Written Language

Written language is thought to have begun prior to the Shang Dynasty (and wouldn’t become standardized until the Qin Dynasty) but development of it continued during this era. You’re reading this book in English, where we have an alphabet containing 26 letters, all of which can be put together to make words, phrases, and sentences. The Chinese, however, have a pictographic language which has thousands of characters to be learned. This written language has developed over time, but in the beginning it was made up of symbols that had looked somewhat like the thing being described. Take for example this picture of a tree:

Now consider the Chinese character that represents the word “tree.”

Can you see the similarities between the two? Many of the Chinese characters in their language were created based on the object it was trying to describe. Unfortunately, however, this is relatively easy to do for something like a tree but much more difficult for many other words. How would you represent the word “yellow”?