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False Friends: 後生

04/01/2012

False friends (French: faux amis) are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning [Taken from Wikipedia].

後生 is interesting because it can be commonly found in Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese, but has different meanings in all of them. This seems to be quite a rare phenomenon and I can’t think of any other similar examples. Does anybody else know of false friends across topolects? The meanings of 後生 are listed below:

Taiwanese:

Pronunciation: hāu-senn/hāu-sinn

Meaning:             兒子; son

Cantonese:

Pronunciation: hau6 saang1

Meaning:             年輕; young*; young people

Mandarin:

Pronunciation: hòushēng

Meaning:             年輕男子; 晚輩; young generation; young man

*後生 is the most common way to describe someone as young in Cantonese as opposed to 年輕(niánqīng) in Mandarin and 少年(siàu-liân) in Taiwanese.

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