Weekly Photo Challenge -Letters

“Never underestimate the value of knowing another’s language. It can be far more powerful than swords and arrows.”

 Melina Marchetta



Cheri’s challenge this week focuses on Letters – highlighting the power of language and our ability to communicate with one another through writing. Languages have always been among my favorite things. I majored in them in college, where one of my favorite classes was Linguistics. There, we learned quite easily to read, write and speak a bit of Swahili among other things – all based on the rhythms. cadence and basic structure of language.



“There’s no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

While in China last fall, we visited Lijiang, home of the Naxi people.  Theirs is the only remaining actively-used pictograph language in the world. The symbols are called Dongba, and they have been traced back as far as the 7th Century.  During the Chinese Cultural Revolution Dongba use was discouraged and many manuscripts were destroyed. Today they are working to restore it in order to preserve the Naxi culture. Dongba priests create works on paper which is handmade from wood, then sewn into books. The language is extremely complex, with over 1,400 characters, mostly  pictograms like those above. It takes upwards of 15 years to become proficient in Dongba script, which helps explain the dwindling few who use it.



“Pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language. ”

Muriel Barbery

Dongba is not the only beautiful script in China. There are 7 main Chinese dialects including the official national language, Mandarin.  Most of the Han Chinese share a common script despite their different dialects; so although they do not understand one another’s speech, they can communicate through writing.  I captured the image above at a park outside of Beijing where several Chinese were practicing script-writing with large brushes on granite pavement – a very different form of street art.



“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Rudyard Kipling

I had to laugh at myself when I saw this shot after downloading it. If you look closely at the yellow and brown Chinese sign, you’ll see the English translation below – “No Photograph”.  For those too impatient to read, there’s a pictorial most anyone can understand! Clearly I was more focused on the shot than the sign 🙂



 “Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Like the red circle with a line through it, some symbols work in every language.  Exhibit A above, for example, delivers an obvious message regardless of  language.

Finally, I’ll close with a lovely sign that includes both script and a heart-warming little white cottage complete with picket fence. Here in the US it’s a symbol of achieving the dream of owning one’s own home in a quiet, simple place where the heart can feel at home. It seems it too is a symbol that works in any language.



“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

J.K. Rowling

To see some of the letters of others, click here.

93 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge -Letters

  1. This is such a thoughtful post. I like hearing about the Naxi people, who I’ve heard of but don’t know much about. And the idea of practicing with huge brushes on the granite pavement – wow! That excites me. Such good photos, too, as always. Sorry I have been away for so long, but spring is busy at work!

  2. Everything about China especially their cultural practices are fascinating and intriguing too at times. I found this quite educative too. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I found your pictures  and quotations very interesting Luv   Lee

    Sent from Samsung tablet

    • Thanks KZ, me too! Had no idea it was there until I got home 🙂 Fortunately he seemed focused on his work and didn’t come after me with the meat cleaver!! (oooh, subject of a new horror story?!?!?!)

  4. Wonderful post – I love hearing that cultures like this try to keep tradition going – however – I can’t imagine having to memorize all of those characters – makes our ABC’s pale in comparison

  5. I love the way you have put this beautiful post together Tina . Each post of yours is my favourite … until the next one Lol .
    Love the gentleness in the two script images .. a passing of knowledge and understanding even if we ‘re not able to translate it …
    I’ll only admit to rusty schoolgirl French and bad German grammar here 😉

    • Hey PT – great to hear from you as always! “Gentleness of the images” I just love that description, thank so much for offering it! As for schoolgirl French, you ahead of many people – trying is the more important thing, right?!

  6. I am needing a little luck with language in the next week or so, Tina. J.K. Rowling’s quote seems apt but I can’t help feeling that the 15 years it can take to get a grip on Chinese might be how long it takes me to acquire a Polish head. 🙂
    Calligraphy is so aesthetically pleasing, isn’t it? Whatever it means! Lovely post.

    • Thanks Jo – have a wonderful time in Poland – I know you’ll love it. And yes, the scripts of the Asian languages are simply beautiful. Even if we have no idea what they mean!

  7. Great opening quote “Never underestimate the value of knowing another’s language…” going to a new place and being able to just speak some rudimentary words can light up a trip. The focus on Chinese is nice, as that is a language I learned because I thought the written characters were so cool (and the fact I was spending a year there…). Yunnan is one of my favorite places and so really liked the info about Dongba. Such wonderful photos accompanying your writing…such a joy every time you post.

