專名號 Introduction to Chinese “Capitalization”

Did you know that you can use  Chinese characters to write numbers and that’s considered capitalization (大寫)?  It’s 零、壹、貳、叄、肆、伍、陸、柒、捌、玖、拾、佰、仟、萬、億

I found a whole website on just punctuation rules from the Education Ministry.  The equivalent of “capitalization” in Chinese is really English Proper Nouns, which I learned is called 專名號.   For example, people’s names, country names, names of agencies, or you as I tell Thumper, 人名,地名.  (there’s more of course such as agency names, but majority is people and places)  Apparently 專名號 used to be called 私名號 and it isn’t used in China much anymore except in old texts.  It is however, still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.  I think though, if you read Chinese in a horizontal format, you will seldom see proper names underlined.  Or maybe adults just seldom underline things.   Basically it will be in children’s textbooks, but perhaps not adult books, at least not as strict about it.

The examples from the websites are:

  1. People Names:  孫中山先生 (Sun Yat-Sun)
  2. Name of aboriginal tribes:  阿美族 (A-mei tribe in Taiwan)
  3. Country Names: 美國 (United states)
  4. Other locality names:  台北 (Taipei)
  5. Transportation Routes: 橫貫公路 (Taiwan’s Central Cross-lsland Highway)
  6. Agency names: 教育部 (Ministry of Education)
  7. School of Thoughts: 桐城派 (some school of thought I have no clue about)
  8. Buildings: 萬里長城 (Great Wall of China), 狄斯奈樂園 (Disneyland)
  9. Names of Dynasties: 戰國 (Warring States period)
  10. Mountains and Lakes: 喜馬拉雅山 (Himalayas)

Some mistakes children make are:

  • Thinking to underline names like Father and Mother
  • Thinking general names are proper names, like 市場 market, 公園 park.
  • Thinking status of person is a proper name.  Again worth noting because Santa Claus is not underlined.  It’s 聖誕老人。
  • You only capitalize country name.  So 楚人 (People of Chu Dynasty), you only underline 楚.  漢軍 (solders of Han dynasty) you underline 漢.
  • You do not underline if the name is enclosed in quotes.  Like 『國際蕭邦鋼琴大賽」(Chopin International Piano Competition) you don’t capitalize the 蕭邦 (Chopin).
  • Do not connect two proper names together.  Like, 中國北京 actually has two lines, one for China and one for Beijing.

Gotchas from English capitalizations are:

  • Thinking holidays are proper names.
  • Thinking Title of person is a proper name, such as Doctor, Mr., or Ms.
  • Thinking whole location names need to be capitalized.  For example, if you said 優勝美地瀑布 I think you only underline 優勝美地.  Or if you said 馬爾地夫珊瑚礁島嶼 (Maldives coral reef islands) you only underline 馬爾地夫.
  • Book titles are NOT underlined.  They are considered a separate category called 書名號

AND, something even better, a video to explain things!  I’m starting to think, why have me do all the teaching when I can find others to teach and then do followup work!  And OMG, this guy has all these other videos based on the textbooks in Taiwan, for grammar!


How we’re teaching it

I spent 2 hours this morning searching and searching for samples similar to the English ones.  All I found are tests that “asks” children which one is wrong or which punctuation to use in multiple choice format.  I was about to pull my hair out.  I really disliked the format because it wasn’t asking children to synthesize what they learn and use it.

So I wrote my own.  Here’s an unproofread version.  I’m asking a friend to make it sound better.  I’ve highlighted in red what I think should be capitalized.

有一個小女孩名叫小貓小貓住在三藩市三藩市美國加州的北部。很有以前北加州住著很多原住民,歐隆族是其中之一。

小貓喜歡去洛杉磯,因為洛杉磯住著外婆。每年聖誕節,小貓會回外婆家住。每年夏天,她回去跟奶奶住,奶奶會帶大家一起去狄斯奈樂園玩。每兩年,她們家族也會在優勝美地國家公園度假。小貓非常喜歡爬山看新娘面紗瀑布。前年她也跟弟弟去台灣玩,兩人最喜歡台北一〇一大樓。弟弟在台灣生病時,媽媽帶他去醫生看病。有一天,她也想要去日本玩。

I explained the rules by first going through the English rules and saying Chinese is simpler in some respects.  It’s really just people and locale, plus things agency names.  I pointed out more how some of the rules are different from English.  For example, Christmas, street names, mountain names, etc.  Thumper was asked to underline just like the English capitalization test.   I then went over it and we talked about the ones she missed.  And she underlined the National Park park for Yosemite National Park, which you don’t do in Chinese.   I forgot to tell her about aboriginal names, so she missed that one.  She really enjoyed the little essay I wrote her.

The funny thing is, as a bilingual I actually have no problem with the rules.  Maybe because the grammar term are already different in the two languages.  In Engilsh it’s Proper Nouns.  Nouns are kind of generic.  In Chinese, it used to be called 私名號, a private name.  So it makes sense for me for some reason that National Park 國家公園 is a generic term in Chinese.  And yet it also makes sense that National Park is part of Yosemite’s name in English.  Strange how a bilingual brain works.  The grammar rules are really compartmentalized.

What I will actually do is to also ask her to write something that utilizes these rules.  Because I found that for myself, I understood the rules better when I had to come up with this sample worksheet.  I had to keep doing research cuz I kept thinking up cases I wasn’t sure about.

I forgot, I need to do this in English too!

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