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October 10, 2004



Chinese characters
I found this Chinese sign at the entrance of a Chinese restaurant. As I am Japanese, I can read Chinese characters, which are a little bit different than those of Japan, but it doesn't matter. There are more than ten thousand Chinese characters, and we Japanese usually use a few thousand of them. The largest difference between Chinese characters and alphabets is that most Chinese characters have not only differences in pronunciation but also in meaning. For example in this four character sign, the first character means "small", the second "mind", the third "ladder", and the last one "level", respectively. And what is more complex is that a particular combination of two or three or sometimes four Chinese characters works as an idiom. In this sign, the combination of the first "small" and the second "mind" means "cowardice". And the second combination of the third "ladder" and the fourth "level" means "stair". So finally these four characters mean "Beware of Step". Is it difficult, or interesting? Chinese characters are difficult to learn, but it is far easier to use than the alphabet. So we can read books faster than alphabetical people.

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