The reality of emerging digraphia

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Paul Battley spotted this nice specimen of digraphia written inside the glass of one of those soft toy grabber machines in Taipei last week:

Wú'r 吴'r means Wú xiānshēng 吴先生 ("Mr. Wu"), omitting the M of the "Mr". Likewise, Wú's 吴's means Wú xiǎojiě 吴小姐 ("Ms. Wu"), omitting the M of the "Ms".

This usage has also spread to the Mainland, or maybe it started there.  The father of a friend of mine in Guangzhou received a package addressed to him that way (吴'r).

Readings

[Thanks to Zeyao Wu]



7 Comments

  1. Victor Mair said,

    April 14, 2019 @ 10:18 pm

    From Tong Wang:

    吴'r is an interesting pattern, with " 'r " on the right side of 吴. " 'r " as the abbreviation of "Mr.", I presume is inspired by contractions like "I've" or "don't". Instead of following the English word order "Mr. Wu", " 'r " is put behind Wu to agree with the Chinese 吴先生. It combines Chinese and English in an amazing way. Bravo to the person who invented this word! Now I just want to know how it could be pronounced as a word.

  2. Michael Watts said,

    April 16, 2019 @ 12:43 am

    Now I just want to know how it could be pronounced as a word.

    Would it not be the single syllable 吴儿? Of all the things I might expect a Chinese speaker to have difficulty with, tacking 'r onto another word is probably at the very bottom of the list.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 16, 2019 @ 7:35 am

    "Would it not be the single syllable 吴儿? "

    I'm not so sure about that. It depends what part of China you're from.

    And how about the feminine version, Wú's 吴's?

  4. Michael Watts said,

    April 17, 2019 @ 1:49 am

    If they're attempting to read it "as it's written", I'd expect 吴 's to be read as something like 吴斯, but that's really just a guess as to the answer to "how could this be pronounced as a word?". In practice, I'd guess the most likely option is to substitute in a proper title, like 吴小姐, when you read the text aloud, which avoids the need to pronounce 's in the first place.

    Is the question "how is this sequence of sounds pronounced?" or is it "what do people do in practice when reading this kind of text?"

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    April 17, 2019 @ 4:41 am

    Tong Wang — Whilst I do not know how 吴'r is pronounced in practice, I do see a similarity between Chinese "吴'r" and English "Mr Wu". In the latter case we do not struggle to pronounce the consonantal cluster "Mr" but rather pronounce it as if it were spelled out in full (i.e., /mɪstə/ or /mɪstər/), whilst with the female analogue "Mrs" we no longer pronounce it fully (which would be /mɪstrɪs/) but instead shorten it to /mɪsɪz/. For "Ms", some of us just struggle, and I personally pronounce it as if it were the abbreviation for "manuscript" (/em es/). As other commentators have already noted, 吴儿 (/wuɚ/) should certainly come easily to a native Beijingren.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    April 17, 2019 @ 2:43 pm

    with the female analogue "Mrs" we no longer pronounce it fully (which would be /mɪstrɪs/) but instead shorten it to /mɪsɪz/

    This is a very etymologically-focused view that explicitly contradicts what I was taught in grade school. Mrs may have originated as an abbreviation of "mistress", but at this point they have diverged into different words; you don't even have the option of reading Mrs as "mistress", which has a different meaning. I was taught that the spelling-in-full of Mrs was "Missus", as the spelling-in-full of Mr is "Mister".

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    April 17, 2019 @ 3:14 pm

    The OED has the following (and more) to say on "Mrs" :

    Pronunciation:
    Brit. /ˈmɪsᵻz/, U.S. /ˈmɪsᵻz/, /ˈmɪsᵻs/

    Origin: Formed within English, by clipping or shortening. Etymon: mistress n.
    Etymology: Shortened < mistress n. (originally as a graphic abbreviation); on subsequent development of a distinct spoken realization see discussion below. For occasional corresponding fuller written forms see missus n. Compare Mr n.

    In the latter half of the 17th cent. there was a general tendency to confine the use of written abbreviations to words of inferior syntactic importance, such as prefixed titles. The form Mrs. for mistress therefore fell into disuse except when prefixed to a name; and in this position the writing of the full form gradually became unusual. The contracted pronunciation became, for the prefixed title, first a permitted colloquial licence, and ultimately the only allowable pronunciation. When this stage was reached, Mrs. (with the contracted pronunciation) became a distinct word from mistress.

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