The Chinese character system is one that is universal to many Chinese dialects. Two people can pronounce the same character in two different ways, but when writing to each other it is intelligible.

Have people used this opportunity to create a sort of conlang dialect of the language, and in doing so making up entirely new sound for the characters, and perhaps even making up new grammar too. I could image it even being a serious bastardizing of the characters too take on new meanings that would bring it closer to, say, a European language. Like how one uses the Latin alphabet to create a conlang.

  • Note that written Chinese is intelligible only because people learn it as they would any language. Written Chinese is really written Mandarin; Cantonese is also written but often socially stigmatised, and other dialects probably are too, without being mutually intelligible. – curiousdannii Aug 8 '19 at 11:40
  • @curiousdannii I am aware of the points you mentioned, and I tried to convey that in the OP. Was I u clear? – Dr. Shmuel Aug 8 '19 at 19:07
  • You made it sound like it's naturally universal to the many Chinese dialects. But it's not, no more than English is in Europe. – curiousdannii Aug 8 '19 at 22:23
  • @curiousdannii I see. Though are mandarin and Cantonese the only two? – Dr. Shmuel Aug 8 '19 at 22:29
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    For those interested in the topic of writing Chinese topolects, Language Log writer Victor Mair has written on it quite a bit (sadly this link that should be a list of his post is nonfunctional, but searching the blog for "topolect" should get you quite a few posts) – Circeus Aug 9 '19 at 14:49

Toki pona is a minimalist language with a ~125 word vocabulary that can be written using a proposed system of either Chinese or Japanese characters, although it is officially written in the Latin alphabet.

On tokipona.net, click on "Word List" in the group of links at the top for the full list of words, or compress for ways to write it using different alphabets. 言良り良去私 (toki pona li pona tawa mi)='I like toki pona.', literally 'toki pona is good to me'.

  • Wow that’s great thank you. – Dr. Shmuel Aug 12 '19 at 23:13
  • Would you know that example sentence in the Chinese version? – Dr. Shmuel Aug 12 '19 at 23:15
  • Do you mean using Chinese characters? 言好哩好去我。You can type any toki pona word into the text box on the site I linked above, and press compress to see the equivalent Chinese or Japanese character. – bahrta sai Aug 13 '19 at 5:22

Outright Chinese characters? I am not aware of one (Though you might want to look up A Book from the Sky). Conlangs using Chinese-style characters? Certainly. Mark Rosenfelder, in Advanced Language Construction, draws examples from his own Uyseʔ and Wede:i. While the Grammar of Wede:i is available, only a little of its written system us described, and Uyseʔ is hardly online at all. This reflects more on the sheer amount of work to make an ideogram system presentable to the reader though.

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    There are also three scripts on Omniglot that arguably use "Chinese-style" characters - Chữ Vòng (a con_script_ used for writing Vietnamese, rather than being for a con_lang_), Trantanese, and possibly Gagrite. – Jeff Zeitlin Aug 9 '19 at 11:46
  • In addition to the languages/writing systems from my previous comment, there is also the real language Nüshu (Wikipedia link) (Omniglot link), whose writing is derived from Chinese characters, but is phonetic rather than ideographic/logographic. – Jeff Zeitlin Aug 13 '19 at 19:19

This may be a stretch and probably not what you’re looking for, but:

Essentially, that’s what Japanese did. Japanese and Chinese have nothing in common, yet when the Chinese writing system made it to Japan over 1000 years ago it was the only one they had. Initially, it was used only to write Chinese, but then it was developed into a system suitable to write Japanese via many intermediate steps and multiple parallel paths. Now, centuries later, Japanese has:

  • some characters that are identical to (traditional) Chinese ones with the meanings being preserved, e.g. 大 (large) or 中 (centre)

  • some characters whose written forms have been simplified from traditional Chinese but with the meanings being preserved, e.g. 国 (state) 売 (to sell)

  • two sets of characters that are radically simplified/modified from their traditional forms and used only for their phonetic value (katakana and hiragana)

  • some characters whose written forms are as in traditional Chinese but whose meanings have departed. The best example I could find was 豚 which means pig in Japanese but piglet in Chinese.

    (Of course, some characters’ meanings departed in Chinese while they are still used in their original sense in Japanese like 湯 (hot water in Japanese and old Chinese; soup in modern Chinese; they shouldn’t be listed in a separate bullet point because they generally fit the first)

  • compound words composed of more than one character with a meaning akin to the Chinese one

  • compound words composed of more than one character with a completely different meaning (手紙 which in Japanese means letter (the one you send) but in Chinese is toilet paper)

  • entirely newly created written compounds, often spelt with hiragana and kanji to better reproduce Japanese grammar

  • new characters created by combining individual parts, e.g. 働 (to work) made from the individual symbols 人 (man, person) and 動 (to move); the former regularly becomes a ‘pole with a steep hat’ in compounds such as 休

As Japanese and Chinese are linguistically so different (Chinese can have closed syllables, it has tones, the vowel registers differ and more), the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters obviously differs substantially from their original at the time of borrowing. In general, most characters can be pronounced in two or more ways depending on their surrounding. These pronunciations are grouped into kun (have nothing to do with the Chinese original pronunciation; this is a Japanese word with a similar or identical meaning) and on (more or less loosely modelled on the Chinese pronunciation when the character was borrowed which may have happened more than once). However, even on pronunciations can be considered a simplification at best; a bastardisation of th original pronunciation may be more accurate.

Differences notwithstanding, I know one Chinese who claims to be able to get the basic gist of written Japanese and with some crude knowledge of Japanese I was able to grasp the meanings of some things written in Chinese on Taiwan recently. So a certain degree of intelligibility seems to be conserved.

  • Very creative, +1 – Dr. Shmuel Oct 11 '19 at 19:37

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