吳實錄

Annals of Wu

漢藏緬語々言研究ㄟ博客
a sinotibetoburman linguistics blog
2014-09-20

Fluffy Benches discussion - orthography

"Sofa" as 沙發 is one of the widely cited examples of words in Mandarin which came from a foreign language by way of Shanghainese, still pronounced /so.fa/. I'd made a comment on this just in passing while speaking to a Hakka friend of mine, only to quickly be reminded that Hakka does not use the word 沙發, despite being widespread elsewhere.

In Níngbō a hundred years ago, you might have been likely to hear 春凳 instead. But in Hakka, a sofa is referred to as 肨凳. If you're unsure of that first character, it's a variant of 胖. Except that in Hakka it's not. Every non-Hakka character dictionary I've checked has 肨 listed as a variant of 胖, and thus meaning "fat" and pronounced the same. Hakka meanwhile has split these. 肨 is pronounced pong55 – with a meaning of fluffy (or swollen) – while 胖 is pang55 – meaning fat. You can't call a sofa 胖凳, and you won't refer to a fat kid as being 肨. There's an additional meaning to 肨, pang24, which has the meaning "scent".

As far as I can gather without spending a few hours in the library, the two words 肨 and 胖 may originally have just been character variants, and then through Mandarin influence, they became split with 胖, the more commonly used word up north, took on the more focused meaning of "fat" compared to "fluffy" or "swollen", and carried a more Mandarin-like pronunciation with it. 肨 meanwhile was left to its original pronunciation with the meaning of "fat but not like that guy over there is fat".

There's an alternative possibility, which is that 肨凳 could be a fossil and the orthography is just meant to represent the different pronunciation. If that's the case, 肨凳 isn't the only case. There are other words listed that use 肨 as pong55xien55sam24 in Siyan dialect and pong11sa53sam53 in Hoiliuk dialect mean "sweater", a.k.a. "fluffy thread shirt".

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    A semi-academic linguistics blog about Sinotibetan, previously focused primarily on Wú, a Sinitic language spoken in the Yangtze Delta region. Topics now include historical linguistics, documentation, language rights, sociolinguistics and learning materials, as well as acting as the dev blog for Phonemica from time to time.

    I'm a linguist based in Asia, working on documentation and historical development of Sinotibetan. In addition to academic research, I'm heavily involved in Phonemica, an organisation that promotes crowd-sourced preservation of local languages.

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