(ORDO NEWS) — While the world’s major languages simplify writing over time, there is one notable exception: Chinese. Over a history spanning three millennia, its writing system has only become more complex and is still extremely difficult to learn.
Over time, writing should be simplified: this not only makes writing the property of the general population, but also makes it easier for foreigners to learn, which allows the language to go beyond the borders of their native country and become a global property.
Previously, linguists believed that this rule did not bypass any of the major languages of the world, and Chinese was no exception.
Indeed, if you look at the hieroglyphs used by the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire three thousand years ago, you can see that the original pictograms, reminiscent of the writing of Ancient Egypt, gradually turn into sets of strokes that already very vaguely resemble the original drawings.
However, the reality turned out to be much more complicated – in the literal sense of the word.
An international team of researchers has measured the visual complexity of more than 750,000 Chinese characters across five historical stages, from 1600 BC to the present day.
To their surprise, the results showed that Chinese writing became more complex over time, and even the introduction of a simplified writing system in 1956 did not change the general trend.
Apparently, Chinese writing is simplified only to a certain level, after which the correct distinction of hieroglyphs is threatened.
In addition, over time, the number of characters in Chinese increased dramatically, so more contrasting details had to be added in order to distinguish similar signs.
In an attempt to maintain functionality and simplify writing, Chinese writing ended up in a dangerous balance, but still stood head and shoulders above the rest of the world’s languages.
Considering that the number of concepts in the language is constantly growing, and this requires the emergence of new characters, one can expect that over time, Chinese writing will become even more complex.
Albert Einstein is said to have expressed the need for this balance with the phrase: “Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
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