Monday, December 17, 2007

Unusual categories

In English, we can't say "two breads" unless we mean two types of bread. We have to say "two slices of bread" or "two loaves of bread." Sometimes this gets a little strange, like "two pairs of pants" or "two pairs of glasses" where it would be impossible to have one pant or glass.

In Japanese, it gets a lot strange. Here are a few counter words in Japanese:
chō 挺 Guns, sticks of ink, palanquins, rickshaws, violins
hai 杯 Cups and glasses of drink, spoonfuls, cuttlefish, octopuses, crabs, squid, abalone, boats
chō 丁 Tools, scissors, saws, trousers, pistols, cakes of tofu, town blocks
hon 本 Long, thin objects, rivers, roads, ties, pencils, bottles, guitars, telephone calls, movies
ki 基 Graves, wreaths, CPUs, reactors, elevators, dams
men 面 Mirrors, boards for board games (chess, Igo, Shogi), stages of computer games, walls of a room, tennis courts
wa 羽 Birds, rabbits (because of their ears);


mike said...

Sounds very much like this quote (and since you just read it a few minutes before this post, did that inspire the post?):

"These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies."

"The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"

D said...

Yes, exactly. I looked up to see if the Chinese encyclopedia had been identified, but it hasn't. That's proabably because Borges made it up. But I realized that I knew of a classification system nearly as arbitrary. By the way, my descriptions come from Wikipedia, and I chose out the oddest counters on purpose.