∆ in Chinese

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Karl Smith saw this sign in Taichung, Taiwan:

It reads:

Běn ∆ diànmiàn 本∆店面 ("this ∆ storefront")

But what does the ∆ mean here?

Karl said that ∆店面 reminded him of jīn diànmiàn 金店面 ("gold storefront"), which means a storefront in a good location.  As Michael Cannings says, "It’s a rather overused real estate term: I’ve seen some shabby backstreet cubbyholes given the same moniker by overeager agents."

Melvin Lee explains:

I think the triangle stands for the Taiwanese term "sānjiǎo chuāng 三角窗" ("triangular window").  It usually means the first floor of a building located at the intersection of two streets, which is considered an ideal spot for stores.

Fair enough.  Now we know what "∆ diànmiàn ∆店面" means — "storefront with a triangular window" — but we don't know how to pronounce it, at least not in a standard way.  For me, ∆ could be "delta" or sānjiǎo 三角, but I suppose other people will read it in different ways, e.g., dé'ěrtǎ 德爾塔 ("delta").



  1. Terry Hunt said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

    Leaving aside the obvious category of punctuation, is it always necessary for a symbol incorporated in or associated with writing to itself be pronounced? Although I can't at this moment bring an example to mind (l'esprit d'escaliermay strike later), I do ask in all seriousness.

  2. Jonathan Silk said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 3:14 pm

    @ Terry Hunt
    I don't know an example either, but I have a clever (well, somewhat) opposite example: there is a restaurant in Leiden called Kitch&.
    The Dutch for 'and' is en*, and so the name of the restaurant is to be pronounced Kitchen (yes, it's English, that's what makes it fun). It would have worked in Dutch too: Keuk& (meaning precisely, Kitchen), but that's less clever, I suppose.

    *J. de Vries (1971), Nederlands Etymologisch Woordenboek
    en voegw., mnl. ende (end, enn, en), onfrank. inde, in, os. endi, ohd. enti, inti, ofri. ande, and, ende, end, oe. and, waarnaast abl. ohd. unta, unti. In het on. nog en, enn ‘ook, en, maar’. — oi. átha ‘daarop, dan’, av. ada ‘evenzo’, lit. iñt ‘na’, verder nog bij idg. *en, ṇ, waarvoor zie: in (IEW 50).

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 4:05 pm

    I think that when we read a printed text containing a non-letter symbol (other than punctuation and diacritics, of course), we do tend to mentally verbalise the symbol to the best of our ability (assuming, that is, that we are not deaf and/or dumb from birth). For example, when I see on the rear of a car "I ♥ Paris", I mentally verbalise this as "I heart Paris" ('though I accept that that may not have been the author's intention). And "s not allowed", I would read as "Dogs not allowed". But even in English I am uncertain how I would mentally verbalise "this ∆ storefront". Probably "This triangle storefront", since there is no obvious reason for me to think of the "∆" as representing a Greek letter. But "Ψchiatry", on the other hand, I would definitely mentally verbalise as "psychiatry", since it is clear that the Greek letter meaning of "Ψ" is what is intended in this context.

  4. cameron said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 9:43 pm

    Given Melvin Lee's explanation, shouldn't the translation be "this corner storefront"?

  5. AntC said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

    is it always necessary for a symbol incorporated in or associated with writing to itself be pronounced?

    Using digits as words in phone numbers (4 = "for", 2 = "to", 0800-474992 = "0800-for pizza") has spread to txting. (You can also see inventiveness in car number plates NO XQZS = "no excuses", seen on a courier's van.) For that to work, we must take the symbol for its phonetic value, not its meaning.

    In programming languages, there's usually a 'pronunciation guide' that explains how 'we' recite some apparently random string of symbols. I.e. 'we' as programmers explaining our code.

    I'm not exactly answering your "necessary?" But I'd say it's almost inevitable to want some pronunciation.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 11:31 pm

    If I see "I ♥ NY", I will verbalize that as "I love New York".

  7. Lugubert said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 11:34 pm

    @ Terry Hunt,
    A person with a smattering of Chinese and rather no knowledge of Japanese might be able to understand most of a Japanese sign (or newspaper headline etc.) without feeling the need to know the pronunciations.

  8. Armin said,

    August 18, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

    "But "Ψchiatry", on the other hand, I would definitely mentally verbalise as "psychiatry", since it is clear that the Greek letter meaning of "Ψ" is what is intended in this context."

    This can be taken even further: Ψχ@ry!

  9. David Marjanović said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 4:33 am

    A person with a smattering of Chinese and rather no knowledge of Japanese might be able to understand most of a Japanese sign (or newspaper headline etc.) without feeling the need to know the pronunciations.

