Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Women's Writing

The Washington Post had an interesting article yesterday about nushu (女書 (traditional) or 女书 (simplified), nü3shu1), an understudied Chinese script traditionally used only by women.
Nushu in some ways resembles Chinese, if some of the characters were stretched and altered. But it also differs in many respects. For example, according to researchers, the letters represent sound -- the sounds of this region's Cheng Guan Tuhua dialect -- and not ideas as in the Chinese ideograms that men studied and wrote. Nushu was written from top to bottom in wispy, elongated letters in columns that read from right to left.
Skipping past the simplification that Chinese writing expresses ideas not sounds, it's a beautiful script. The online version of the story has a picture of the script on a blackboard, but the print edition included a poem. I couldn't get a very good picture of it, but this should give a passable glance at the script:
The poem reads, in part, "The mountains are green, the water is beautiful and how nice is the scenery. Furthermore there is nushu, which is amazing."

The most complete site online for information on nushu seems to be Orie Endo (遠藤織枝)'s World of Nushu. Endo, a Japanese linguist, has been studying nushu for the past decade or so, and his site has a lot of images of nushu as well as notes for a lecture introducing the script and the social factors that led to its development, use, and significance.

[ADDENDUM: More info about nushu, and a deconstruction of The Washingon Post article at Keywords.]

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