Posts Tagged ‘language’

An easy and universal script!

This is of course a joke! Learning the Chinese writing is extremely challenging. Without this major

The sun behind a tree = East

The sun behind a tree = East

difficulty, it could however be universal. By using ideograms (1) drawn without reference to an alphabet of sounds, communication is freed from the constraints of the spoken language. The graphics are representing objects and concepts in an often very schematic way (2).

A similar system develops again in the modern world. Symbols are used to express ideas and to transmit message which can be quickly assimilated, without being decoded through sounds. This is, to some extent, the reinvention of the writing in Chinese characters.

On roads, at the stations and in airports, signalization panels are burgeoning. Words are replaced by simplified images or drawings with an obvious visual meaning. “

Nose toward the sky” on takeoff, the symbol of a plane announces “departures”, “check in” or a “bus stop for the airport” depending on the posting environnement. The message is expressed without the use of the hermetic phonemes of the oral communication. Pictograms have the advantage to be universally understood.

A realistic fruit with a cross

Realistic crossed out fruit

Graphic signs might be combined to extend their meanings and convey specific messages. Crossing an image indicates nega

tion or prohibition, for instance over a cigarette, a mobile phone or a durian (3) all not allowed in certain public areas. A square represents a mouth, an opening or a tunnel. Combined with other caracters, it shows an underpass and his direction if an arrow is added.

Streching this concept to the limits and with the respect of some conventions, a succession of signalisation panels could express a whole sentence, breaking the barriers of spoken languages. This « picturesque » way to describe objects and ideas is an original characteristic of the Chinese writing. Without a tonal alphabet and the necessity to convert words to sounds, it is used to communicate in various languages, not only in all Chinese dialects, but partially in Japanese and Korean.

Mouth-man-direction = pointing to underpath

Mouth-man-direction = pointing to underpath

By investing the time necessary to master a few thousand ideograms, one is equipped with a sort or writing esperanto (4), a universal mean of communication. Nowadays, a billion and a half people make this effort, more or less voluntarily. In ancien times, the Chinese characters were used in several asian countries. They were completely replaced by locally designed alphabeths in Thailand and in Vietnam and are used only partially in Korea and in Japan (5). These changes were intended to reduce the time needed to acquire literacy. The gain in speed took his toll on the universality of the writing.


(1) “Logograms” , “ideograms” , “sinograms” or “pictograms” are nuances used in linguistics publications and are not useful within the restricted framework of this blog.

(2) Waves of simplifications of the Chinese writing (the most recent at the occasion of the Cultural revolution) do not always contribute to universal comprehension. The characters become different between periods and counties. Taiwan, for example, preserved the traditional characters whereas continental China adopted the wave of simplifications.

(3) Durian. The king of the exotic fruits but with a very strong odor. Reference: https://mybanyan.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/smells-like-hellsmells-like-hell

(4) Esperanto is a built language, conceived at the end of the XIXe century by Ludwik Leizer Zamenhof with an aim of facilitating the communication between people of different languages through the whole world. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

(5) In Korea and Japan a system was set up combining an alphabet of local design with Chinese characters, often used in a phonetic way.

left - east - exit (mouth)

left - east - exit (mouth)

This blog was originally written in French and translated with the assistance of Babelfish


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