Amusing false friends (Sorry it's a long article. But if you have time, please correct it)

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Mar 21, 2012 10:39 false_friends
I visited Taiwan with my friend last week. It was our first time to visit an Asian city outside Japan. So at first we were a little worried about the language and the cultural differences. But in the end, we found ourselves enjoyed there very much.

We visited many famous places in Taipei, Tamsui and Jiufen. We enjoyed various Taiwanese cuisine and aromatic Oolong tea (I bought a Chinese style teapot so I can enjoy Oolong tea in a Chinese style at home!). And Taiwanese people were so amicable and helpful to us.

But for me, the most fascinating thing there was the fact that I could understand written Chinese really well. I hadn't studied Chinese so I had no idea how to pronounce each kanji in a Chinese way but just looking at the letters, I could fairly clearly understand what each sentence meant as far as simple sentences are concerned, such as the subtitles on TV and the signboards.

To some extent, I think this is a similar feeling to which English speakers experience when they see a sentence in a Latin-based language. You can't quite work out the pronunciation (or perhaps pronunciation is not problematic among European languages...) and the very exact meanings, but you can have a rough idea of what it says because there is a similar word or at least an affix in your language which was derived from Latin. As for the reason why I could understand Chinese sentences, it's the same. It ascribes to the fact that there are thousands of words which we borrowed from Chinese over the centuries. So in spite of that Japanese language is not directly derived from Chinese, We can understand written Chinese quite well.

Until the Middle Ages, China was the center of the latest technology and culture all around Asia. So Chinese played the same linguistic role as the one which Latin used to play in Europe in the Middle Ages giving a big influence to the other languages spoken around them.

But this time in Taiwan, I found rather confusing but amusing "false friends" between Chinese and Japanese too.

①汽車
I saw signboards saying 汽車 hundreds of times in Taipei. In Japanese, this means "steam-engine train." But in Chinese, it seems to mean "car."

②飯店
This is a well-known example of false friends in Japan. It looks like "restaurant" to Japanese speakers because of the signification of the two letters. But in fact it means "hotel" in Chinese. I think in Chinese 飯店 is used because its sound is similar to the English word "hotel." Even knowing this, how many times nearly tricked we were while walking in the city!

③先生
This is "teacher" in Japanese. But in Chinese, this word is used to address a man politely. In English, it's "Mr." I think I had heard of this before but who can remember this when the news clip was about a clever kid who had invented a highly technogical equipment and just after that an adult man appeared with a subtitle saying "先生" and talked about probably how clever the kid was??? He really couldn't look anything else but the kid's 先生(in Japanese). (if the whole story was not only my imagination...my listening conprehension in Chinese is zero.)

We really liked Taiwanese people's welcoming and friendly nature, so we'll definitely go to Taiwan again! This time, all I could say in Chinese was "Xie Xie" and "Ni hao" but by the next time I'll visit there, I'd like to learn more Chinese phrases!! And from now on, between my friend and me, a convenience store will be called 便利商店 and an elevator will be called 電梯. We particulary liked these two Chinese translations.

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"False Friend" is a linguistic word. When a word is used in two languages but the meaning of it is different between the two, it's called "false friend." For example, history(EN) and histoire(FR), 汽車(CH) and 汽車(JP).