Currently the most widely used ancient language seems to be ‘Chinese’.
But there’s a catch. Chinese is not actually one language. It’s actually a name given to a range of languages in China such as Mandarin, Putonghua, Minnan, Cantonese etc. Though all these language are called collectively the Chinese only, but they are so different from each other that often, two people from different provinces in China cannot communicate with each other.
Of all the types, the Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken type in China. Its mostly spoken in North and Central China, by almost 80 Crore people. Also, it is widely spoken in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. According to estimates, over 1 billion people in the world speak Mandarin. That’s one in every six people. That’s more than Spanish, English, French, and German, all combined!
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In around 1962, archaeologists found earthen vessels made by artisans called Yangshaws in Chinese tradition. On carrying out the radiometric dating of the vessels, they were found to be around 6000 years old.
Of course, there have been many changes in the language across this huge span of 6000 years. But even today, it is still very complicated.
It’s a language, which is written as pictographs. In other words, it is actually like drawing each syllable to convey the meaning. And, it can be drawn in any direction. That makes is very peculiar, isn’t it?
But, the major complication is due to the number of alphabets. The pictographs, the symbols are not 26 in number here, that one can have a nice A,B,C, D rhyme to mug it up in Kindergarten. The number of alphabets is much bigger.
The present day Chinese language has 50,000 characters.
YES ! 50,000 characters. And newer words are added everyday. As if 50,000 aren’t enough.
One major distinct feature in Chinese is that each character is a word in itself.
The point is, that in English, one creates multiple words using various combinations of alphabets. While in Chinese, there is a separate pictorial alphabet for each word. One cannot read or write Chinese language without remembering this huge number of pictorial alphabets. For the basic day to day use also, one has to remember at least 4000 different such symbols. In other words, if one has to read a Chinese newspaper, one has to remember at least 4000 words to be able to successfully read it.
But, wait a second.
The interesting part of this is, that 98% of Chinese spoken or written on day to day basis, uses these 4000 characters only. So, even if one learns, 1/5th of the alphabets, one can claim to know 98% of the Chinese language.
But, still 4000 characters.
Also, this is why the most complex typewriter in the world is of Chinese language, whose first successful model could be made as late as in 1970. The innumerable keys of the Chinese language couldn’t be accommodated in the box of the typewriter, and hence, there is a separate tray to accommodate them. Not only this, the typing is also so complex that even an expert typist wouldn’t be able to type more than 20 words per minute.
One more peculiar feature of Mandarin Chinese is the tone. Yes, each word in the Mandarin can be spoken four different tones.
So? Well, all the four tones mean completely different things.
Yes. For example, wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ — in which “wen” is spoken with a falling pitch — means “I want to ask you”. But wǒ xiǎng wěn nǐ — in which “wen” rises and falls in pitch — means “I want to kiss you”.
Now, that’s some serious change of meaning.
Also, studies have revealed that people speaking Chinese learn to use both temporal lobes of the brain, while English speakers use only the left side. This is due to the importance of tones in the language.
And yes, Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China. And it is compulsory for all.
Even though it’s very complicated, the Chinese language (We shall call it Chinese only for now, not Mandarin) is the most widely spoken ancient language in the world today, and also the fastest growing language.
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