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The evolution of the Chinese script

I have a new publication with Simon Jerome Han, Charles Kemp and James Winters on the dynamics of visual complexity in Chinese writing from the Shang Oracle Bone script onwards.

You can read it at Open Mind here. If you don’t feel like struggling through it, you can read our Conversation article here.

1842-Pauthier-Sinico-p28
Short concordance table published on page 28 of Pauthier, G. 1842. Sinico-Ægyptiaca: Essai sur l’origine et la formation similaire des écritures figuratives chinoise et egyptienne. Paris: Firmin Didot Frères.

Jerome led the research while he was still an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne and he did a terrific job. He started by applying the same method of measuring visual complexity that James and I applied to the Vai script, but at a much more significant scale, measuring upwards of 750,000 individual characters.

The result is also surprising: while Vai writing simplified in line with the assumptions in the literature, Chinese writing got more complex over time. The whole collaboration was very satisfying even though peer review turned into a bit of a wild ride lurching from trollish depths to ultra-constructive heights.

Research about Chinese writing seems to provoke strong reactions, both good and bad.

[UPDATE: The research has now featured on Language Log (‘The complexification of the Sinoglyphic writing system continues apace‘) and on SBS Mandarin which you can listen to here.]

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