Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese (where they may be called hanzi; 汉字/漢字 "Han character") and Japanese (kanji). Such characters are also used, albeit less frequently, in Korean (hanja), and were formerly used in Vietnamese (hán tự), as well as in a number of other languages. Chinese characters constitute the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world. By nature of widespread use in China and Japan, Chinese characters are among the most widely adopted writing systems in the world.
Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands, though most of these are minor graphic variants only encountered in historical texts. Studies carried out in China have shown that functional literacy requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.
In Chinese orthography, the characters are largely morphosyllabic, each corresponding to a spoken syllable with a distinct meaning. However, the majority of Chinese words today consist of two or more characters. About 10% of native words have two syllables without separate meanings, but they are nonetheless written with two characters. Some characters, generally ligatures, represent polysyllabic words or even phrases, though this is the exception and is generally informal.
Cognates in the several varieties of Chinese are generally written with the same character. They typically have similar meanings, but often quite different pronunciations. In other languages, most significantly today in Japanese, characters are used to represent native words, ignoring the Chinese pronunciation, to represent Chinese loanwords, and as purely phonetic elements based on their pronunciation in the historical variety of Chinese they were acquired from. These foreign adaptations of Chinese pronunciation are known as Sinoxenic pronunciations, and have been useful in the reconstruction of Ancient Chinese.
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Famous quotes containing the word characters:
“The major men
That is different. They are characters beyond
Reality, composed thereof. They are
The fictive man created out of men.
They are men but artificial men.”
—Wallace Stevens (18791955)