Revisiting Character Substitution

in March of 2010 I wrote about a form of character substitution I’d seen around Minhang in Shanghai. On Hongmei Nan Lu 虹梅南路 there is a residential community called Red Hill in English but 虹山 in Mandarin. Minhang, written 闵行, often has the name written 闽行 in store names, such as 闽行水果店.

I just saw another example of this, though in this case in Taiwan. A store, either for baked goods or women’s clothing (jet lag prevented me from remembering which) is called “Field of Love” in English. The Chinese name: 艾之天. It was a manufactured sign, and the owner probably went in and bought each character separately (之 being rendered in grass script), so it seems unlikely that laziness was the reason. Being used to some people getting bent out of shape that 愛 is simplified sans-心, it seems too sacred to chop down into 艾.

Some possible reasons were given in the comments of the original post. Now two and a half years later and seeing this again, perhaps someone has other examples to share.

4 responses to “Revisiting Character Substitution”

  1. James says:

    Kellen, the Taiwanese use character puns wherever and whenever it is humanly possible, so your hypothesis that the substitution of 愛 with 艾 not being due to laziness is most certainly correct. Barring the seemingly-unlikely possibility that either the store’s owner is silly and carries the surname 艾 (almost unseen in the land of 林, 陳, and 黃) or that it is a decidedly-philistine moxibustion clinic, the store is most likely named such for the same reason you wrote this post, specifically, to catch consumers’ eyes (and NTD). Additionally, 閩 is used to refer to just about anything from the Fujian region, and far more common than the 閔 character (This is true in Taiwan at least. I know very little about Shanghai, let alone that a place called 閔行區 exists.).

  2. Kellen Parker says:

    Thanks for the reply. Seemed like that was the case.

  3. ahbin says:

    I am guessing the 閩 is just a mistake. 閔 is no substitution. I feel that a lot of Chinese still are not literate to the level that we sometimes think they are, and will quite happily substitute a rare character like this without even noticing there is anything amiss. One example I remember was that teacher of mine in Taiwan was getting people to write 貌 with an 兒 on the right-hand side.

    • Kellen says:

      In the case of 闽/闵 it’s definitely not a mistake. As mentioned above, people would know the name of the district they live in, and the 闵 character is widely incorporated into design and branding of district government stuff. While people may not be as literate as you’d assume (ask someone to write 打喷嚏 or a Taiwanese to write 臺灣 for examples), probably that wasn’t the case here.

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