East Asian Writing Systems
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Writing System Links

There is an ever-growing body of material on CJV writing systems on the Web, especially dealing with Chinese characters. The following are a few links in rather haphazard order. TAKE NOTE - the most interesting articles are not necessarily at the top!



Wikipedia now has an extensive range of articles concerning Chinese characters and the Chinese writing system. The main article has many links (e.g., Cantonese Chinese) which are relevant to the Chinese writing system.

The ultimate site on Chinese characters is Chinese Characters and Culture. It is highly interactive with explanations about characters, etc and has a very good FAQ.

Omniglot - Chinese a detailed and comprehensive site about Chinese characters.

List of the 300 most common Chinese characters as used in Chinese.

The Chinese Written System - useful as it gives examples of the earlier stages of characters.

Kanji by Jean Pascal Chauvet. An individual look at Chinese characters, their origins and their characteristics by a Frenchman in Japan. Has elements of a personal oddysey, making it interesting and refreshingly idiosyncratic.

Écriture chinoise: An introduction to the Chinese writing system (in French) with lots of graphics showing the development of ancient forms, etc.

Ancientscripts.com - Chinese - an introduction to the Chinese script and its origins.

A brief rundown on the Chinese writing system can be found at Chinese Characters: Mysterious in Origin and Magical in Meaning

Origins of the Chinese script from a conventional Chinese perspective.

Comparing writing systems: Chinese character writing: This page is interesting only because it is so full of fallacies about the Chinese language and script. The author knows nothing about Chinese. Read it at your own risk.

Check out this piece about the sort of writing system that would result if English were written like Chinese. Slightly overstated, but you get the point!

This page on Characters and Glyphs sets forth clearly the concept that all writing systems (including Mayan and Chinese) make some resort to phonetics.

Pinyin.info is a must-read site. 'Most of what most people think they know about Chinese -- especially when it comes to Chinese characters -- is wrong. This website is aimed at contributing to a better understanding of the Chinese languages and how romanization can be used to write languages traditionally associated with Chinese characters'. With extracts from a number of books and a fascinating look at a Chinese language, Dungan, that is now written with the Cyrillic alphabet in Russia.

The Chinese Language(s) David Jordan's take on the Chinese language, including the writing system and dialects. (Jordan regards the monosyllabic character system of Classical Chinese as the standard from which modern spoken Chinese deviates.)

Jordan also has an interesting article on Creating New Chinese Characters which deals with an example from Hokkienese.

The Chinese Language and Culture Forum has a long discussion on the proposition that 'Chinese characters are objectively harder, even for Chinese'. There is a remarkably enlightened exchange between the proponents and opponents of this view, degenerating with the appearance of rednecks halfway through.

Photo Dictionary of Rare Chinese Characters (in Japanese) -- a priceless site with photos of rare forms of Chinese characters, including Chinese dialect characters, popular characters formed on phonetic principles, Japanese characters (kokuji), auspicious characters, etc. Highly recommended.

A conversion chart between Wade-Giles and pin'yin can be found here.


To get information from the horse's mouth, check out the Agency for Cultural Affairs' national language policy materials, which includes a table of the standard characters (jōyō kanji), correct kana usage, a comparison of old and new kana usage, exceptional character readings, the treatment of foreign words, romanisations, etc. In Japanese.

Kanji Networks: Etymologies of Chinese Characters as Used in Japan, by Lawrence Howell and Hikaru Morimoto, is an excellent searchable resource, clear and easy to use.

Wikipedia also includes an introduction to Japanese, with a link to its writing system.

A very detailed introduction to the Japanese writing system can be found at Jack Halpern's Guide to the Japanese Writing System. (Adherence to "orthodoxy" makes its explanations more convoluted than they need to be, especially concerning kun 'homonyms').

A glorious site about the Japanese writing system, written by Jim Belote. Lots of fun, too. Jim isn't an expert on kanji, which makes him ask all the right questions!

Ancientscripts.com - Japanese - a brief but lucid description of the Japanese writing system.

Mary Sisk Noguchi's series The Kanji Clinic (appearing in the Japan Times) gives interesting insights into the process of learning of kanji by adults.

The Japanese Writing System (by Matthew White). A very good introduction to the historical development of the Japanese writing system, in particular hiragana and katakana (would be better if the graphics links weren't broken).

Omniglot - Japanese has an explanation of the Japanese writing system.

For Learners:

A light-hearted step-by-step guide to hiragana, katakana, and kanji can be found at the Kanji Site. Very well done; useful for reference and self-testing.

A dictionary of Kanji (in French)

Surfers are spoilt for choice when looking for tables of Hiragana and Katakana. Try these:

Hiragana table and Katakana table (Reveals the origins of the ordering a, i, u, e, o. Part of Shinji Takasugi's excellent Teach Yourself Japanese site).

And don't forget cjvlang's own Hiragana & Katakana (pass your cursor over the top of each letter to reveal the corresponding hiragana / katakana sign. Plus katakana combinations used for writing foreign words.)

Other Aspects:

The following is an interesting page comparing the Japanese and Chinese writing systems from the point of view of literacy: Chinese characters, literacy, and the Japanese model

The same writer tests you on the reading of place names in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara in: Hard-to-read place names in the Kansai region. This is a salutary lesson in the arbitrary way characters have been assigned to Japanese words.

A Japanese language site on the origins of the difference between Go and Kan readings.

Notes on kanji and computers


Quoc Ngu & General

More information on the quoc ngu and their pronunciation can be found at this link: Guide to Pronunciation.

Vietnamese 2020 - Writing Reform Proposal: A somewhat long-winded plea for the reform of the current Vietnamese writing system (quoc ngu), specifically the monosyllabic hangover from Chinese. Lots of information not just about the writing system but also about the development of the language, its relationship with Chinese, etc.

A very interesting, if partisan, view of the adoption of quoc ngu can be found at the Language, Identity, and Nationalism page. The article compares Vietnam's success in throwing off Chinese cultural and political domination with the inability of the Taiwanese to do the same.

How to Type Vietnamese Language: an introduction to different input systems for typing Vietnames on the computer.

Chu Nom:

Omniglot - chunom -- a good introduction to Chu nom, including a selection of Nom characters.

Vietnamese Nom Preservation Foundation - a foundation set up to preserve the historic chu nom script.

To look up actual Chu nom characters, see the above site's lookup page.

A Vietnamese-language site about the Chu nom.

Another Vietnamese language site about the Chu nom.

Brief comments on Chu nom in Japanese (with brief sample text)


Why Unicode won't work on the Internet - not only an indictment of Unicode, but an entertaining look at the writing systems of China, Japan, and Korea.

Why Unicode will work on the Internet - a riposte to the above, technically no doubt correct but not nearly as entertaining.

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