    Knowing a bit of Mandarin and practically no Japanese, I automatically imagine Mandarin pronunciations for the few characters I know simply as part of recognizing the characters at all. 東京大学? Dōngjīng Dàxúe, while I'm understanding it as "Tōkyō University" and before I figure that it's rather Tōkyō Dai…gaku, as it turns out, but I had to look 学 up.

  10. unekdoud said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 5:07 am

    Without reading this post, I might have just assumed the ∆ was a logo or upward pointing arrow, and not tried to read it at all.

    @Terry Hunt: Even for punctuation, it's not always clear how or when to pronounce! Many non-letter characters are read out in urls, while parentheses and semicolons can go unmentioned in programming languages. Punctuation and emoji are often pronounced in reading out text messages, while kaomoji emoticons like (^.^) don't have any standard pronunciation. You can also say "quote", "slash", and "period" in normal speech; I'm not sure whether to count that as a pronunciation.

    In phone numbers like AntC mentioned above, dashes aren't usually read, while the numbers themselves can be read in more than one way. Similar issues occur when talking about "World 1-1" of a video game, while the mathematical adjective "one-to-one" is often abbreviated the same way.

    @Lugubert: I've heard Chinese speakers simply read out kanji (as if it were Chinese) and skip the kana in Japanese text. Even in their native language, it's often easier for a speaker to skip over an obscure character than struggle to find a pronunciation. (I'm also doubtful that such a pronunciation would be intelligible to Japanese except in the best of scenarios.)

    As a comparison: I'm sure many English speakers trying to read Cyrillic would make an attempt at pronouncing the closest English letter available, even though knowing the Latin alphabet doesn't really help.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 10:57 am

    Here's a good example of a "huángjīn sānjiǎo diànmiàn 黃金三角店面" ("golden triangle storefront"):


  12. Chas Belov said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 4:06 pm

    I too verbalize "I ♥ New York" as "I heart New York" even though I know "love" is intended.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 4:24 pm

    Unekdood — a counter-example of one does not in the least invalidate your assertion, but I for one try to pronounce Russian by pronouncing the closest Greek letter, not the closest English.

    Chas B — But would you verbalise "I ♥ NY" as "I heart en why" (as I would) or as "I heart New York" ?

  14. Anthony said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 5:12 pm

    I'm inclined to pronounce ~ as "tilde" when it means 'home directory' but not when it means 'approximately'. When a mathematician suddenly introduces an operator consisting of right and left parentheses superimposed upon each other (meaning "is compatible with") I have no idea of the name of the symbol and can only call it by its meaning, 'compatibility operator'.

  15. Ken said,

    August 19, 2018 @ 6:56 pm

    @Terry Hunt, @AntC: In usability requirements we have "a11y" and "i18n", pronounced "accessibility" and "internationalization".

  16. tangent said,

    August 20, 2018 @ 12:04 am

    I more frequently hear "i18n" pronounced like "eye-eighteen-en" between i18n specialists.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    August 20, 2018 @ 5:55 am

    "Eye-eighteen-en" is certainly how I (as a non-i18n specialist) mentally verbalise it (–ditto– a11y). Indeed, it took me some considerable time for me to discover exactly what a11y/118n were, rather as the verb "to blog" was totally lost on me until I discovered its etymology.

  18. Philip Anderson said,

    August 21, 2018 @ 8:09 am

    I wouldn’t verbalise punctuation, although it might affect my intonation and pauses, but symbols I would (according to context).

    Oh! is an exclamation but 6! is 6-factorial.

    I would pronounce a heart symbol as ‘hearts’ in a card-playing context, but ‘I love’/‘eu amo’/j’aime etc. Would someone say “j’ coeur Paris” when the intention is clearly “j’aime Paris”?

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    August 21, 2018 @ 8:26 am

    "6! is 6-factorial". Counter-example. "Ellie studied the Monopoly board carefully. She couldn't afford to land on Park Lane or Mayfair, and the other possibilities were none too attractive either. She held her breath and rolled the die. '6!' she shouted, the joy and relief all too apparent in her face". (OK, a decent copy-editor would have amended that to "Six!").

  20. Philip Anderson said,

    August 21, 2018 @ 10:24 am

    “According to context”. You are right of course; I omitted the context: “6! = 720”

  21. poftim said,

    August 22, 2018 @ 12:33 am

    There's often a difference between how you mentally pronounce a symbol, and how you say it out loud when talking to somebody.

    I'd definitely say "six factorial" for 6! when reading a mathematical expression to someone else, but I'm not sure I'd say that in my head.

    Like Victor, I verbalize "I ♥ NY" as "I love New York". Actually pronouncing ♥ as "heart" in that context seems to be a recent development.

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    August 22, 2018 @ 2:59 am

    Like poftime, my mental verbalising of "6!" (when "!" = "factorial") is different from my formal usage in speech. In my head, it reads "six shriek" , and I may even use the "shriek" in form when discussing statistics with my wife or a close friend, reserving "factorial" for professional interactions.

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