Article published in:Variation and Change in Morphology: Selected papers from the 13th International Morphology Meeting, Vienna, February 2008
Edited by Franz Rainer, Wolfgang U. Dressler, Dieter Kastovsky and Hans Christian Luschützky
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 310] 2010
► pp. 193–200
Using Roman letters to create words in Chinese
Lettered words are new borrowings and native creations in Chinese written fully or partly with Roman letters. Lettered words in which the letters fit into the Chinese visual ‘frame’ of writing, the ‘equidimensional square’, are adopted “as is,” bypassing traditional borrowing processes that employ Chinese morpheme-syllable-characters (zì). These include primarily initialisms, since each letter fits into one frame. Compounds containing a Roman letter as a morpheme (X in X-ray) are adapted as hybrid words that retain the letter morpheme. We hypothesize that lettered words are shorter than English words on average and use primarily upper case letters. We conducted a corpus study of lettered words in Chinese newswires to test these assumptions, finding that shorter words are most frequent, upper case is preferred, and initialisms are most common. We conclude that Roman letters are a new set of zì that can now be used to form words in Chinese.
Published online: 24 February 2010