July 17, 2004

English Readings for Chinese Characters

I was in Cambridge, England a few days ago and encountered an interesting spelling on a sign for the Cambridge Chinese Christian Church. The word Cambridge was spelled 劍橋. If we simply read this in Cantonese it comes out [kím kʰjū], which is not very much like Cambridge. The two characters mean "double-edged sword" and "bridge". The first character, 劍, is used for its sound; the second, 橋, is used for its meaning. [Update 2004/07/20: I initially thought that the second character was given its English pronounciation, so as to approximate English Cambridge, but Wolfgang Behr informs me that this is not the case. So this is not an example of a character being given an English reading but rather one in which the Chinese rendering is based on a calque of the English.]

Posted by Bill Poser at July 17, 2004 12:11 AM