Evolution of Chinese Characters
The Chinese writing system is an unique phenomenon in the modern world of alphabet scripts. Instead of a few dozen letters, it has developed thousands of complex signs or "characters" that represent morphemes and words. Even related writing systems such as Japanese and Korean, while sharing many of the same characters, can fully function as purely phonetic scripts.
The first recognizable form of Chinese writing dates from 3,500 years ago, but many argue that its origins lie much deeper in the past. Regardless of its actual age, Chinese has evolved substantially over time yet has retained its ancient core, making it one of the longest continuously used writing system in the world.
Based on pictographs, Chinese characters combine shapes with sounds and connotations to form unique, block-shaped characters that carry meaning.
The earliest form of Chinese writing is called the oracle bone script, used from 1500 to 1000 BCE. This script was etched onto turtle shells and animals bones, which were then heated until cracks would appear. By interpreting the pattern of the cracks, Shang court officials would make divinations of future events, hence giving the name "oracle bones" to these animal bones.
Stages of Chinese Writing
After the early evolution, the script continued to evolved. Visually it became increasingly more linear, more stylized and less resembling of the natural objects. It also grew in complexity, as the innovations of semantic determinatives (radicals) and phonetic complements continued to be applied to form new words.
Scholars have conveniently divided different styles of Chinese writing into a number of "scripts". The following chart compares different Chinese characters in various forms throughout time.
The first four phases of Chinese writing trace the first 1,500-year history of Chinese and essentially encompass the evolution from a nascent pictographic and ambiguous writing script to a standardized system containing thousands of characters still in use today.
As the only indigenous and the oldest writing system in East Asia, the Chinese writing system became the inspiration and the basis for many other East Asian writing systems, some prominent and still in use, while other having faded into obscurity and disuse. Together they are loosely called the Sinitic family of scripts, which includes the following scripts.
At first the Japanese wrote fully in Chinese, but over time the Chine. The result is a set of three scripts serving as a single writing system. One of the scripts, kanji is essentially Chinese characters, whereas the other two systems, hiragana and katakana are simplified forms of certain Chinese characters and used exclusively to represent sounds.
Writing in Korea also started as an adoption of the Chinese script to fit the Korean language, and as a result Chinese characters called hanja came to represent both words as well as sounds.
The Khitan people were a powerful Mongolian tribe that dominated Northern China and established the Liao dynasty between the 10th and 12th centuries BCE and invented not one but two scripts both based on Chinese and augmented to their language.
Vietnamese Chu Nom
means "Southern Writing" and it was a script to write Vietnamese using Chinese character construction principles. What this means is that traditional radicals were paired with characters serving as phonetic components to construct Chu Nom characters that represent Vietnamese words.