A Study of Sanskrit Loanwords in Chinese

Vol. 30 No. 3   9/2000  


A Study of Sanskrit Loanwords in Chinese


Shu-fen Chen









Key words

Sanskrit, loanwords, transliteration, phonetic loans, hybrid (half-transliteration, half-translation), semantic marker, loan translations, phonological nativization, syllable structure Sinicization, syllable length Sinicization


      In this study the data were collected from Guoyu Ribao’s Loanwords Dictionary(1985). There are 112 Sanskrit words, which have been rendered into 293 Chinese lexical items. We found that of the 293 items, only 20, that is, less than 7%, are not phonetic loans. In fact, out of the 20 loanwords, 1 8 are hybrids, namely, one part of the compound loanword is a phonetic loan, and the other part is a translated morpheme, or an added semantic marker. In section 2, we introduce some scholars’ classifications of loanwords, and then classify the 293 Sanskrit loanwords according to Haugen’s (1950), Wu’s (1994) and Chen’s (2000) studies. The Sanskrit loanwords are classified into three groups: (1) phonetic loans, for example, [阿羅漢]; (2) hybrids:which include (a) half-transliteration and half-translation, for example, [菩提樹], (b)translation plus a semantic marker, for example, [須彌山] and (c) double renditions,for example, [和合僧]; (3) a renditions plus added information, for example, [阿彌佗佛]. In section 3, several kinds of phonological nativization are presented to how Chinese scholars transliterated the Sanskrit words. Phonological nativization refers to the use of the most similar native sounds to transliterate the borrowed sounds if the foreign sounds cannot be found in the borrowing languages. We discuss the phonological nativization of the vowels and the phonological nativization of the consonants; the latter is divided into seven aspects: voicing, aspiration, palatal stops, retroflexes, nasals, semivowels and fricatives. Section 4 displays two other processes of the Sinicizaiton of Sanskrit terms: syllable structure Sinicization and syllable length Sinicizaition. Finally, section 5 gives a brief summary of the paper.



Author: Shu-fen Chen
Genre: Article