Differences among Japanese, Chinese and Korean writings 中日韩文有什么不同?

[English Text & 今天试试用简体中文输入,往下看]

What’s A Chinese Cultural Circle?

Even until today Chinese characters are present in the Japanese and the Korean writing systems although they actually sound quite different. If you happen to speak some Chinese, you might be able to find quite some connections among them.

Before we go further, let’s forget about borders as they are right now and imagine a time where a border was not so controlled and there are only regions, people, and their languages.

In the middle ages, China was the most influential kingdom in the world. With its territories expanding and economic power raising, all the neighboring areas adopted Chinese writing. Keeping the formal writing somewhat the same enables official communications with Chinese. Even Vietnam was using Chinese characters before 1919. It’s not hard to imagine, what it represents behind using the same language. These regions must have been trading a lot with China, not restricted to goods but including people coming and going, information, and cultural exchange.

Similarly, around the same time in the West, there’s Latin. Writing in Latin was common due to the spread of Christianity. Using languages from the Latin language group was popular among the aristocracy as it showed a connection with the church. Despite that Latin is a dead language now and only exists in some old scripts, the related languages like French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are still widely in use today.

Did you know?
One of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Leuven in Belgium was only teaching in French until the protest in the 60s.

Below languages are all similar yet different to a certain extent:

  • British, American, and Australian English
  • French in Canada, Belgium, France, and parts of Africa
  • Spanish in Spain and Central/South America

The Italian and Spanish language for instance, both share Latin roots. People from those two countries could indeed more or less understand each other. The English language on the other hand also took in lots of Latin to form their words. When these languages are written down you can find clues from the so-called cognates, words that share the same root. Sometimes even when you don’t know the language, you might still be able to get some grasp on the content with the prefix and suffix. That’s the power of cognates! And they work exactly the same way as the Chinese characters in the Chinese Cultural Circle. In other words, the counterpart of The Chinese writing system in the East would be The Latin Language in Europe.

Okay, as I promised in the title, let’s dig deeper about the Chinese Characters used in different countries.
In Japan, is called Kanji while in Korea, it’s called Hanja.
Japanese Kanji, introduced from China after 618 A.D. along with the Buddhism scriptures but Korean Hanja was introduced much earlier back in 108 B.C. for political purposes. That’s 700 years apart. But that’s actually quite logical if you think about the geography, it was easier to expand to the Korean peninsula than having to cross the sea to reach Japanese islands.


When Chinese was first introduced in other places, it was the mainstream Chinese language in mainland that got carried over at the time, not the Mandarin Chinese we speak today. Because there were and still are many dialects in China and depends on the prosperity of certain regions, and of course the emperor’s preference, a dialect could be rolled out as the standard language for the entire area. But Chinese did not entirely replace the local languages that existed in Japan and Korea. The purpose was mainly to enable the essential written communications. As a result, you could still find traces back to the original sounds of spoken Korean and Japanese.

The Present & Future Of The Chinese Writing


Fast forward to the 19th and 20th century, Korea decided to ditch the Chinese characters only decades ago and now only use phonetic symbols to write. But they keep giving babies names with Chinese characters as each character has a special meaning and it’s not something you can express with only sounds when having no context. Young people can’t write Chinese characters anymore. Similarly in Japan, they tend to use more Katakana and Hiragana to avoid the complicated Kanji. The same happening with Chinese like me, people can’t seem to remember how to write as much especially when we have been typing everything on the computer.

 
 
Hanzi

 

有人问中文、日文和韩文中的汉字有什么不一样。对不会这些语言的外国人,会觉得写那些文字好像都是在画图。如果你会其中一种语言可能还是觉得这些就是不同的语言呀,有什么好说的。如果你会二种以上,可能在学习过程中一定发现很多的相似点,而且能够帮助你学习另外一个语言。我自己的例子是,母语为中文,学习过日文。尤其汉字/漢字几乎一模一样,但不管你会繁体还是简体,学习日文的汉字都可能比日本人强。原因是他们也不喜欢复杂的书写,常常忘记就用另外的平假片假名替代。韩文在战后也转用了语音系統书写模式,像是拼音或注音的方式来写字。其实哪里都一样,人们喜欢用简单的方式沟通,年轻人打字多,很多字也就很少用甚至不用了。韩国人只在给宝宝命名的时候,会使用汉字,因为只光用音是无法表現单个字的意义的,在传统节庆时也会使用,渐渐只成为艺术。知道这些有什么用?我自己是觉得满有趣的,一直想写篇文章谈谈模糊的国界。语言的范围看得出历史上在这些区域内,有着频繁地人事物的流通。

 
 
来看一下历史吧!

 

日文漢字: Kanji (自唐朝,西元618年后,由中国的佛经传入)

韩文漢字: Hanja (自汉朝,西元前108年由中国传入)

相差了700多年呢,但看地理也不难想像,扩大国力的时候,半島是比隔着海的岛屿还要简单的。所以语言先传入了现在是韩国的地方,之后才到达日本,就连越南在1919年前也是用汉字的呢!但是中国有着那么多的方言,哪一种在那时兴盛就被传入了他国,书写的系统为了政治文书,多多少少是被标准化,虽然有些许差异,但不大才演变成今日我们始終看得懂他国的文字。

就好像学英文的时候,好像有听过拉丁语系、日尔曼语系等等。欧洲在中古世纪时,因为宗教的关系,一直是以拉丁语的文字做为贵族、政商名流的书信方式。我自己熟知的比利时虽然有多种官方语言 (荷、法、德),但大学在60年代没抗争前,还一直只用法语上课,也是因为法语与拉丁文书籍资源丰富的关系。因为时间长了,住在不同地方的族群发展了自己使用那种语言的方式。就好像如果有可以书写的方言,后来因为城邦兴起,战争后自成了一个国家,那他们用的语言也就不再是方言而是他们的国语了。拿拉丁语系来说,有法语、西语、意大利语、葡萄牙语…因为文字的根源很近,今日说西班牙语的人可以轻易地猜懂意大利语的意思,但是听就比较难。就好像南方听不懂北方口音,我小时候根本听不懂我外公在说什么,但是都是中文呀,但是中文就存在很多种…譬如说为什么中文又叫Mandarin/满语,字典说是官话/普通话? 是当时中国和西方开始多接触后,所认识的中文。虽然现在离满清政府已经很久了,大家还是常常这样使用这个字,就像欧洲还是普遍知道台湾又叫Formosa一样。

 

 
下次再和外国人介绍你说什么语言的时候,不妨用用Mandarin,重要的是不要把它想成是另一个语言哦,普通话,国语、汉语就都是中文啦!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

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