Another (peripherally) "language" topic -- scripts, Eastern and other

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Calthrop

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Thoughts given rise to, by a thread on another board: I've wondered at times, how it has come about that Far Eastern nations, which write their languages in essentially non-alphabetic scripts, dealing largely in ideograms; nonetheless employ for locomotive classification, Roman alphabetic letters? This is done in China (with steam locos, usually a pair of Roman letters -- QJ, SY, etc. -- Roman letters also used, I understand, in respect of diesel and electric motive power). Japan does similarly, though in a different mode -- combining Roman letters and numerals. South Korea too -- though once again, if I understand rightly, on a different principle: the country's steam in latter days having mostly featured 2-8-2s, these were designated MK [Mikado] plus an identifying number to distinguish between classes. (I don't know what North Korea does, re this issue.)

While this convention on the part of the Orient's nations must be a mercy for railway enthusiasts from parts of the world which use alphabets -- making life a good deal less difficult for them, than might have been the case; it has at times seemed a little odd to me that the nations of the Far East have not used their own writing systems for this particular purpose. Would be interested in information / thoughts from anyone, on this matter. Is it simply that essentially, the Western nations invented and created railways first: subsequently giving the idea, at any rate, to the East -- hence the nations there latching on from the first, for this purpose, to Western writing "characters", and this situation continuing to obtain; or might there be other reasons for this (admittedly unimportant, in the general scheme of things) oddity?
 
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dutchflyer

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Sorry, just see this, but your impression that most asian languages are symbols is not quite right. I myself am most familiair with Thai-can read/speak it a little, and this is certainly what we would call phonetic. Japanese has in fact 3 scripts, one of these is chinese-influenced symbolic, the other 2 are phonetic. Korean is certainly phonetic-what look like chinese style symbols are in fact combinations of ´letters´ that represent a syllable.. Likely others will know more about various Indian scripts. Chinese and its few out of it derived scripts are characters and represent symbols.
Also most railways do not handle all these lettered qualifications-nor do we here in NL, just over that Northsea. Simply different ranges of nrs. are used to distinguish.
What is certainly of influence, see the recent topic about which words are used for a ´station´ is that it were either the english or the germans and also alittle bit less for the french who influenced local railway practice.
 

Gag Halfrunt

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For Korean locomotive classes Wikipedia has you covered.


The Korean State Railway's classification system presently uses a two-character type designator and a class number.[7]

Initially steam and electric locomotives used a modification of the system used by Sentetsu prior to war's end; however, instead of using Japanese numbers, this class number was based on Korean numbers, and the two-syllable type designations were converted from Japanese katakana to Chosŏn'gŭl. This was nearly identical to the post-war system used Korean National Railroad in South Korea, though the KNR used roman numerals instead of Korean numbers, and slightly different Koreanisations of the Japanese type name.

There's a table with the Japanese, North Korean and South Korean class names for Korean steam locomotives.

Chinese locomotive classes for locomotives built in China are abbreviations of Chinese names. For example, QJ is Qián Jìn, meaning "to advance". Imported locomotives have simple alphanumerical codes, e.g. ND2 or 6K.
 

etr221

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The other thing to note is the extent to which our style of 'Western Arabic' numerals are used around the world for serial numbers (even if not counting) - I think the only area where they aren't normal if not standard is in the Arab world (from Morocco east to the Arabian/Persian Gulf) and Iran.

I think this because the introduction of railways - which had things (locomotives, rolling stock, etc.) with serial numbers came about under European/Western technical, if not political, influence and domination, and the custom/habit of using them stuck. And if foreign numerals are being used, it's not a big change to use foreign letters as well, for similar reason (especially if for 'internal', e.g. railway, use). The other thing to consider is moves (however driven, or to what extent progressed) to 'romanise' writing (e.g. Chinese Pinyin). And that if you are using symbolic/ideogaphic writing. roman letters are just a few more symbols.

But it would be interesting to have a native (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, ....) view on how they see and read them.
 

WideRanger

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I can only talk for Japanese. It's often said that there are 3 scripts (Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana) - but there are really 4 because Romaji (latin letters, Western arabic numbers) is commonly used and totally understood. To make things more complicated, in Kanji (based on traditional chinese characters, there are two sets of numbers: the simple set that is relatively easy to write and another set which tends to be used on legal documents. But both sets are used far less than Western Arabic numerals.

So, there is no particular reason not to use western letters and numbers.

Of course, in reality, there is a lot of flexibility. For example the trains running on the Shinkansen are referred to (as an example) N700 series or N700系.
 

