A friend just came back from Taiwan where he (somehow) met a local bear expert. The man told him:
He said, “We think the adjective should be first and then the noun second. It’s not a ‘bear cat’. So we call it a ‘cat bear.'”
I’ve often wondered about this little inconsistency in Chinese: sometimes compound words put the noun first (like the mainland word for “panda”), but usually (it seems to me) the noun is second like it would be in English.
ADJ + N
- yá shuā 牙刷 = toothbrush [tooth brush]
N + ADJ
- xiàn sù 限速 = speed limit [limit speed]
I should clarify: in a language where words can be nouns, verbs, and adjectives all at once, what I’m talking about here is their function. In other words:
ADJ + N
- “It’s a brush. What kind of brush? A tooth brush.”
N + ADJ
“It’s a speed. What kind of speed? A limit speed.”(seems to break the rule)
And that’s the bear man’s (what kind of man?) point:
- “It’s a bear. What kind of bear? A cat bear.”
Let’s ignore for a moment what “cat” has to do with pandas, and concede the man his point. But does that mean they also say “speed limit” differently in Taiwan? I would guess not because there is precedent in the language for N + ADJ construction of compound words (even though I’ve stricken through the above red line).
- Confirm / deny that “Panda” really is “māo xióng” 猫熊 in Taiwan?
- Give other examples of either N + ADJ compound words?
The comments section welcomes you.