Chinese Language Day 2020-History and Significance

With at least six thousand years of history, Chinese is the oldest written language in the world. In turtle shells from the Shang Dynasty1 (1766-1123 BC), Chinese inscriptions of character have been found to demonstrate the existence of written language in excess of 3,000 years.The dominant language group in East Asia, Chinese Han, also known as Sinitic languages, belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family.

Chinese is the only current pictographic language created using pictures. Some of the Chinese characters we use today come from ancient sketches of the things to identify. This can be very helpful for first time learning Chinese. A common example is the mountain word “shan, 山.” Character’s three points are meant to represent the three mountain ridge peaks. The written Chinese language uses single symbols, or characters, to represent each vocabulary word.

Approximately 1.2 billion people, about 16% of the world’s population, speak first-language as Chinese. While there are many Chinese dialects, the written language is common. Even if people can not communicate verbally in different provinces, they can understand each other in writing. Yet written language may be further subdivided into three forms: simplified slang or phonetic, conventional and informal.

Standard Chinese is a simplified form of spoken Chinese based on Mandarin’s Beijing dialect. It is an official language of China, identical to one of Taiwan’s national languages and one of Singapore’s four official languages. This is one of the United Nations’ six official languages.

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Why UN observes Chinese Language Day?

United Nations Language Days aims to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity and encourage fair use of all six official languages in the organization. UN work stations around the world celebrate six different days, each devoted to one of the six official languages of the Organization.

Why April 20 is selected for Chinese Language Day?

The date for the Chinese day was chosen from Guyu (“Rain of Millet”), the 6th of 24 solar terms in conventional East Asian calendars, to pay homage to Cangjie. Cangjie is a very iconic figure in ancient China, believed to be an official Yellow Emperor historian, creator of Chinese characters. It is believed that when he invented the characters, he had four eyes and four pupils, the deities and spirits screamed and the sky started raining millet. Since then on, Chinese people celebrate Cangjie’s Guyu Day. The Gregorian calendar typically begins around April 20.