Calthrop

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Thanks, everyone -- you've provided a lot to take in, and revealed to me how little I actually know about these matters; particularly re Japanese and Korean. A fuller response planned, when I've managed to digest more of what the above posts have come up with...






Herewith "fuller response" mentioned above: posted Tue. Feb. 2nd, just after 12 noon.


Once again, thanks to all.
For Korean locomotive classes Wikipedia has you covered.




There's a table with the Japanese, North Korean and South Korean class names for Korean steam locomotives.

Chinese locomotive classes for locomotives built in China are abbreviations of Chinese names. For example, QJ is Qián Jìn, meaning "to advance". Imported locomotives have simple alphanumerical codes, e.g. ND2 or 6K.

Thank you for link to Wiki article: immense detail on Korean motive power and classification thereof; I've hitherto known little about the railways of "either Korea". Interesting that -- as I had "semi-gathered" from crumbs of information which came my way -- the Koreans "borrow" some quasi-official current terms for some steam wheel arrangements, make them over into Korean, and use them in official class designations -- e.g. Mik'a, Moga, P'asi -- respectively Mikado, Mogul, and Pacific. (I discern a trace of this re Chinese steam classes, too: gather that China's 2-8-0s of class KD, got their designation from C[K]onsoliDation = 2-8-0 -- some KD anyway were, I understand, US-built.)


The other thing to note is the extent to which our style of 'Western Arabic' numerals are used around the world for serial numbers (even if not counting) - I think the only area where they aren't normal if not standard is in the Arab world (from Morocco east to the Arabian/Persian Gulf) and Iran.

And the Arab world has and uses its own ("non-Western Arabic", as it were) equivalents of our numerals, 0 to 9 -- functioning arithmetically, exactly as ours do (the Arabs being of course credited with, in ancient times, devising this system -- more effective than any of its "competitors" -- for "doing sums".)

A thing I came across via a chance mention in a railway journal long ago, which I found delightfully odd -- telling of a visit to what remains of the Hedjaz system: the writer remarked that the locos thereon bore number-plates expressed in the Arabic equivalents of our "Western Arabic" 0 to 9 -- as above, looking different from ours, but working in the same way; he'd been given to understand that what with our own numerals being called "Arabic"; the Arab equivalents as used in Jordan and neighbouring countries were properly referred to, to distinguish them, as "Semitic" numerals -- which in view of the notorious problems and tensions in that area of the world, struck him as a little weird. (Of course, etymology- and ethnology-wise, Jews and Arabs are all Semites -- ethnologically related; the word coming from the Biblical bit ascribing their descent, alike, from Noah's son Shem.)

I think this because the introduction of railways - which had things (locomotives, rolling stock, etc.) with serial numbers came about under European/Western technical, if not political, influence and domination, and the custom/habit of using them stuck. And if foreign numerals are being used, it's not a big change to use foreign letters as well, for similar reason (especially if for 'internal', e.g. railway, use). The other thing to consider is moves (however driven, or to what extent progressed) to 'romanise' writing (e.g. Chinese Pinyin). And that if you are using symbolic/ideogaphic writing. roman letters are just a few more symbols.

But it would be interesting to have a native (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, ....) view on how they see and read them.

I feel that your thoughts above, more or less chime in with mine in my OP -- railways essentially a European / Western invention, with many practices to do with them taken on at their introduction to East Asian lands; and kept thereafter by those countries. Indeed, makes sense; but with humans' well-known quirks -- including strong tendencies toward "us-and-them" thinking, national pride, and the like: I feel that it might easily have happened at some stage, for at least some Far Eastern countries to -- re this particular purpose -- turn their backs on the Roman alphabet, and "do their own thing". If I correctly understand @Gag Halfrunt's linked article, this did happen to some extent in Korea; otherwise and elsewhere, though, it didn't.


I can only talk for Japanese. It's often said that there are 3 scripts (Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana) - but there are really 4 because Romaji (latin letters, Western arabic numbers) is commonly used and totally understood. To make things more complicated, in Kanji (based on traditional chinese characters, there are two sets of numbers: the simple set that is relatively easy to write and another set which tends to be used on legal documents. But both sets are used far less than Western Arabic numerals.

So, there is no particular reason not to use western letters and numbers.

Of course, in reality, there is a lot of flexibility. For example the trains running on the Shinkansen are referred to (as an example) N700 series or N700系.

