Monday, 3 December 2012

flight info

I’m safely back home in England now after my trip to Japan and China.

I didn’t sleep much on the outbound flight from Amsterdam to Osaka. Once the meal was cleared and the lights dimmed I tried to, but kept finding myself watching the flight information screen, which alternated between a map of our current position and the details of our altitude, distance to destination, ground speed, etc. The language of latter cycled between Dutch, English and Japanese.

I noticed that whereas in Dutch and English kilometre was abbreviated to km, as you would expect, in the Japanese it was abbreviated to キロ, which is the katakana for ki-ro.

I mused on the fact that in English kilo ˈkiːləʊ is used as an abbreviation for ‘kilogram’ but not for ‘kilometre’. Is this true for AmE as well as for BrE? And why do we say unabbreviated kilogram with kɪ- but its abbreviation with ki:-? (Is this also true of AmE?) And why, as an abbreviation for ‘kilometre’, but not for ‘kilogram’, or for that matter ‘kilohertz’, do we say just K keɪ? To these absorbing questions I do not know the answers.

Then I further noticed that in giving our altitude ‘metre’ was written unabbreviated in Japanese, as メートル me:-to-ru. Its form suggests that Japanese must have borrowed this word from French (mètre mɛːtʁ(ə)). If it had come from English, it would presumably have taken the form ミーター mi:-ta:.

I believe that in Japanese, as in Chinese, ‘metre’ can also be written with the Chinese character for ‘rice’, 米 , which in Chinese is .

37 comments:

  1. In Dutch, kilo is also used to mean kilogram, and not for kilometer or kilohertz. But it's pronounced the same as in the unabbreviated form.

    Tim Wigboldus

    ReplyDelete
  2. Welcome back after such a long journey.

    "Japanese must have borrowed this word from French (mètre mɛːtʁ(ə)). If it had come from English, it would presumably have taken the form ミーター mi:-ta:" - assuming presumably a non-rhotic English model, or did I miss some uvular subtlety in the vowel of -to- in me:-to-ru?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the evidence of pe:-pa: for 'paper' and many other similar English loanwords ending in -er.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, it seems I have mistransliterated the Katakana above. (I don't speak Japanese!) It seems that in Romaji it is in fact "dejitaru maruchimeetaa" (or however you choose to represent the long vowels). But in any case, it's not "meetoru", so John's basic point is not contradicted.

      (I should also have given the English, though I'm sure you've all worked it out: digital multimeter.)

      Delete
  3. "I mused on the fact that in English kilo ˈkiːləʊ is used as an abbreviation for ‘kilogram’ but not for ‘kilometre’. Is this true for AmE as well as for BrE?"

    No, if only because the vast majority of Americans don't use metric terms enough for abbreviations to mean 'this form of measurement but not that seemingly related but distinct one'. If someone walked up to me and said, "two kilos - am I talking about weight or distance?" I would first guess weight. Movies have taught me that the 'proper'(/military?) way to reference kilometers in one syllable is to say 'clicks'.

    I'm not good at typing the phonetic characters, but in my Central Plains/none American accent, I would say 'kuh-LO-mih-ter', 'KIH-luh-gram', 'kih-luh-HERTZ.'

    On the abbreviation K: when I was in high school taking AP Chem, we used 'kg', because a single capital K was for Kelvins, the temperature/heat unit. On the rare occurrence that I see something in America referring to kilometers, it's always 'km' and never a plain 'k'. The electrical-engineering husband informs me it is kHz.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yet it took me only a few moments to confirm the use of K for 'kilometre' in Canada at least.

      Delete
    2. ...and I find it difficult to believe your implicit claim that 'kilohertz' has final stress in AmE. American phoneticians of my acquaintance give this word (which is frequently (!) used by phoneticians) initial stress, as do Brits.

      Delete
    3. Lastly, "Ann", please remember that you MUST give your full true name when placing comments on this blog.

