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Chemical elements in East Asian languages



The names for chemical elements in East Asian languages, along with those for some chemical compounds (mostly organic), are among the newest words to enter the local vocabularies. Except for those metals well-known since antiquity, most elements had their names created after modern chemistry was introduced to East Asia in the 18th and 19th century, with more translations being coined for those element discovered later (see Discoveries of the chemical elements).

While most East Asian languages use--or had used--the Chinese script, only the Chinese use the characters as the predominant way of naming elements. On the other hand, the Japanese and Koreans primarily employ native alphabets for the names of the elements (Katakana and Hangul, respectively).

Additional recommended knowledge

Contents

Chinese

In Chinese, characters for the elements are the last officially created and recognized characters in the Chinese writing system. Unlike those characters for dialectal usage (e.g., written Cantonese) or other now-defunct ad hoc characters (e.g., the those by the Empress Wu), the names for the elements are official, consistent, and taught (with Mandarin pronunciation) to every Chinese and Taiwanese who has attended public schools (usually by the first year of middle school).

Native characters

Some metallic elements were already familiar to the Chinese, as their ores were already excavated and used extensively in China for construction, alchemy, and medicine. These include the traditional "Five Metals" (五金)--gold (金), silver (銀), copper (銅), iron (鐵), and tin (錫)--as well as lead (鉛) and mercury (汞).

Some non-metals were already named in Chinese as well, because their minerals were in wide-spread use. For example,

European Pronunciation-based Characters

Most elements, however, remained unknown to the Chinese until they were isolated during the Industrial Age. These new elements therefore needed new characters be made for them. New characters were invented using the phono-semantic principle. Each character consists of two parts, to signify the meaning and to hint at the sound:

  1. The semantic (meaning) part is also the radical of the character. It refers to the element's usual state at room temperature and standard pressure. There are only four radicals used for elements: 釒/钅 (jīn "gold") for metals, 石 (shí "stone") for solid non-metals, 石 shí ("stone"); 水/氵 (shuǐ "water") for liquids; and 气 ( air") for gases.
  2. The phonetic (sound) part represents the character's pronunciation and is a partial transliteration of the element. For each element character, this is a unique phonetic component. Since there are over 100 elements already discovered, there are over 100 different phonentic components used in naming the elements.
Exampes of characters derived from European pronunciations
Semantic PhoneticElement Source
金 += 鋰 () lithium
金 +jiǎ= 鉀 (jiǎ) kalium, Latin name for potassium
金 +nèi= 鈉 (nà)* natrium, Latin name for sodium
金 + or = 銻 (tì)* antimony
金 +niè= 鎳 (niè) nickel
金 += 鎘 () cadmium
金 += 鎢(wù)* Wolfram, German name for tungsten
金 += 鉍 () bismuth
金 +yóu= 鈾 (yóu) uranium
金 += 鋁 () aluminum
石 +diǎn= 碘 (diǎn) iodine
气 +hài= 氦 (hài) helium
气 += 氟 () fluorine
气 +nǎi= 氖 (nǎi) neon
*where the derived pronunciation differs (in tone or in sound)

The "water" radical (水) is rarely used, since only two elements (bromine and mercury) are truly liquid at standard room temperature and pressure (see List of elements by melting point). Both of their characters are not based on the European pronunciation of the elements' names. Bromine (溴), the only liquid nonmetal at room temperature, is explained in the following section. Mercury (汞), now grouped with the heavy metals, was long classified as a kind of fluid in ancient China.

