Japon

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CAPITULO PRIMERO
1. LOS JAPONESES Y EL IDIOMA JAPONES

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1.1. Alphabet

A little before 3,000 B.C., a system of writing was invented by the Sumerians, who inhabited the land we now call Iraq. Separate words and concepts were each given a particular sign, so that there were several thousand different signs. Naturally, such a written language was hard to learn, and those who could readand write were regarded much as we regard college professors in our own culture.

About 1,400 B.C., however, some Phoenician had a brilliant idea. Why not work out a sign for each different sound, and then build up words out of those sounds? Only about two dozen different signs would be needed, and they would suffice for any number of different words, millions if necessary. It seems a simple ideato us now, but as far as we know it was thought up only once in man’s history. All systems of signs for sounds in the entire world since seem to have been developed from that one Phoenician notion.

For their signs, the Phoenicians used some marks that were already being used to represent words. The sign for an ox (“aleph” in Phoenician) was used to represent the sound “ah”, with which the wordfor ox began. The word for house (“beth”) represented “b”, the word for camel (“gimel”) represented “g”, and so on. These signs became what we call “letter”.

The Greeks adopted the notion, and even the letters, modifying them somewhat. However, they distorted the names, which made no sense in Greek, anyway. “Aleph” became “alpha”, “beth” became “beta”, “gimel” became “gamma”, and so on. TheRomans adopted the system, too, again with distortions, and their alphabet became the basis of our own, the familiar A, B, C.........

We can call the list of letters the “A-B-C’s” and sometimes do, but it is much more common, for some reason, to use the Greek names for the letters and speak of the “alpha-beta” or alphabet.

1.2. The Birth of a Pictographic Script

Until recently it wasbelieved that the earliest examples of Chinese characters were those found in oracle bones used in divination rites dating back to the eighteenth century B.C. However, excavations made in China in 1986 have shown that at that time Chinese characters had already had a history of 1200 years, which means that the Chinese script first appeared almost 5000 years ago.

The earliest characters were simplepictures of the things they represented. Although all the pictorial writing systems of the world began with pictures, these were in almost all cases simplified to abstract symbols that were eventually used for their sound values, giving rise to the major alphabet systems of the world. This happened everywhere but in China, where the primary function of the characters has always been to express bothmeaning and sound, rather than just sound.

Typical Pictographs

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The table shows examples of early character forms and their modern counterparts. The earliest characters were pictographs, which were simple pictures of things. Pictographs may be combined to form new characters, especially characters that express complex or abstract ideas. Thus 木 “tree” is combined with木 to give 林 “wood”while three trees give森 “forest”; a line added to the bottom of a tree gives本, which means “root” or “origin”; and so on.

The shapes of the characters underwent a great deal of change over the several thousand years of their history. Many calligraphic styles, character forms, and typeface styles have evolved over the years; furthermore, the character forms were simplified as a result ofvarious language reforms in China and Japan.

1.2.1. Formation of Chinese Characters

Traditionally, Chinese characters are classified into six categories known as 六書rikusho. Introduced some 1900 years ago in the Chinese classic dictionary説文解字setsumon kaiji, these have placed a central role in Chinese lexicography. The first four categories are based on the character formation process; the last...
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