Who invented the Chinese alphabet

Chinese alphabet

The Chinese language is probably the only world language that has never developed an alphabet in its millennia-old history.

In short: there is no such thing as a Chinese alphabet. Instead of a Chinese alphabet, there are several thousand Chinese characters, each representing a syllable of the Chinese language. Each Chinese character also has one or more meanings.

Replacement alphabet in China

There is no such thing as a Chinese alphabet, and therefore there is no alphabetical order in Chinese. So it is not possible to sort Chinese words alphabetically without using transliteration. Transcription is the writing of Chinese words in a non-Chinese alphabet.

For example, "Pinyin" is the transcription of Chinese words in Latin letters and is very common in China. By using pinyin transliteration, it is possible to sort Chinese words alphabetically, which makes it much easier to find them in a dictionary.

Pinyin is also used in China today to enter Chinese characters with the computer keyboard and is taught in all Chinese schools.

Traditional "alphabet" system

Before the Pinyin transcription became widespread in China, Chinese characters were sorted alphabetically according to a different system. The number of lines from which the root ("radical") of the respective character was built was counted.

The system was relatively complex, slow to use and not very clear, as numerous root characters have the same number of dashes. A real and unambiguous sorting, as with an alphabetical order, was therefore not possible.

Why is there no Chinese alphabet?

China is responsible for numerous important modern inventions that have been adopted by the West. This is how letterpress printing was originally invented in China, as well as gunpowder, the compass and numerous other things.

But why has China never developed an alphabet that has so many advantages over a syllabary with thousands of different characters? To learn their script alone, Chinese students need many years of their schooling, which they could spend far more meaningfully.

There are probably two important reasons why there was never an alphabet in China: the character script united the huge Chinese empire across cultural borders regardless of the language in the respective region. The other reason was that characters protected the Chinese imperial family from the common people.

Chinese characters unite the vast country that has as many different languages ​​and dialects as Europe. However, in China all languages ​​are written with the same characters, similar to the numbers in Europe. The "5" always has the same meaning, regardless of whether it is pronounced "Fünf", "Five" or "Cinco". Every word works that way in China. "人" always means human, regardless of whether it is pronounced "Ren" (standard Chinese), "Nom" (Wu language in Zhejiang) or "Yin" (Hunan language in Hunan). When read, all Chinese understand each other, only spoken they speak different languages.

But the characters also protected the Chinese imperial family because they are relatively difficult to learn, and thus formed a hurdle between the educated elite and the common people, similar to the Latin language in Europe, which was long used by the Catholic Church for the same purpose was used.

The Chinese characters had some important advantages over a sound-based Chinese alphabet, and China has never developed its own Chinese alphabet during its millennia-old history.

Chinese alphabet in the future

Today, however, she has identified this as a major disadvantage and is arguably the main reason why Chinese will never become a world language like English or Spanish is. Because it is simply too time-consuming and slow to learn thousands of Chinese characters.

The communists of Maos had already recognized this in the 1950s and there were considerations to abolish the characters and instead use the Latin alphabet to write Chinese. However, this turned out to be impossible, as there are too many identical-sounding words in Chinese that would hardly be distinguishable with a letter font. And so, instead of introducing a Chinese alphabet, only the spelling of the Chinese characters was simplified.