China and Science terms

Quantum Matter

Originally uploaded by gacorley

One of the things that interests me about Chinese is translations of science and technology terms. Before starting with Chinese I had learned Spanish, where Greek- and Latin-derived science terms are fairly easy to deal with -- you simply have to alter the spelling and pronunciation of the English term appropriately. (Mind you, this is not fool-proof, but it works most of the time.)

Of course, this sort of thing will not work with Chinese, which is very resistant simple borrowing. So, most science and technology terms that come from other countries are calqued, or appoximately calqued, by using a Chinese term or character that comes close to the meaning of the Latin root or English word it stands for.

For example, here in this sign 量子 (liangzi) is derived from 量, meaning "quantity, amount, capacity"as well as "to measure" (I know it mainly from the grammatical term 量次 -- liangci -- meaning "measure word"). "Matter", is 物质 (wuzhi) which also means "substance, material".

Of course, there are plenty of simple coinages, especially for things that developed in China independantly. Mathematics, for example, is 数学 "counting study" (whereas the English word seems a little more complicated).