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Nu Shu: A Dying Language Gets New Life


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• Part 2: The Language Today

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Ancient China

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Examples of Nu Shu
China's Secret Female Language
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Part 1: The Language Then

The government of China has agreed to spend a large sum of money to keep an ancient language alive. That language is Nu Shu, which is spoken only by women. In fact, only a handful of women still understand or can read the language.

Nu Shu (Chinese for "women's writing.") has 1200 characters, but only about 700 are still used. It can be written, spoken, or sung. The history of the Yao people of China's Hunan province contains many examples of Nu Shu sayings, songs, and writings.

Nu Shu has curves and tilted lines, unlike regular Chinese, which has mostly straight lines or strokes.

Chinese women were forbidden formal education for thousands of years. In order to communicate with one another, they developed a secret language all their own and passed it on to their daughters and granddaughters. They communicated by weaving Nu Shu characters into cloth or placing them on paper fans.

Eventually, Chinese men found out about this secret language. But because they considered it unimportant and forgot about it, they allowed it to survive.

Next page > The Language Today > Page 1, 2

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday


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