Female-specific language to be revealed
March 15, 2004
CHANGSHA, March 15 (Xinhuanet) -- China's archive keepers said Monday
that they would reveal the mysterious Nushu, probably the world's only
female specific language, to the public at an exhibition scheduled for
late April. Nushu, a language that was incomprehensible to men, was used
exclusively by women in central Hunan province and some areas in southern
China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said Liu Gening,head of the
provincial archive. The language was used widely in the three adjacent
counties of Jiangyong, Daoxian and Jianghua, but was on the verge of extinction
today for lack of use, he said. "Only elderly women in some rural
areas still use it now."
To preserve the language, Liu and his colleagues have collectedhandkerchiefs,
aprons, scarves and handbags embroidered with Nushucharacters, manuscripts
written on paper or fans, and calligraphicworks by Zhou Shuoyi, the first
man to learn the language in China. "We have collected 303 pieces
of heritage bearing the rare language during five trips to Yongjiang county,
birthplace of the female language, over the past year," said Liu.
"The oldest of them dates back to the late Qing Dynasty in the early
1900s, and the most recent pieces were from the 1960s or 1970s."
All these pieces would be presented to visitors during the forthcoming
exhibition, he said. "We have translated all the textsinto standard
Mandarin so that the visitors would know what they are about."
The gracefully-written rhombic Nushu characters are structured by just
four kinds of strokes, including dot, horizontal, virgule and arc, and
can be spoken in dialect to describe women's misfortunes and inner feelings.
Nushu manuscripts are extremely rare because according to the local custom,
they were supposed to be burnt or buried with the dead in sacrifice. The
language, which was among the first to enter the national list of ancient
cultural heritage, has aroused attention from worldwide scholars and at
least 100 manuscripts are abroad, according to the archive keepers in
Last year, Zhou Shuoyi, a 79-year-old retiree who worked at the Cultural
Bureau in Jiangyong county, compiled a dictionary of Nushu language, after
half a century of study. The dictionary, which contains all the 1,800
ancient charactersof the language, has complete stylistic rules and layout
with pronunciation, glossary and grammar and is arranged in international
phonetic symbol order.
Each Nushu character is followed by phonetic notation, notes and paraphrase
and a corresponding Chinese character and example sentences.