17 January 2011

'A' in Taiwan

In recent posts, I have commented on innovative linguistic usage in Taiwan, both borrowing from English such as 霸凌 from bullying (here), and the occasional invention of new characters (here), though this last category is not so frequent because of the difficulty of printing the invented characters.

One other kind innovative language that is commonly found in Taiwan is the use of Roman letters, something that Victor Mair has commented on in Language Log (here). A Roman letter that is often used in this way is A, which means something like 'to obtain something illegally, to embezzle', for example in the phrase 'A 來的 錢' ('money that is obtained through embezzlement').

In fact, this use of A has become so common that I even saw it in the official booklet signed by the mayor of Taipei and given to my wife to welcome her as a citizen of Taipei City:This is in the section on sport and recreation, and it says: "Walking is not only for strengthening the body but it can also help you get health", where I have glossed A as 'help you get'. Note here that the use of A has been extended to include a positive meaning, and no doubt the usage is intended to be light-hearted, as is appropriate for discussion of sport.