write in the same way, but in the spoken form it doesn’t always sound the same.

An alphabet is a system of characters used to write a language. As previously mentioned symbols or characters consist of a meaning and pronunciation. In the alphabet used by most English speakers there are 26 letters. Chinese symbols, depending on the era, can number as many as 80,000. One way of thinking about the difference between English characters and Chinese symbols, is that characters appear to be simple lines and curves and the symbols look more like pictures. Also, there are fewer English characters than Chinese symbols.


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