Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Borrowing written shortcuts from other languages

If you are familiar with a foreign language, you may find a word or abbreviation therein that takes less time to write than its equivalent in your native language. It may be expedient to use that foreign word or abbreviation in notes to yourself, or perhaps even in notes to others if exposure to that foreign word or abbreviation is widespread.

Many years ago I received an incorrectly routed e-mail message which was for someone else. The short message was in French, and contained an abbreviation (pb) which I had not seen previously. I asked a native French speaker what that was, and after looking at it for a short time he realized it was an abbreviation for problème (problem).

Okay, the typical English abbreviation of problem is "prob", which is a mere two letters longer, but I've probably been using "pb" in English notes to myself for more than a couple of decades.

In Taiwan, I once noticed my Taiwanese cousin had used the Japanese character の in place of the Chinese character 的 (Pinyin: de; of) in a note whose other characters were all Chinese. I am quite confident that given Taiwan's proximity/exposure to Japan, a typical Taiwanese would neither be surprised nor confused to see such usage of the の character, which can be written in a single stroke, unlike 的.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Multiple ways to say "hot" in Chinese

I recently misinterpreted an exclamation about how hot the room was for an exclamation about how hot a piece of corn on the cob was. There are multiple ways to say "hot" in Chinese, and I was apparently linguistically dozing at the time, since I should have realized immediately that the word for "hot" that had been uttered was not one related to food.

Here are some common Chinese expressions for "hot" and typical applications of each, in Pinyin order:
  • 辣 (là) spicy quality of food, drink
  • 熱 (rè) weather, temperature of a room
  • 燙 (tàng) temperature of food, drink
  • 性感 (xìnggǎn) sexy quality (Several years ago in Taiwan, I was surprised to see the material in a beginner Chinese course was so contemporary that it included this word in its vocabulary section. This seems to be applicable to both people and clothing.)