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Ideographic vs Alphabetic languages

Page history last edited by brittney.schafer@iwc.edu 11 years, 3 months ago



Ideographic and alphabetic languages are two different writing systems with similar goals to communicate in the written form. The written ideographic language is a communications system that consists of ideas that are represented with specific graphic symbols. [11] Alphabet is a written system containing set of letters that is universal in characters, but can be rearranged in other languages to communicate. [12]



Ideographic Language


Ideographic languages are usually known as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters. Each of their characters stand for a specific meaning that is understood by each culture. 90% of Chinese characters stand for the sounds within the spoken language, but, most of them also have an ideographic meaning in the written language. The Chinese written language is a representation of an ideographic language.


In the beginning of the written word phenomena, the Chinese character was the Jiahu Script, which dated back to 6600BC. It was related to the oracle bone script which was considered to be the earliest evidence of a corpus of writing, dating back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). [6]




        Jiahu Script


Chinese is a “non-alphabetic” written language. All the words are written in “stroke”. These are some basic stroke in the Chinese written language.


                                        Basic stroke in Chinese 


The formation of characters of in an ideographic language is first creating a character similar to the object of symbolizing; creating a character to stand for the object. Unfortunately, the character is changed when the dynasty is changed. A picture of “sun” in Chinese history, first appears as the actual object, “sun”, and then is recreated in the pictograph character, then alters again becoming the seal character. The running script is the written method of “sun” in different dynasty, altered from the first creation of the character all together.



                     The transition of the character "Sun"




               Combine of characters


“Sun” is written in Simplified Chinese. (Picture 3a above), and “Moon” is written (Picture 3b) similar to “sun” and is created and changed the same way. When the “sun” and “moon” characters are put together, it means “brightness” (Picture 3c), and the character in the written has no connection with its pronunciation in the spoken language. This is the ideographic part of Chinese, and most of the ideographic characters represent natural objects.



Alphabetic Languages


Alphabetic languages use an a specific set of letters to compose words. The best known alphabetic language today is English, which is used in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and many other countries as their first language, also is used in China, India, Japan and many other countries as their second language.

An alphabet is a standardized set of letters — basic written symbols — each of which roughly represents a phoneme, a spoken sound, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. [2] This is the correct English alphabet, to see more information about alphabet -- please see

The Alphabet




          The English Alphabet



Ideographic vs. Alphabetic Languages


About one-fifth of the world’s population, over one billion people, speaks some form of Chinese as their native language. [7] Recent estimates suggest that over 337 million people speak English as their first language, with possibly some 350 million speaking it as a second language. [8] While most people who speak Chinese are in China, English is commonly spoken in many countries.[9]


This is a general contradistinction between English and Chinese.





Chinese written language has thousands of characters, 3500 are most commonly used. [10] The English alphabet has a specific standard set of 26 symbols. According to the identity of an ideographic language, Chinese characters are hard to write, read and remember. English is needed to remember a mere 26 symbols and as is a, system that allows most of their words be written as they are pronounced.


Chinese is shown to be much more difficult than English to read and write. [4] While English has much more complicated grammar structure than Chinese, the Chinese present advantage to the level of skill. In English, a verb possesses several tenses, such as passive tense, past tense, or progressive tense. A verb should be written in the correct tense provided by its context. Chinese words don’t have tenses, it uses adverb to express the time and condition. The Chinese written language is harder to remember, but it is also harder to forget once learned, because of the conditioned reflex training method. The meaning of a Chinese character can be guessed individually by its appearance, English letters cannot.


The power of writing has dominated since early primitive scratching to hieroglyphics, and has since evolved to standard systems understood by those within its practice. Each individual who writes within a specific language, no matter which one, can slightly alter the letter or character based on the way they learned the symbol or their handwriting abilities, leaving room for error or misinterpretation. [13] While the written word its self is significant, the concept of reading writing and understanding what is being written is just as important to anyone who uses a written language.





[1] Origin of the Chinese Script ,<http://www.chinavista.com/experience/hanzi/chhanzi.html>

[2] Alphabet, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabetic_language>

[3] http://frontpage.montclair.edu/sentencecomprehension/6%20Chinese_evidence.htm

[4] LIU, Ying, Tentative Study on Ideography and Alphabetic Writing

[5] Time period when Chinese characters were forming (Chinese)


[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiahu_Script

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_language

[8] http://www.i-uk.com/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1068719850213&a=KFAQ&aid=1018618843334

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language

[10] http://www.china-language.gov.cn/43/2007_6_11/3_43_2412_0_1181551832234.html


[11] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ideography

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alphabet

[13]  Martin, Henri J. "The history & power of writing." Canadian Journal of History 30.1 (1995): 177-78. Print.


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