Abbreviations and Milk Tea: Differences in Chinese and English

Pearl milk tea, or 珍珠奶茶 (zhen’zhu nai cha), is the staple, most iconic dessert drink of the Bay and Taiwan. Often abbreviated in English to PMT, the delicious concoction is never referred to as ZZNC in Chinese. Rather, its name is shortened from four characters to two: 珍奶 (zhen nai). So what are the differences in abbreviating English words versus Chinese words?

In English, phrases with multiple words are shortened with acronyms. Acronyms are formed by combining and capitalizing the first letter of each word in the phrase. From the world-renowned “NASA (National Aeronautic Space Administration)” to the colloquial “LOL (laugh out loud)”, writers can use these abbreviations to shorten a large variety of phrases, especially if they are used repetitively.

While English involves acronyms, Chinese phrases are shortened by removing entire characters from the phrase. In phrases with four characters, the second and fourth characters are omitted. The four-character phrase for environmental protection “環境保護 (huan’jing bao’hu)” is curtailed to “環保 (huan bao)”. Since Chinese involves characters rather than an alphabet, it doesn’t make much sense to make acronyms as in English.

Evidently, abbreviations do not translate directly across all languages. Different languages may have different sets of rules for shortening phrases, but, with practice, I’m sure anyone can master these grammatical rules.




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