I have an important question about Chinese ideographs and would very much appreciate your comments or thoughts.
Many Koreans believe that the Chinese characters were borrowed from China by Koreans and employed in a most unnatural manner for almost all writing until the 20th century. That Chinese writing was, many hold an alien writing form that was at a distance from their own original language.
Later, King Sejong invented the hangul script which then allowed the Koreans to at last express themselves in their own language. It was not until the 20th century that the Koreans at last stopped using the Chinese characters and wrote in their own hangul script.
I always had questions about this narrative.
First, let us go back to the earliest Chinese characters. The Oracle Bone script was discovered near the city of Anyang in inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells and, if I remember correctl, those scripts dates back to 2,000 BC or earlier. If one observes the script used in these inscriptions, it is clear that we are not looking at the first attempts at writing characters, but rather a well established script, that must have existed for hundreds of years earlier.
There must have been many texts in circulation at that time of which only the inscriptions on bones have survived.
Anyang is not that far from Seoul. So one important question is whether people in what is currently Seoul were using the Oracle bone script, or its predecessor scripts, to write texts at that early period. Can we know with any certainty how far the script was used?
That is my first question. After all, if the script had been used in the region that is Korea now from the very beginning, it would be hard to argue that the Chinese characters are “Chinese.”
What can we assume based on existing materials?
The second question is whether the difficulty that Koreans might have had in learning to write in script was any different from the difficulty that any number of tribes in the area would have had trying to write in the script. That is to say, Korean language is quite different from Chinese in its syntax and morphology, and thus it is difficult to convert Chinese writings into Korean. But it could be that the ancestor languages of Korean, and their kin, were spread all over what we call China today and the frustrations of the Koreans were the same as that of people throughout the region we know now as “China.” The linguistic differences may not have had anything to do with borders.
is there any reason to think that the people in China were speaking something like a prototype of what we think of as Chinese today and that that oracle bone script represented that language whereas the people living in what is now Korea spoke a very different language? Or could it have been that languages similar to ancient Korean were spoken all over what we think of as China and there was no particular linguistic geographical line? Could it even be that the logic of the script itself modified the spoken language over time?
Please do let me know what you think about these issues.