The Chinese writing system is a unique phenomenon in the modern world of alphabet scripts. There are not just a couple of dozen of letters, but thousands signs and characters with a proper meaning which represents morphemes and entire words.
Even if Chinese alphabet is strongly connected to Japanese and Korean, and also shares with them some peculiarities and lot of words, last two can basically function as purely phonetic, Chinese cannot: it is the only living logographic writing system in the modern world and serving as the primary writing system for hundreds of millions of people.
The first recognizable form of Chinese writing dates from 3,500 years ago, but many argue that its origins lie much deeper in the past. Chinese has evolved substantially over time yet has retained its ancient core, making it one of the longest continuously used writing system in the world.
Many symbols, or pictograms, started to be carved on pottery and jades. They were mainly used to represent family or clan emblems that identify the ownership or provenance of the items.
While these pictograms are not truly Chinese characters, they do bear some resemblance to the earliest Chinese characters. The most important known fact is that for sure an emblem, namely bird with a solar symbol, continued to be used as clan name in early Shang dynasty on bronze artifacts.
The prevalent theory is that symbols ceased to represent the objects they illustrate but instead came to represent the words of the objects. The symbols acquired linguistic values and became logograms. But when this switch exactly happened in time is still unknown.
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