I'd been kind-of aware that re Japan, these things are convoluted: with multiple scripts, only one of them with Chinese roots -- but your post above, reveals that I didn't know the half of it ! As touched on earlier -- indeed, no functional reason not to use Western, especially letters: but sentiments of national pride can cause people to act strangely, and not in the most functional or convenient way; though in this matter, such a thing in fact didn't occur in Japan.
 
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Gag Halfrunt

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(I discern a trace of this re Chinese steam classes, too: gather that China's 2-8-0s of class KD, got their designation from C[K]onsoliDation = 2-8-0 -- some KD anyway were, I understand, US-built.)

Chinese practice was probably influenced by the former South Manchuria Railway (Mantetsu) in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, which had used the same numbering system as in colonial Korea.
 

Joshua_Harman

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in my homeland (Israel (ישראל)) trains just use numbers not a naming system involving hebrew script, however signs on the railway do have our letters and numbers on them in our script instead of the roman letters
1612316283619.png
 

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Calthrop

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Chinese practice was probably influenced by the former South Manchuria Railway (Mantetsu) in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, which had used the same numbering system as in colonial Korea.

One tends to forget -- I do, anyway -- the complexities of history in these parts, in the railway age and of course before it, too: with Korea and Manchuria's spells in Japanese hands.



in my homeland (Israel (ישראל)) trains just use numbers not a naming system involving hebrew script, however signs on the railway do have our letters and numbers on them in our script instead of the roman letters
View attachment 89869

I have, in language matters, an interest -- but of a pretty "footling" kind: am certainly no scholar on the subject; so may be coming out with a good deal of rubbish re same :oops: ... however, my understanding is that Hebrew writing essentially works by means of an alphabet (likewise Arabic, though with a different alphabet); as opposed to places much further east as mentioned in my OP -- China certainly uses (pace dealing with it via Romanised script) ideograms, not an alphabet (from material in this thread, Japanese would appear to me, writing-and-scripts-wise, to be "all over the place" !). I get the feeling that not-all-that-bright Brits-and-other-Western Europeans would be likely to find it relatively easier to cope with alphabets, even though different ones from their own; than with the fundamentally different approach which Chinese takes -- but it could be that more people are more adaptable as regards this stuff, than I imagine.
 

zero

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Chinese characters are morphosyllabic logograms, not ideograms.

East Asian languages in the Sinosphere have a quasi-alphabet which could be used in place of A, B, C and so forth when enumerating items such as classes of trains.

However, the Latin alphabet is as much a part of the writing systems of Chinese languages as characters are. Mandarin Chinese when written in Pinyin has an alphabet, which is taught to schoolchildren in China before they learn more than a handful of characters. Taiwan additionally has Zhuyin which corresponds losslessly with Pinyin, but using what could be termed more "native"-looking symbols.

If you are interested in languages you will find the linked blog fascinating, although the most prolific posters tend to write about English and East Asian languages rather than European.
 

Calthrop

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Thank you for all in this post -- most interesting, and often eye-opening.


So -- a lifelong misconception on my part. Brings to mind the American tough-guy thing: "It ain't the stuff you don't know, that'll kill you; it's the stuff you think you know, but ain't so."

If you are interested in languages you will find the linked blog fascinating, although the most prolific posters tend to write about English and East Asian languages rather than European.

Indeed, most interesting. I loved the pentalingual street signs in Kashgar: outdoes even, those parts of the Balkans where four languages have to be accommodated -- Romanian, Hungarian, German, and Serbo-Croat.
 

eastwestdivide

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and Serbo-Croat
Now sometimes regarded as two languages, mutually intelligible, and as ever, written in different scripts (Cyrillic for Serbian, Latin for Croatian).
The scripts for the Slavic languages generally reflect the religious affiliation of the country, Cyrillic for countries predominantly Orthodox (e.g. Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine), Latin for those predominantly Roman Catholic (e.g Poland, Czechia).
 

Gag Halfrunt

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From the original language thread:


You are indeed correct - Serbo-Croatian is (linguistically) a single language. The problem is that applying ethnic labels to this language creates all sorts of problems because it is spoken by multiple ethnicities who all want to be included name! Let me offer a bit of an explanation:

Linguistically speaking, there are indeed three languages spoken in Croatia/Bosnia/Serbia/Montenegro: Kajkavian, Chakavian and Shtokavian (their names come from their respective words for "what"). Kajkavian and Chakavian are spoken in North and West Croatia respectively and are spoken only by Croats so there is no issue there, but Shtokavian is the language of the rest of the area and includes all ethnicities. (In Croatia, Kajkavian, Chakavian and Shtokavian are called "the three dialects of the Croatian language" whilst in reality they should be called "the three languages of the Croat people".) Shtokavian consists of many dialects and its standard form is based on the yellow one which is, interestingly, not native to either Belgrade, Sarajevo, Podgorica or indeed Zagreb (which is actually in the Kajkavian area). This standardised form of Shtokavian is what we know as Serbo-Croatian.

