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Say It Right Series

(Part 2) Which has the longest language history, China or the West?

Posted by xiaophil August 9, 2009 in the Group General Discussion.

Tags: language history, chinese characters, latin alphabet, Western language

Okay, for anybody who has been following along, I have been comparing the lengths of language history between China and the West.  I am taking the position that generally the West has a longer history, but it is just fun and games.  If I am wrong, I am wrong.  But if you think I am wrong, please tell me why (ideally in Chinese as well as English, but just English is fine too).

 

现在我会比较一下中国和西方的现代的写法。这是在这里的论文的继续。

 

Now I will compare the modern written styles of China and the West. This is a continuation of my essay here.

 

大多数西方语用拉丁字母表。最初的拉丁字母表早在公元前一世纪被采用,这个字母表跟现代的字母相似,不过到公元一世纪开始的古典拉丁语时,字母光少了两个现代的字母,J和H。中国什么时期开始采用汉字是可争辩的,可是楷书是公元二世纪开始采用的,可见西方的写法的年纪比中国的大至少一世纪多了。

 

Most Western languages use the Latin alphabet.  The original Latin alphabet was adopted as early as the 7th century BCE.  This alphabet is very similar to the modern alphabet; however, by the time of the Classical Latin period that started in the 1st century CE, the alphabet was only missing two letters usually found in the modern alphabet, J and W.  When the Chinese started using characters is debatable, but the date for the start of the modern script is placed at the 2nd century CE.  This is basically the script used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau today, and in a modified form it is used in the Chinese mainland.  In this way, we can see that the written form in the West predates the written form in China by at least one century.

 

且慢,我知道有的人认为"两千之前西方人写了拉丁语,已经停用了好久,而那时中国人写了中文,中文当然还是使用的",这是使人产生误解,直到二十世纪中国才采用像言语一样的文字,白话。因此,中国的文字和言语是不同的语言好久了。由于拉丁语从十六世纪起已经丢失了普通语地位,于是以前的中文写法继续长些。但是,除了有些文化和别的专门的功能以外,近世以来,两个大多被丢弃了,所以要争论哪个语言的历史最长的,这可能是无关的。

 

But wait.  I can hear some people saying, "Two millennia ago, people in the West wrote Latin, which is largely in disuse today, whereas the Chinese wrote in Chinese then, and of course Chinese people still write in Chinese."  This is misleading.  It was not until the 20th century that a written system that closely follows oral Chinese, baihua, was adopted in China.  Therefore, for many, many years written and oral Chinese were two different languages.  Since Latin largely lost its lingua franca status in the 16th century, the old form of written Chinese did last longer.  However, both have largely been abandoned in the modern world except in some cultural and various other specialized functions.  Perhaps then, we can say when debating who has the longest language history, this is irrelevant.

 

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