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Re: How can Chinese have a common written language but different spoken languages
By:Turnoi, the Only One and Real Turnoi

I am a linguist and sinologist. I can explain it that way:

If you paint a car on a sheet of paper, everyone will know what it is, regardless of whether he speaks your language or not. That is because the picture carries meaning.
In China, spoken words of Chinese dialects (or in fact languages) differ in sound, but their script transports meaning rather than sound. The meaning of the characters of their script is basically the same for all languages/dialects. If they used an alphabetic writing system representing sounds rather than meaning, even the written language would be not be intelligible.

That fact that spoken language precedes written language in language learning is a matter of language acquisition and not related to the difference between writing systems either conveying sound or meaning.

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