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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 read and 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
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Example: (modern 目moka “eye”.

2. Simple ideographs (指事文字 shiji moji) suggest the meanings of abstract ideas, such as numerals and directions. Examples: 三 san “three”.

3. Compound ideographs (会意文字 kaiji moji) consist of two or more elements each of which contributes to the meaning of the whole. Examples: 休kyuu “rest” (person人 resting under a tree木).

4. Phonetic-Ideographic Characters (形声文字 keisei moji) consist of one element that roughly expresses meaning (usually called the radical), and another element that represents sound and often also meaning. Examples: 茎 kei “item, stalk” consists of [pic]“plant” and [pic] “straight”, i.e., the straight part of a plant.

5. Derivative Characters (転注文字 tenchū moji) are characters used in an extended, derived, or figurative sense. Example: 令rei changed from its original meaning “command, order” to “person who gives orders” to “administrator, governor”.

6. Phonetic Loans (仮借文字 kashaku moji) are characters borrowed to represent words phonetically without direct relation to their original meanings, or to characters used erroneously. Example: 豆too originally referred to an ancient sacrificial vessel, but is now used in the borrowed sense of “bean”.

The great majority of characters are phonetic-ideographic (type 4 above). 民、for example, originally a picture of an eye pierced by a needle ( ), represented a slave blinded by his master to keep him

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