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Chinese script

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Chinese characters are simplified images of what they represent, and their origins as pictograms can often still be seen, even though they have become highly abstract today. The earliest-known examples of Chinese writing are predictions that were cut into “oracle bones” over three thousand years ago during the Shang dynasty, though the characters must have been in use long before as these inscriptions already amount to a highly complex writing system. As the characters represent concepts, not sounds, written Chinese cuts through the problem of communication in a country with many different dialects. However, learning characters is a never-ending job – though you only need to recognize a couple of thousand for everyday use. Foreigners learning Mandarin use the modern pinyin transliteration system of accented Roman letters – used throughout this book – to help memorize the sounds. For more on language.

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