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Loanwords With Multiple Potential Readings


JimmySeal

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Hello,

I've been getting back into studying lately by reading some translations of English children's books in Chinese. It's been going well so far, but one source of ambiguity (and I don't handle ambiguity well) are proper nouns that use characters with multiple readings. A few examples:

納尼亞 could conceivably be na4 ni2 ya3 or na4 ni2 ya4

亞瑟 could be ya3 se4 or ya4 se4

愛得蒙 could be ai4 de2 meng1, ai4 de2 meng2, or ai4 de2 meng3

桔梗 could be jie2 geng3 or ju2 geng

Is there any sort of rule of thumb to use here? How would someone typically read a name they'd never seen before if it were uncommon (i.e. can't look it up) and the readings were ambiguous?

Thanks for any help.

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I have no idea, but interestingly enough I encountered this very issue last week. I was uncertain about the pinyin for the camera manufacturer Hasselblad. Their Chinese site gives the characters as 哈苏, but I don't know if the first character should be pronounced ha1 or ha3. Neither laughter/yawn nor a dog seems like good names for a camera company.

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Is there any sort of rule of thumb to use here? How would someone typically read a name they'd never seen before if it were uncommon (i.e. can't look it up) and the readings were ambiguous?

As native speakers of English do when they encounter words they've never seen before in English: make an educated guess. How do you pronounce olid, for example, or volte-face?

(ah-lid and volt-fahs)

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@aristotle1990, I think that scenario is different. In your example, the issue comes from the fact that the word in question, say it comes from a foreign language, does not follow the standard rules for pronunciation of English (such as they are....). [in fact, a reader that is familiar with the rules of pronunciation of French would have no issue with them at all.] In the OP's question, there are two perfectly valid ways to pronounce that character, and since it is a loanword, there is a good chance that that word is not in any quality dictionary, so there really is no way to know.

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@aristotle1990, I think that scenario is different. In your example, the issue comes from the fact that the word in question, say it comes from a foreign language, does not follow the standard rules for pronunciation of English (such as they are....). [in fact, a reader that is familiar with the rules of pronunciation of French would have no issue with them at all.] In the OP's question, there are two perfectly valid ways to pronounce that character, and since it is a loanword, there is a good chance that that word is not in any quality dictionary, so there really is no way to know.

But what about something like blackguard? You have no idea where the word comes from, and even though you recognize the two components that make it up, without the etymology, you have no clue. Is it black-guard or black-guard? Probably the second, given how English usually works, but you can't be sure about it.

it's actually blag-ahrd, though dictionary.com says blak-gahrd is okay too

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I think that's a better example, but it's still not the same. Blackguard is not a new loanword (MW has it from 1535), and it exists in a quality dictionary and hence it is easy to know how to pronounce it. Whether one does know, of course, is a different question, but there is an easy path to determining how to pronounce it. With the OP's example, how does one even go about figuring it out.

Even closer in English might be a newly created word (not a loanword) that one only reads. But even that doesn't quite seem the same; as a newly created word, presumably it was created to fill a need and hence is used frequently, so people will eventually converge on one pronunciation.

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納尼亞 could conceivably be na4 ni2 ya3 or na4 ni2 ya4

亞瑟 could be ya3 se4 or ya4 se4

愛得蒙 could be ai4 de2 meng1, ai4 de2 meng2, or ai4 de2 meng3

桔梗 could be jie2 geng3 or ju2 geng

Disclaimer: not an expert

Here are some clues I found.

The first is likely Narnia the "children's" story and CEDICT says na4 ni2 ya4

The second is likely Arthur and, again, CEDICT says ya4 se4

The third is a little more of a problem. The three choices seem to be 1)meng1 if related to "cheating" 2)meng3 if related to Mongolian and 3) meng2 if neither one or two. So does the context offer any clues about whether the person or thing relates to "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian"?

The fourth, by several dictionaries, is jie2 geng3, Chinese bellflower or balloon flower.

... camera manufacturer Hasselblad. ... ha1 or ha3. Neither laughter/yawn nor a dog seems like good names for a camera company.

Again, a clue might be that since ha1 is an abbreviation for Kazakhstan, and 哈色 is the Chinese for a company name, ha1 seems the better guess.

The general issue that jbradfor raises is interesting. My usual strategy, in addition to searching for clues, is to just make an educated guess (and be wrong until corrected) or, in the case of a name, contact the person, company or someone familiar with it/them and just ask how they pronounce it. Sometimes the answer you receive may be "wrong" but since they "own" the name, they can pronounce it anyway they want.

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Thanks everybody, and thanks especially to SiMaKe. I guess being better acquainted with the dictionaries that are out there could have answered some of these questions.

