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I’ve been writing about two Chinese authors for this month’s Prospect, and it just has struck me that Will’s June column about “autonyms”—words that in some way embody themselves—touches on something that is fundamental to all languages, but that is far more obvious in character-based ones: all writing has its roots in autonymy. For example, take a few Mandarin Chinese characters:

中 (Zhong) means “middle,” and is based on the image of an arrow striking the centre of a target, and perhaps also the idea of a flag flying

国 (Guo) means “kingdom,” and is based on the image of…

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