Chinese Characters and Chinese Language


The Chinese language was spoken by most Chinese people. But it has different dialects. Among them Putonghua or Mandarin is the most popular. Mandarin is China’s official language, which is based on the Beijing dialect. The people living in the north part and east part of China mainly speak Mandarin. In China 70% of the population speaks Mandarin. In Canton area people mostly speak Cantonese. Fortunately Chinese dialects share the same written system and grammar although the pronunciations of some words are different. So the communications between the people from different places are not so hard. This really helps the consistent development of Chinese culture and also helps the unifying of Chinese nation. Actually this should attribute to Emperor Qinshihuang (259BC-210BC) who unified China in 221BC and he also standardized the written language. He also made an effort to popularize a common oral Chinese language.
Chinese characters and script
Chinese characters are “block characters”. According to the compositions of Chinese characters, they can be divided into 6 groups. Pictograph which means the character is like the picture of what it represents. For example, “月” (moon), “日”(sun), “山” (mountain), “火”(fire) and so on are this kind. The second group is the ideogram representing the object in an abstract form. For example, “中” (middle), the vertical line cuts through the center of a rectangle. The third group is the compound ideogram. This is a combination of two or more ideograms to denote an idea of object. Fox example, “森” (forest), which has three “木” (wood). The fourth group is phonogram, which is a combination of a meaning element and a phonetic element. It is the most common kind of Chinese characters. Around 90% Chinese characters belong to this kind. For example, “骑” (ride), “马” represents the meaning part, “奇” represents the phonetic part. The other two groups are the phonetic loan and derivative characters. But they are very few and less important.
Chinese characters are one of the oldest characters in the world. Pictograph characters appeared more 6,000 years ago. Three thousand years ago Chinese people carved the characters on the oracle bones. Later the script changed from complicated forms to the simplified forms. But even today they are still much more complicated than the letter characters of western language. Chinese characters have many strokes, which make them like pictures. Three thousand years ago there were about 5,000 Chinese characters inscribed on the tortoise shells. With the language developing, in the Qing Dynasty (1644AD-1911AD), the Kangxi Dictionary collected around 47,000 Chinese characters. Currently, it is estimated that there are around 60,000 Chinese characters existed but 3000- 4000 of them are widely used in the daily life. These Chinese monosyllabic characters can combine different words. For example the word of “看不起” (kan bu qi), which has three Chinese characters :“看” (kan means look), “不” (bu means no) and “ 起” (qi means up). Altogether it means “look down upon”. Another example, the Chacater of “危” (wei means danger) and “机” (ji means opportunity), when they combine a new word “危机”(we ji) is created. It means “crisis”. So you can realize that Chinese language is rich of content and strong to express things and it is a beautiful language.
After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, China initiated to simplify the Chinese characters in order to promote universal literacy. In 1954, a committee of reforming Chinese characters was set up. Latter on 2,238 Chinese characters have been simplified on a systematic basis, which proved to be successful. However in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan they still use the old written characters. Some foreign countries such as Singapore and Malaysia also simplified some old Chinese characters.Chinese tone
In 1958 China adopted a system known as pinyin as a method of writing Chinese. Pinyin consists of Roman alphabets. Chinese always use Roman alphabets to mark the pronunciation of Chinese characters. That is very efficient and easier. Many different Chinese characters share very similar pronunciation but totally with different meanings. But the phonetic sound has four pitched tones such as high and level (1st), rising (second), falling-rising (third) and falling (fourth). Most Chinese characters are one syllable characters. That is why the homophonic characters and words are very common in Chinese language. But Chinese use the four pitch tones to differentiate them. Of course in a sentence it is very easy to know which characters referred according to the context. For one example, 妈妈(mother)骑(ride)马(horse),马(horse)吃(eat)麻(hemp), 妈妈(mother)骂(scold)马(horse). (Mā ma qi mǎ, mǎ chi má , mā ma mà mǎ), which mother rides a horse, horse eats hemp, mother scolds the horse.
How to type Chinese characters on the computers?
Chinese characters could be input the computer around 20 years ago. Now there are many ways to input Chinese characters. The key board of computers used in china is the same with that in western countries. But the soft ware can help to input very complicated Chinese characters. People can use the Pinyin of Chinese characters to type. Pinyin is marked by Roman alphabets. For this method you need know the pronunciation of the character. After typing the letters there will be different characters for you to choose on the screen. Another way is wubi, which categorizes the characters into strokes (such as left-falling, right-falling, horizontal, vertical, hook) and radicals (basic structural parts of Chinese characters); each key on the computer represents a certain stroke and radical. To input any character, simply press the keys corresponding to the first four strokes or radicals of a character. If this character has more than four parts, you just type the first three in sequence and then the last stroke. For characters have less than four strokes or radicals, press the space bar after the last stroke or radical. For this typing method you should be familiar with how to split a character into different strokes and radicals. But it is very precise and efficient after you master it. One experienced typist can type 160 Chinese characters per minute.
Some people who aren't comfortable with typing might be more inclined to use an electronic writing tablet instead. The precise strokes of Chinese characters make them relatively easy for a computer to recognize.
Now there are some other different type writings of Chinese characters appeared. More or less the principle is similar.
The Grammar of Chinese language
Chinese grammar is far simpler than the western language. Chinese language has no tenses, no plurals, no definite articles and indefinite articles. Chinese language is a subject- verb – object language. For example, “I (subject) love (verb) you (object).” Which in Chinese is “我爱你.” “我”(Wo means I) , “爱” (Ai means love), “你” (Ni means you) Actually the grammar in this sentence is exact the same with that in English.
Chinese language is a beautiful language with vitality. More than 20% people on the earth speak this language. Westerners have realized Chinese language is really important in the world. That is why Chinese becomes a popular foreign language in a lot of universities in western countries.

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