Re: Is there a Japanese character for the word Unicode? (from Re: Unicode Haiku Contest)

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Mon Dec 21 2009 - 14:36:52 CST

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    William Overington surmised:

    > I was wondering if a new character to mean Unicode could be
    > devised from something like "writing that travels along wires"
    > or maybe some other derivation.
    > Any ideas?

    Yes. This displays a fundamental misunderstanding both of
    Chinese characters and of lexicogenesis in the languages
    that most heavily use Chinese characters: Chinese and Japanese.

    Chinese characters, for the most part, represent *morphemes*
    in Chinese (and borrowed morphemes that come along with
    Chinese lexical borrowings, primarily, in Japanese). If
    you want to make up new words in Chinese, you make up those
    words following the lexical rules of Chinese, and then
    when you have the word in mind, you write it down using
    the (already existing) characters for the morphemes in
    question. There are very few circumstances where it is
    useful or advisable to actually create new Chinese characters
    per se. (Which is one half of John's point in his post.)

    For your coinage in question, the Chinese *word* for "writing
    that travels along wires" has actually existed for over
    a century. It is dinbo <U+96FB, U+5832> (or simplified
    <U+7535, U+62A5>). The "same" word, though pronounced
    differently as denpo, is used in Japanese, as well.
    More colloquially, it means "telegram", which itself was
    a lexical coinage in English, based on Greek-derived morphemes,
    an meaning roughly "writing that travels along wires".

    In fact, Chinese also already have a word for "writing that
    does not travel along wires", which has existed for
    roughly a century: wxin dinbo, i.e. "wireless telegram"
    or "radiotelegram". So if you really want to be explicit
    about specifying that your writing travels along wires,
    instead of via radio waves, you can say youxin dinbo
    or "(using) wire telegram".

    Incidentally, Chinese already also has a word for Unicode:
    tong3yi1ma3, roughly "uni(fied) (en)code(ing)". That word
    has not been borrowed in Japanese, which for many reasons
    simply prefers the phonetic borrowing: yuunikoodo.

    See Charlie Ruland's post for the actual Chinese (and
    Japanese) for these, as well as other variants that are in use.


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