Nushu — 1300 AD?, China

Nushu "sa"

While Hiragana and Hangul were considered “women’s scripts”, nobody actively prevented the men from using the script as well, and eventually the men came around.  However, in China, women were actively prevented from learning Chinese script, so they went underground and developed their own script.  They actively hid it from the men, which had the effect of preventing the men from learning it.  The women hid it so well, in fact, that the outside world did not learn about it until 1983.

The script is clearly derived from Chinese script, but clearly different.  The characters are half-width, with significant simplifications.  More than that, however, is that only about 100 characters are logograms; the other characters are syllabic.

Some of the changes in the script have the effect — deliberately or not — of making it easier to embroider.

Alas, the last “native writers” of Nushu died recently. That, plus the secretive nature of the script, mean that little is known of its history.  There isn’t even agreement on how many characters there are in the script: estimates vary from 600 to 1500.  This makes it difficult to date, but some of the simplifications in the script, are similar to simplifications common in Chinese script since the 1300s, so scholars feel it cannot be from earlier than then.

Recent documentaries and a popular novel featuring Nushu have led to a mini-revival, although there is concern that it will be distorted by tourism.

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts, Omniglot, The World of Nushu

About ducky

I'm a computer programmer professionally, currently working on mapping applications. I have been interested non-professionally for a long time in the effect on society on advances in communications technology -- things like writing, vowels, spaces between words, paper, etc.
This entry was posted in Logograms, private or secret, Rating: 5 "Whoa!!", significant female influence, Syllabaries. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nushu — 1300 AD?, China

  1. I like to call it “Nüshu”, but then, I have a German keyboard that has a “ü” conveniently on it. (And then, I leave off the tone marks because those are *not* on my keyboard – at least, no 1st and 3rd tone marks. So I guess I’m not all that more accurate than you :D)

  2. lahosken says:

    This language was also the topic of a recent puzzle at Wired.

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