Chinese 101

Throughout history Chinese culture and politics has had a great influence on unrelated languages such as Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese. Korean and Japanese both have writing systems employing Chinese characters (Hanzi), which are called Hanja and Kanji, respectively.

The Vietnamese term for Chinese writing is Hán tự. It was the only available method for writing Vietnamese until the 14th century, used almost exclusively by Chinese-educated Vietnamese elites. From the 14th to the late 19th century, Vietnamese was written with Chữ nôm, a modified Chinese script incorporating sounds and syllables for native Vietnamese speakers. This is now completely replaced by a modified Latin script that incorporates a system of diacritical marks to indicate tones, as well as modified consonants. The Vietnamese language exhibits multiple elements similar to Cantonese in regard to the specific intonations and sharp consonant endings. There is also a slight influence from Mandarin, including the sharper vowels and "kh" sound missing from other Asiatic languages.

In South Korea, the Hangul alphabet is generally used, but Hanja is used as a sort of boldface. (In North Korea, Hanja has been discontinued.) Since the modernization of Japan in the late 19th century, there has been debate about abandoning the use of Chinese characters, but the practical benefits of a radically new script have so far not been considered sufficient.

In Guangxi the Zhuang also had used derived Chinese characters or Zhuang logograms to write songs, even though Zhuang is not a Chinese dialect. Since the 1950s, Zhuang is written in a modified Latin alphabet.

Languages within the influence of Chinese culture also have a very large number of loanwords from Chinese. 50% or more of Korean vocabulary is of Chinese origin and the influence on Japanese and Vietnamese has been considerable. 10% of Philippine language vocabularies are of Chinese origin. Chinese also shares a great many grammatical features with these and neighboring languages, notably the lack of gender and the use of classifiers. The Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese languages seem to retain sounds of Classical Chinese that are otherwise only found in southern China.

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