Meaning-based Characters

A few characters, though, are not created using the above "semantic-phonetic" design, but are "semantic-semantic", that is, both of its parts indicate meanings. One part refers to the element's usual state (like the semantic-phonetic characters). However, the second part indicates some additional property or function of the element. Such elements are:

SemanticSemanticElementEnglishNote
金 + 白 (white) = 鉑 platinum

The original meaning of 鉑 is "thin sheet of gold" (now obsolete). The
character was not associated with platinum until modern time, since the
element was known in the Old World only after the Age of Discovery

氵 + 臭 (stinky) = 溴 xiù bromine odorous (brómos in Greek also means "stench")
气 + 羊, short for
養 (to nourish/foster)
= 氧 yǎng oxygen A continuous supply of oxygenated air nourishes almost all animals
气 + 巠, short for
輕 (light-weight)
= 氫 qīng hydrogen the lightest of all elements
气 + 彔, short for
綠 (green)
= 氯 chlorine greenish yellow in color
气 + 炎, short for
淡 (diluted)
= 氮 dàn nitrogen "dilutes" breathable air
石 + 粦, short for
燐 (glow)
= 磷 lín phosphorous emits a faint glow at dark
† These are the source characters' older alternate--but now almost obsolete--pronunciation. Nowadays 白 is normally pronounced bái in the standard Mandarin dialect, although traditionally bó was preferred. Similarly, 臭 is almost always pronounced chòu, as opposed to x, a now-archaic reading.

‡ Regarding the seeming mismatch in pronunciation: Note that the ultimate source of 氧 (yǎng) is not 羊 (yáng) but 養 (yǎng). Likewise, 氮 (dàn) traces its true origin to 淡 (dàn), not 炎 (yán).

Notes

Taiwan vs. Mainland names
francium 87 fāng
neptunium 93 nài
plutonium 94
americium 95měi méi
californium 98 kāi
einsteinium 99 àiāi

A minority of the "new characters" are not actually new inventions, or rather, they happen to coincide with archaic characters, whose original meanings have long been lost to most people. For example, 鏷 (protactinium), 鈹 (beryllium) and 鉻 (chromium) are obscure characters meaning "raw iron," "needle," and "hook," respectively.

The majority of the elements' names are the same in Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, merely being variants of each other, since most of the names were translated by a single body of standardization prior to the PRC-ROC split. However, since francium and the transuranium elements were discovered during or after the split, they have different names in Taiwan and in Mainland China.

Tables

Many operating systems and web browsers do not support the display of some of the newer elements, since the characters for elements with atomic numbers 104 and above were only added in Unicode 3.1 (2001) as surrogate pairs that are part of the CJK Ideographs Extension B character set. They are thus displayed twice in the traditional characters table below, as both the surrogate pair characters themselves and as combinations of phonetic components. Simplified characters for elements 104 and above have not been encoded as of Unicode 4.1 (2005) and are thus given only as combinations of phonetic components in the simplified characters table below.

Chemical Series of the Periodic Table
Alkali metals Alkaline earths Lanthanide Actinides Transition metals
Poor metals Metalloids Nonmetals Halogens Noble gases

Color coding for atomic numbers:

  • Elements numbered in blue are liquids at room temperature;
  • those in green are gases at room temperature;
  • those in black are solid at room temperature;
  • those in red are synthetic and do not occur naturally (all are solid at room temperature).
  • those in gray have not yet been discovered (they also have muted fill colors indicating the likely chemical series they would fall under).

Simplified Chinese

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
1 1
H
2
He
2 3
Li
4
Be
5
B
6
C
7
N
8
O
9
F
10
Ne
3 11
Na
12
Mg
13
Al
14
Si
15
P
16
S
17
Cl
18
Ar
4 19
K
20
Ca
21
Sc
22
Ti
23
V
24
Cr
25
Mn
26
Fe
27
Co
28
Ni
29
Cu
30
Zn
31
Ga
32
Ge
33
As
34
Se
35
Br
36
Kr
5 37
Rb
38
Sr
39
Y
40
Zr
41
Nb
42
Mo
43
Tc
44
Ru
45
Rh
46
Pd
47
Ag
48
Cd
49
In
50
Sn
51
Sb
52
Te
53
I
54
Xe
6 55
Cs
56
Ba