During the first Yugoslavia (1918-1945), the country actually had a single official language: "Serbo-Croato-Slovenian" which only existed in the mind of whoever came up with this name (Macedonian was considered a dialect of Bulgarian at the time). In the second Yugoslavia (1945-1991) there were different "levels" of linguistic autonomy. The country as a whole had three official languages: Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian. These were used on passports, banknotes, and other official stuff.

Each of the constituent republics, in turn, had a single official language: Slovenia had Slovenian, Croatia, B&H, Serbia, Montenegro had Serbo-Croatian, and Macedonia had Macedonian. The lowest level were regional autonomies which included bilingual ares like Hungarian in Vojvodina and NE Slovenia, Italian along the northern coast, Albanian in Kosovo and Montenegro. These languages were fully co-official and very visible in their little pockets but any sign of them disappeared completely once you left the area (a situation which persists to this day)

This "Serbo-Croatian" language had two "variants" even in those times. They were called Eastern and Western and corresponded to today's Serbian and Croatian, including different scripts and the most famous e/(i)je distinction. After the breakup, nationalistic tendencies went berserk and linguistic purism was rampant in Croatia and Bosnia, trying to alienate their "standard" as far as possible from Serbian.

Well, it seems that my explanation has become an essay ... Sorry!
 
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I can only really speak for Japan, having lived there a few years ago and having family in Fukushima, but rolling stock are classified in several ways - either

Arabic numbers + kanji
E.g.
小田急3000形(odakyu 3000-gata)

Or
JNR205系 (JNR - 205 Kei)

In this case, the former example is a private railway unit - Odakyu is one of the major private operators in Tokyo and the latter is an indication of being built by JNR and not by an individual company.

Romaji (roman letters) + arabic numbers + kanji
JR東日本E233系 (JR Higashi Nihon E233 Kei)

In this case, the prefix "E" indicates that this is an "East Japan Railway Company" unit. We see this with Shinkansen - e.g the E/W7 series which are the same units owned by different companies.

There's a few hangovers from JNR days - JR Central/West number their Shinkansen units that work on the Tokkaido and Sanyo shinkansen. As W7 units work primarily on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, the W prefix gives an indication as to the depot allocation of the units. As a rule of thumb, odd numbered Shinkansen are Tokkaido/Sanyo and even numbers are JNR Tohoku/Joetsu Shinkansen.

Vehicles are then divided up with katakana which phonetically spell out the class and type of vehicles. These are derived from the Japanese way of writing these things and are abbreviations from longer words which could be written either with kanji or hiragana.

MO = electric motor powered car
SA = trailer car -
KU = trailer cab car
KI = diesel-powered car

HA = regular class
RO = green class
NE = sleeper accomodations

E.g.

クモハ - KuMoHa would be the equivalent to a DMS
クロ - KuRo - would be a DF
サハ - SaHa - would be TSO

This is a very abbreviated discussion and there is doubtless tonnes that I have missed off. In effect though, the use of romaji is limited to very specific situations. It is also worth noting that different companies have different policies. We should always bear in mind that JR Central/West/East are all independent companies with different philosophies and ideas. JR East for example, serves Tokyo and hence will use Romaji as there is a perception of greater contact with foreigners compared with say JR West.

Private operators all have their own rules and regs which are quite often different. The greater the overlap with JNR, the closer the agreement will be but this isn't always true.

Tokyo is about the most complicated railway system in the world and there really isn't much in the way of unity across operators beyond practices of operation so you get a lot of vastly different design philosophies and outlooks!

So no, I don't agree that in Japan that they see Western Railways as a gold standard to model their own system on. The Japanese system is deeply ingrained into the national psyche and features many things that are unique to Japan. I think to look at it any other way would be an extremely western-centric way of seeing things. Yes, they do use katakana/romaji but this is for brevity not as some variety of honoring the western system.
 

Calthrop

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@Bill_Lestrange: Most interesting information (genuinely); however -- to paraphrase a reference by a favourite author of mine, to a different language-related matter -- I have never encountered anything that made me more positively anxious never to visit Japan <D ...
 
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