The extraordinary evolution of the Chinese language

Practice your Chinese pinyin and characters with recent news!

A visit to the National Museum of Chinese Writing reveals the extraordinary evolution of the Chinese language

We recently visited the China National Writing Museum (中国汉字博物馆), inaugurated in 2009 in Anyang (安阳),part of the beautiful Henan(河南)province.

As we all know, you cannot understand a country or a people’s culture without understanding the language that the people speak, and the Chinese language is probably one of the most fascinating in the world.

The origin of the language itself is mysterious, and is probably the last remaining modern language that claims to be of divine origins!

In fact, oral bone scripts (甲骨文) which were animal bones or turtle shells (as in the first picture below), were ways through which the Gods transmitted the knowledge of Language to early Chinese scholars such as Cangjie (仓颉). The crackles on the bones revealed the shapes of what were to become the first Chinese characters.

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This picture shows us how many of the first Chinese characters, or hanzi(汉字)came to be. In fact, oral bone scripts (甲骨文) which were animal bones or turtle shells (as in the first picture below), were ways through which the Gods transmitted the knowledge of Language to early Chinese scholars such as Cangjie (仓颉). The crackles on the bones revealed the shapes of what were to become the first Chinese characters.

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This picture for example, shows us the very first ways in which the characters我 (I) and又(again)were written. Not exactly the same as today, right?

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This tablet in turn shows us the evolution of the word 马 (horse) in different regions of China during the Zhou dynasty (周朝). As you can see, the last version of the word is pretty similar to the existing, traditional hanzi 馬,before it was simplified in the 1950’s.

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This other tablet shows how other various hanzi have evolved throughout time, and as you can see, the change is often quite substantial! Another interesting side note is that Chinese used to be written from up to down, and not from left to right, this being changed when the Chinese authorities decided to simplify the language in the 1950’s

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Another fundamental aspect to the evolution of Chinese writing was the apparition of printing, first as block printing (see below) up to the modern printers that run through the computers that you know today! What is fascinating is how the evolution of evolution correlates with the evolution of language and thus how the understanding of one helps us comprehend the other.

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