71
Lu
72
Hf
73
Ta
74
W
75
Re
76
Os
77
Ir
78
Pt
79
Au
80
Hg
81
Tl
82
Pb
83
Bi
84
Po
85
At
86
Rn
7 87
Fr
88
Ra

103
Lr
104
Rf
钅卢
105
Db
钅杜
106
Sg
钅喜
107
Bh
钅波
108
Hs
钅黑
109
Mt
钅麦
110
Ds
钅达
111
Rg
钅仑
112
Uub
113
Uut
114
Uuq
115
Uup
116
Uuh
117
Uus
118
Uuo
镧系元素 57
La
58
Ce
59
Pr
60
Nd
61
Pm
62
Sm
63
Eu
64
Gd
65
Tb
66
Dy
67
Ho
68
Er
69
Tm
70
Yb
锕系元素 89
Ac
90
Th
91
Pa
92
U
93
Np
94
Pu
95
Am
96
Cm
97
Bk
98
Cf
99
Es
100
Fm
101
Md
102
No

View as an image


Traditional Chinese

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
1 1
H
2
He
2 3
Li
4
Be
5
B
6
C
7
N
8
O
9
F
10
Ne
3 11
Na
12
Mg
13
Al
14
Si
15
P
16
S
17
Cl
18
Ar
4 19
K
20
Ca
21
Sc
22
Ti
23
V
24
Cr
25
Mn
26
Fe
27
Co
28
Ni
29
Cu
30
Zn
31
Ga
32
Ge
33
As
34
Se
35
Br
36
Kr
5 37
Rb
38
Sr
39
Y
40
Zr
41
Nb
42
Mo
43
Tc
44
Ru
45
Rh
46
Pd
47
Ag
48
Cd
49
In
50
Sn
51
Sb
52
Te
53
I
54
Xe
6 55
Cs
56
Ba

71
Lu
72
Hf
73
Ta
74
W
75
Re
76
Os
77
Ir
78
Pt
79
Au
80
Hg
81
Tl
82
Pb
83
Bi
84
Po
85
At
86
Rn
7 87
Fr
88
Ra

103
Lr
104
Rf
105
Db
𨧀
106
Sg
𨭎
107
Bh
𨨏
108
Hs
𨭆
109
Mt
110
Ds
111
Rg
112
Uub
113
Uut
114
Uuq
115
Uup
116
Uuh
117
Uus
118
Uuo
Lanthanides
鑭系元素
57
La
58
Ce
59
Pr
60
Nd
61
Pm
62
Sm
63
Eu
64
Gd
65
Tb
66
Dy
67
Ho
68
Er
69
Tm
70
Yb
Actinides
錒系元素
89
Ac
90
Th
91
Pa
92
U
93
Np
94
Pu
95
Am
96
Cm
97
Bk
98
Cf
99
Es
100
Fm
101
Md
102
No

View as an image

Japanese

Even though the Japanese languages also uses the Chinese characters (the Kanji), it primarily employs Katakana to transliterate names of the elements from European languages (often but not always English). For example,

EnglishJapaneseNote
antimony antimon (アンチモン) the lack of the final vowel (y would've become i)
is likely due to its origin from Dutch (Antimoon)
(see also: Sakoku)
tungsten tangusuten (タングステン) from English; other major European languages
refer to this element as wolfram or tungsten with
some additional syllable (-o, -e, etc).
sodium natoriumu (ナトリウム) natrium in Latin

Native names

On the other hand, elements known since antiquity are Chinese loanwords, which are mostly identical to their Chinese counterparts (see above), albeit in the Shinjitai and native reading, for example, iron is tetsu (鉄) and lead is namari (鉛). Whereas all elements in Chinese are single-character in the official system, some Japanese elements have two syllables, .e.g.,

EnglishJapanese Chinese Note
mercurysuigin (水銀) gong (汞) literally meaning "watery silver", like the element's symbol, Hg (Latin for hydro-argyrum), signifies.
sulfur (硫黄)liu (硫) ō (黄) indicates sulfur's typical yellow color
zinca-en (亜鉛) xin (鋅) meaning "lesser lead", with lead being 鉛 in both Japanese and Chinese

Some elements with names written in Kanji have the suffix -so (素), meaning "element/component". For instance, arsenic is hiso (ヒ素 "hi element") in modern Japanese. The name hi (ヒ) is derived from hishima, the Chinese name for crystalline white arsenic (砒霜 "bi frosts"). In modern Chinese, however, arsenic is now simply shen (砷), being an approximation of the second syllable of the element's European name (-sen-). Likewise, although boron is written in katakana now (ホウ素 hōso), its origin is Chinese. (ホウ) is derived from housa, the Chinese name for borax, the "peng sands" (硼砂). Boron is still called peng in modern Chinese.

