John DeFrancis (August 31, 1911 – January 2, 2009) was an American linguist, sinologist, author of Chinese language textbooks, lexicographer of Chinese dictionaries, and Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
- In human history it seems that the idea of using a pictograph in the new function of representing sound may have occurred only three times: once in Mesopotamia, perhaps by the Sumerians, once in China, apparently by the Chinese themselves, and once in Central America, by the Mayas. (Conceivably it was invented only once, but there is no evidence that the Chinese or the Mayas acquired the idea from elsewhere.) The idea that was independently conceived by these three peoples was taken over, as were at times even the symbols themselves, though often in a highly modified form, by others who made adaptations to fit a host of totally different languages. One of the major adaptations, generally attributed to the Greeks, was the narrowing of sound representation from syllabic representation to phonemic representation (Gelb 1963; Trager 1974), after an earlier stage of mixed pictographic and syllabic writing (Chadwick 1967).