The first is likely Narnia the "children's" story and CEDICT says na4 ni2 ya4

The second is likely Arthur and, again, CEDICT says ya4 se4

Yes, you're right on both counts that these are "Narnia" and "Arthur." Thank you for providing the readings. So I guess based on this and Daan's comment earlier, it can be assumed that 亞 will typically be ya4 in situations like this?

The third is a little more of a problem. The three choices seem to be 1)meng1 if related to "cheating" 2)meng3 if related to Mongolian and 3) meng2 if neither one or two. So does the context offer any clues about whether the person or thing relates to "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian"?

It's a rendering of the name "Edmund" from the Narnia series, and I don't think "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian" would apply to him, so I guess it would be meng2?

Thanks again to everyone who replied.

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So I guess based on this and Daan's comment earlier, it can be assumed that 亞 will typically be ya4 in situations like this?

Not sure how much this will help, but that's what I assumed just from the pronunciation of 賽亞人 (sàiyàrén).

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Yes, in standard mainland Mandarin you should always pronounce 亞 as .

Native speakers encounter this problem as well, by the way. I once asked my teacher how to pronounce the name of a TV series that was similarly ambiguous. She looked at me and said there was no way to know which was correct, but then she pointed out which one sounded more natural and said I should probably stick with that.

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Disclaimer: not an expert

Here are some clues I found.

The first is likely Narnia the "children's" story and CEDICT says na4 ni2 ya4

The second is likely Arthur and, again, CEDICT says ya4 se4

The third is a little more of a problem. The three choices seem to be 1)meng1 if related to "cheating" 2)meng3 if related to Mongolian and 3) meng2 if neither one or two. So does the context offer any clues about whether the person or thing relates to "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian"?

The fourth, by several dictionaries, is jie2 geng3, Chinese bellflower or balloon flower.

Again, a clue might be that since ha1 is an abbreviation for Kazakhstan, and 哈色 is the Chinese for a company name, ha1 seems the better guess.

The general issue that jbradfor raises is interesting. My usual strategy, in addition to searching for clues, is to just make an educated guess (and be wrong until corrected) or, in the case of a name, contact the person, company or someone familiar with it/them and just ask how they pronounce it. Sometimes the answer you receive may be "wrong" but since they "own" the name, they can pronounce it anyway they want.

the pinyin now says ya4. but in my experience in old days or among older folks it could be ya3. maybe thats the nationalists' govt phonetic system used b4 the ww2.

ys3 especially among southerners who made up a large part of overseas chinese. a lot of the translated name like Arthur/America was first translated by cantonese speaking people. seems that ya3 rhymes better.

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Tones in transliterations aren't random; they are generally supposed to correspond to the stresses in the English word. If you say "Narnia" in English, you're voice goes down, then up, then down - hence the tones go 424. There's too much stress on the last syllable for a third tone to sound natural.

The third is a little more of a problem. The three choices seem to be 1)meng1 if related to "cheating" 2)meng3 if related to Mongolian and 3) meng2 if neither one or two. So does the context offer any clues about whether the person or thing relates to "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian"?

The meaning of the characters is generally unrelated to a transliterated name. I think it should be meng2, because when you say the "mun" in Edmund in English your voice goes up.

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It's a rendering of the name "Edmund" from the Narnia series, and I don't think "cheating love" or "loving things Mongolian" would apply to him, so I guess it would be meng2?

Thanks again to everyone who replied.

the 'cheating/make you confused' word is actually 懵 or 矇, meng1, but sometimes written as 蒙 cos this is a common word. for mongolian, 蒙 is, 2nd tone in most cases, 蒙古 is meng2 gu3. exceptions are the ethnic group 蒙族 is meng3 zu2. the reason is 2 words with 2nd tone sounds funny, 族 is 2nd tone too, so they some how altered meng2 to meng3. applied to the milk company 蒙牛, changed to meng3, cos niu is 2nd tone.

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The most common pronunciation would apply. (The most common one would be the first listed in dictionaries.)

Are you sure 桔梗 is a loan word? This is what I've found:

《战国策·齐策三》:“今求柴胡、桔梗於沮泽,则累世不得一焉。”

Hello,

I've been getting back into studying lately by reading some translations of English children's books in Chinese. It's been going well so far, but one source of ambiguity (and I don't handle ambiguity well) are proper nouns that use characters with multiple readings. A few examples:

納尼亞 could conceivably be na4 ni2 ya3 or na4 ni2 ya4

亞瑟 could be ya3 se4 or ya4 se4

愛得蒙 could be ai4 de2 meng1, ai4 de2 meng2, or ai4 de2 meng3

桔梗 could be jie2 geng3 or ju2 geng

Is there any sort of rule of thumb to use here? How would someone typically read a name they'd never seen before if it were uncommon (i.e. can't look it up) and the readings were ambiguous?

Thanks for any help.

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