Meaning-based names

Furthermore, a few of the pre-modern elements from the 18th century also have Kanji names, though sometimes drastically different from their Chinese counterparts. The following comparison shows that Japanese does not use the radical system for naming elements like Chinese.

EnglishJapaneseChineseNote
platinum hakkin (白金 "white gold") similar to Chinese
bromine shuuso (臭素 "the stinky element") similar to Chinese, except the lack of the "water" radical
oxygen sanso (酸素 "acid's component")

similar to the German word for oxygen, Sauerstoff ("sour substance").
Many 19th-century European chemists erroneously believed that all
acids contain oxygen. (Many common ones do, but not all.)

hydrogen suiso (水素 "water's component") translation of the hydro- prefix
chlorine enso (塩素 "salt's component") it and sodium make up common table salt (NaCl);
塩 is the Shinjitai version of 鹽.
nitrogen chisso (窒素 "the suffocating element") air that is purely nitrogen is toxic to all mammals

Korean

As the Hanja (Sino-Korean characters) are now rarely used in Korea, all of the elements are written in Hangul. Since much of the Korean scientific terms were translated from Japanese sources, the pattern of naming is mostly similar to that of Japanese, namely, the classical elements are loanwords from China, with new elements from European language. For example:

EnglishKoreanSource
silver eun (은) from the Chinese yin (銀)
antimony antimoni (안티모니) from English
tungsten teongseuten (텅스텐) from English
sodium nateuryum (나트륨) from Latin (Na for natrium)

Pre-modern (18th-century) elements often are the Korean pronunciation of their Japanese equivalents, e.g.,

English Korean (Hangul, Hanja)
hydrogen suso (수소, 水素)
nitrogen jilso (질소, 窒素)
chlorine yeumso (염소, 鹽素)

Vietnamese

Some of the metals known since antiquity are loanwords from Chinese, such as copper (Đồng from 銅), lead (Chì from 鉛), tin (Thiếc from 錫), and mercury (thuỷ ngân from 水銀). Others have native Vietnamese readings, such as Sắt for iron, Bạc for silver, and Vàng for gold. In either case, nowadays they are always written in the Vietnamese alphabet.

The majority of elements are shortened and localized pronunciation of the European names (usually from French). For example:

  • Phosphorus becomes phốtpho.
  • The -ine suffix is lost, e.g., chlorine, iodine and fluorine become clo, iốt and flo, respectively.
  • The -ium suffix is lost, e.g., caesium becomes xêzi (pronounced [sezi]), clearly indicating the French origin of the word (césium is prounounced [sezium])
    • Similarly, beryllium, chromium, lithium and natrium (sodium) become berili, crôm, liti, and natri, respectively
  • The -gen suffix is lost, e.g., nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen become nitơ, ôxy and hiđrô, respectively

A minority of elements without--or with etymologically unclear--suffixes retain their full name, e.g.,

  • Tungsten (aka wolfram) become volfram.
  • Bismuth become bitmut.
  • Elements with the -on suffix (noble gases) seem to be inconsistent. Boron and silicon are respectively shortened to bo and silic. On the other hand, neon, krypton and xenon don't seem to have shorter forms.
  • Unlike the other halogens, astatine retains its suffix (astatin in Vietnamese).

Some elements have multiple names, for instance, potassium is known as pô tát (from English) and kali (from kalium, the element's Latin name).

 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Chemical_elements_in_East_Asian_languages". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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