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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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4 Chinese Writing and Reading

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4

Chinese Writing and Reading

While the Chinese language is nothing if not known for its much-heralded writing system—including the fact that it was one of the earliest forms of writing invented—it turns out that humans probably have invented writing at least four times in four different places during the time of our existence on this earth: in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Mesoamerica, and in China.1 And it should come as no surprise that each time writing was invented, our ancestor script inventors went through the same developmental process of discovery, as outlined in Table 4.1.2

In order to talk about the nature of the first writing system or to say when writing first appeared, we must first define what we mean by writing. When our ancestors first produced markings or squiggles on surfaces, we should have a clear notion of which squiggles should be considered writing and which should be considered simple pictures or, for example, emblems of personal or tribal ownership. And the answer is that human-produced marks and squiggles on surfaces are to be considered writing when the marks and squiggles were produced with the intention to represent human spoken language.3

So in considering the invention and development of writing, it turns out that the same four developmental stages are posited to have occurred each time writing was invented. The first stage is termed the logograph stage, in which a single pronunciation was associated with a single...

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