    • Thanks Randall – must have been quite an adventure living there. Yunnan was amazing – we spent several weeks there and it was wonderful. I especially loved the people in the more remote places. And you’re right about just knowing a few words. They would give us the biggest, warmest of smiles when we greeted or thanked them in their own language. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I studied Japanese and lived in Japan for a couple of years Tian, and I loved writing the Kaji characters. I loved also how, after a time, when looking at signs in the street, jumbled lines and curves, ‘words’ would jump out of the squiggles and over time, in the meaning vs squiggle battle, meaning was getting the upper hand. Lovely post! 🙂

  9. Beautiful set of images and quotes, Tina. The first photo ‘The Power of Words’ really held my gaze for a long time. For me, that image is about the power of photography as well! Thanks for sharing with us.

  10. Great balance of photos and information Tina – I love it when you can learn something new from a quick read and with cool images to help interpretation. My favourite is the macro ‘Beautiful Script’!

  11. Wonderful post. Reminds me how the schools today (in the U.S. anyway) are no longer teaching script writing. Blows my mind. I’ve already heard some kids today that when they receive something written in script they say they can’t read it. Amazing.

  12. This has been such an interesting Photo Challenge and I have been looking forward to seeing your submission Tina. Once again you have given us all something so very special. Thank you 🙂

  13. it is always exciting to learn new things…..as I always do in studying your blogs…I thank u for that….I too love the ;english translation’ ….

  14. I so respect what you put into your posts.
    I am also preparing a post regarding another kind of alphabet. It will be simple, but oh, I so love the subject of calligraphy and the many kinds of lettering in the world of languages!!
    Bravo to the great care you give to all your subjects!

    • Thanks Connie! Yes, linguistics is truly fascinating. It amazed me that after a few weeks we could pretty much translate anything (rudimentary of course) but it helped us to understand how the scholars translate ancient texts for which no current information exists. Appreciate your stopping by!

  15. What a wonderful post. When I lived in Holland I learned Dutch, and it is true that while it is a difficult language for an English speaker to master…once you get the sound and the cadence sorted…it becomes easier. I loved the guttural parts of it once I got the hang of it, but boy the grammatical structure had me going for a while. Yet I must have mastered it because when I went back to Australia to live people thought I was Dutch. I asked a friend why that was. She said my emphasis and sentence structure had changed.

    • Clearly you were placing the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble Jo! But seriously, it’s amazing how adaptable we are when it comes to language. I remember when I studied in France everyone thought I was French Canadian, which I took as a compliment even thought apparently they both believe the other’s use of the language is horrific. It was much preferred to being thought American, which they put even lower on the totem pole!!!

      • Hahahaha. I always used to laugh at people who came home from another country with an accent…thought it was just a put on, until I did it and realised it just happens.

  16. I love the photo with the brush poised above the paper. The idea of handmade paper is one that resonates with me and although I don’t make paper, I have quite a lot of it waiting for me to get back to making Japanese-style cards. As to the beauty of writing, one of our daughters studied Japanese for quite some time and the writing, all three kinds, is beautiful.

    Lovely post, Tina.


    • Thanks Janet – Japanese is every bit as beautiful. Why is it that English characters seem so functional while other languages are so artistic? Ah well, we are a functional bunch, aren’t we?!

  17. I am surprised they still do that. I write everything in cursive and my son does not even write it or can read it. They don’t teach it is school. Someday everyone will just type.

    • South Carolina (which is where I live) is trying to make cursive writing a mandatory school course. Our granddaughter in NYC is learning cursive but most schools there don’t teach it. So sad to see the art lost but I guess not all of progress is good. Your right, someday it will all be typing, or worse yet, voice-to-text and we won’t even have to type! thanks for stopping by Connie.

  18. (As always) Wonderful Tina, excellent pictures and brilliant selection of quotes. All the grandeur and beauty of language esplendidly expressed in your post. The first picture is a poem; adorable, love it!

  19. Chinese characters are fascinating, complicated as well. These photos are well captured, I like the first one. It reminded me how my mother practiced her calligraphy with Chinese brushes.

    • Thanks Amy – yes the beauty of the Chinese script is best seen when done with brushes or fountain pens. It’s quite an art form and obviously takes lots of practice. I always found myself with inkblots and happily converted to ballpoint despite its plebeian nature 🙂

  20. Wonderful post and images for the challenge, Tina. Chinese script is so beautiful. I have a pair of gold earrings which my gran brought back from China after the war. I don’t know what they say, but I hope it’s something nice. 🙂

    • 🙂 I hope it’s something nice too!! I saw (and posted earlier) a carving of chinese script on a piece of live bamboo in a Chinese forest. I later had it translated. Rather than some lovely or romantic saying, it said “I was here” ! I was sorry I asked 🙂 thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments.

  21. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters (Lois and Lyno) | Chris Breebaart Photography / What's (in) the picture?

    • 🙂 That’s one of the reasons I loved the linguistics class. if you really studied it in detail you COULD understand every language known to man! It’s like a very intricate crossword puzzle and helps explain how scholars can interpret ancient scrolls as they are discovered. Thanks for your comment and visit!

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