Abstract and Keywords
All the world’s writing systems may be classified as compact or diffuse depending on the number of functional units they generally employ. The only diffuse systems were or are used in and around China. Not all Chinese characters represent whole words, let alone abstract meanings; they are in fact the counterparts of orthographic words in compact writing systems. Like them, they function both logographically and phonographically. Consequently, careful cross-linguistic and diachronic study of the structure of texts consisting wholly or partially of Chinese characters can, despite their superficial opacity, shed considerable light on the phonological histories of the texts’ languages.
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