Chinese languages and Chinese writing system

SSDD

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
3,900
India
Why did not Chinese phonetic or Abiguda writing system develop in China? Was it purely because China had so many languages, so developing such script would lead to linguistic division or was it because Chinese languages are tonal?

Nonetheless were there ever any phonetic script in pre-modern China?

And a side question, before Sinicization, Austronesian languages were spoken in South China, so are there are Austronesian words used in Southern Chinese languages, as remnants?
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,513
China
Why did not Chinese phonetic or Abiguda writing system develop in China?
let us limit it to the han chinese language, i.e. 汉语
Was it purely because China had so many languages, so developing such script would lead to linguistic division
the popularity of writings can be affected by political concern such as concerning of linguistic division. but it is not the ultimate force
in ancient time, you need days to travel to another place, it is simply impossible to force a writing all the time along.
or was it because Chinese languages are tonal?
some scholar believe far ancient time it might be not tonal
Nonetheless were there ever any phonetic script in pre-modern China?
no
And a side question, before Sinicization, Austronesian languages were spoken in South China, so are there are Austronesian words used in Southern Chinese languages, as remnants?
the usage of sinicization is extreme inaccurate in this case. the sinicaization is named so, because people believe so called sino people are more numbered.
however, in another way of speaking a lot of elements that were not in the previous sino people also mixed into sino people. that means sinicization is accompanied with ... say... austronesianization. moreover, this specific proto austronesian speaking group is expected to have left mainland china or assimilated by other languages even before rise of sino civilization as in the form of qin or han.

a unique phenomenon in han chinese is the colloquial and literary readings. it , to a degree, tell you how sino people were "austronesianizatized" (notice the marks, not actually specific referring to austronesian here)
 
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May 2017
111
Hong Kong
I believe in the monosyllable feature of the Sino language only developed after the use of script characters. The early Yin oracle bone scripts showed an inverted grammar form from the later period like 牛十用 cow - ten - (was) used which was different from today's use of " (to) use-ten-cows.

As far as I know many Austronesian words are still used in the daily Cantonese like 陷把欄 kampalan which means all total.窿 lung which means a hole, in Malaysian it is Ruang or Ru-Ung.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Why did not Chinese phonetic or Abiguda writing system develop in China? Was it purely because China had so many languages, so developing such script would lead to linguistic division or was it because Chinese languages are tonal?

Nonetheless were there ever any phonetic script in pre-modern China?

And a side question, before Sinicization, Austronesian languages were spoken in South China, so are there are Austronesian words used in Southern Chinese languages, as remnants?
The main reason the Chinese did not adopta phonetic writing is that their current writing system works, and it would be too much effort to change, even if there were major benefits to do so.

Logogram writings tend to be created earlier than phonetic writing systems - Egyptian, Sumerian, Linear A & B, are all.older than the Phone can and the first alphabetiic writing. So.it is natural that the Chinese writing was created as a non phonetic system.

Most other societies eventually switched over to a phonetic system because it is easier to learn. An example is Korea, which is switching over to the home grown alphabet system from the Chinese writing they had been using. Similar kinds of things happened in other places long ago.

When writing is not widely used, it is easier to change from one writing system to another, as when the Anglo-Saxons switched from runes to the Latin alphabet. It becomes harder when you have a larger body of writing you have to convert, and more people you have to retrain.

In the case of China, there are benefits to retaining the Chinese writing, complex as it is:

A. Chinese has a lot of homophones, words with the same sound, but different meanings. While not impossible to differentiate them in an alphabetic script, it is easier, if more complex to do so with the Chinese writing.

B. There are many different languages that make up the Chinese language family. It is easier to communicate between them using the Chinese script than using an alphabetic one.
 
Feb 2011
1,018
I believe in the monosyllable feature of the Sino language only developed after the use of script characters. The early Yin oracle bone scripts showed an inverted grammar form from the later period like 牛十用 cow - ten - (was) used which was different from today's use of " (to) use-ten-cows.

As far as I know many Austronesian words are still used in the daily Cantonese like 陷把欄 kampalan which means all total.窿 lung which means a hole, in Malaysian it is Ruang or Ru-Ung.
From: (PDF) Chinese linguistics and typology: The state of the art

Djamouri (2001: 146-147) shows that in the oldest extant records of pre-Archaic Chinese, the oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty (14th – 11th centuries BCE), the dominant word order found for nominal objects is SVO as counted in a corpus of 26,094 complete sentences: 93.8% are SVO and 6.2% are SOV. In fact, the SOV tendency for pronominal objects appears to be slightly higher in the following Early Archaic period (11th – 6th BCE), with a greater variety of types possible in this position (Peyraube 1997a, 1997b). This evidence makes it much more difficult to suppose a word order change from SOV to SVO in the case of Sinitic.

...

Hence, both Pre-Archaic and Archaic Chinese can be definitively shown to be SVO languages in terms of their dominant word orders. To suppose a prehistoric stage even more ancient than the oracle bone inscriptions of the Pre-Archaic period (14th – 11th BCE), namely, proto-Sinitic with SOV order, is not therefore empirically grounded, and must remain a pure surmise.
The idea that Sinitic went from a verb final form to an object final form in its word order cannot be sustained by available evidence from the oracle bone scripts. The evidence argues that object final was always the basic word order, while verb final forms are a special category of constructions and were more common in the bronze script period - around the time of the Zhou - rather than the earliest period.

What this indicates, is hard to say right now. Sino-Tibetan is generally a SOV language family, but the evidence shows that Sinitic has been SVO from the beginning of writing in China. There is no evidence of a transition in writing. If Sinitic indeed went from SOV -> SVO, it must have occurred before writing.
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,438
Let's not confuse phonetic with alphabetical writing. Chinese characters, even today, contain heavy phonetic elements, in Shang times, its probably over 90% phonetic. Even alphabetical scripts like English is not 100% phonetic as we have lots of irregular loan words which pronounces differently from the conventional way English spelling should be pronounced.
 
Sep 2018
101
transitory
Was there any movement in late Qing or early Republican China to adopt an alphabet system, even a Romanised one? I heard that in Japan during the Meiji era, some "modern" reformers thought that Japan should abolish Chinese characters and adopt the Latin alphabet in order to be more compatible with modern things, like the telegraph system.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Was there any movement in late Qing or early Republican China to adopt an alphabet system, even a Romanised one? I heard that in Japan during the Meiji era, some "modern" reformers thought that Japan should abolish Chinese characters and adopt the Latin alphabet in order to be more compatible with modern things, like the telegraph system.
I don't think there was serious effort to adopt an alphabet, although there may have been a few that toyed with the idea. Some missionaries in the late 19th did adopt an alphabet for the Chinese language, but I dont recall anyone else doing so.
 
Sep 2018
101
transitory
I don't think there was serious effort to adopt an alphabet, although there may have been a few that toyed with the idea. Some missionaries in the late 19th did adopt an alphabet for the Chinese language, but I dont recall anyone else doing so.
I see. Did any of European colonies in China (Macau, Hong Kong, Tsingtao, etc.) try to impose a romanised alphabet for Chinese, like the French did with Vietnamese? If they did it seems it didn't stick around, seeing as these places all use Chinese characters today, but would be interesting to know anyway...