      Delete
    4. I think chemistry and running (the linked Canadian example) are two distinctly different fields. Here in the U.S. we use K for races (5k, 10k). But I would be surprised to see it used in science, unless they are studying these races

      Delete
    5. I'll second Ellen, and also add that my gut feeling is that in colloquial speech, if presented with [number]k, my interpretation would naturally go to "kilometer" for the common race distances of 5K and 10K, but (depending on whether the context is likelier to involve a salary or a temperature) would tend to go with the "thousand [dollar]" or "degree Kelvin" interpretation from most higher figures ("his starting salary is 15k a year"... not that I know many people who actually talk like that often.)

      Part of this is, no doubt, also due to the fact that most Americans still cite distances other than 5 and 10 kilometers in miles, and so I'd be interested to see how often there's a need for a spoken abbreviation of "kilometer."

      Jeremy Lin

      Delete
    6. "k" simply means "1000" as SI prefix, and it seems (judging the mentioned expression "100k a year" etc.) that it means just that. A "10k" race is a 10.000 race, "meter" being implicit. I'd be surprised if "k" would actually be directly associated with "km". (Also not that the Canadian page uses "k", not "K".)

      Delete
  4. I would say that "kilo" is used as an abbreviation for kilogram, but not kilometer, in AmE. Certainly that is the case for me, and I've spent essentially my entire life in the US. And yes, I have kilogram with kɪ- but its abbreviation with ki:-.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here in Canada, we (mostly) use the metric system, with a (more or less) Standard AmE accent. We definitely also use the abbreviation "kilo", pronounced [ˈkiːloʊ]. The abbreviation is just for weights, as in, "is it measured in pounds, or kilos?"

    There are two standard pronunciations of "kilometre": [kɪˈlɑmɪtɚ] and [ˈkɪləˌmitɚ].

    There are also two spellings: "-re" and "-er". In Canada, we often take the British system of spelling. One sees "kilometre", just like "centre".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please see my LPD for statistics on the two stressings of kilometre/kilometer in BrE and AmE. No stats for Canada!

      Delete
    2. You MUST give your true full name when commenting on this blog.

      Delete
    3. I guess not too surprising the AmE has stronger preference for ki'lometer over 'kilometer than BrE, given presumably stronger influence of Spanish kilómetro.

      Delete
  6. Speaking of U.S. English, I would say we pronounce "kilo" the same as the British simply because it's a British word. Most of us rarely encounter kilograms in spoken English, so no need for a spoken abbreviation, and in writing, kg does nicely.

    ReplyDelete
  7. My guess is that the abbreviation "kilo" is a loanword from French, possibly influenced by its use as the keyword for "K" in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, which specifies its pronunciation as "KEY-LOH".

    Its pronunciation reflects the French lack of distinction between /I/ and /i/.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You MUST give your true full name when commenting on this blog.

      Delete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In Bulgarian, too, we use килò [kiˈɫɔ] an as informal clipped from of килогрàм [kiɫoˈɡräm]. Киломèтър [kiɫoˈmɛtər] is never clipped. We use exclusively metric weights and measures. In general everyday situations, it seems, kilo(gram) occurs more often than kilometre. Distances are more likely to be limited to metres (2, 5, 100, 300 etc m). Longer walking distances are usually expressed in time estimates (10 minutes away).

    Interestingly, OED has two entries for kilo (as a free-standing word). The first is the well-known 'Abbrev. of kilogram'. The second, however, is 'Abbrev. of kilometre' and it is not marked as obsolete: the earliest example is from 1888 (against 1870 for kilo as 'kilogram'), while the latest one is from 1973: After bogging down in the sand by a wrecked tank, we dug ourselves out and hastily retreated a few kilos until we reached a tank laager. (Evening Standard, 11 Oct. 1/2). Collins online and Random House both have the 'kilometre' meaning. AHDEL4, too, has both meanings, but the 5th edition (2011) has scrapped 'kilometre' and gives only 'kilogram' now. Merriam-Webster online has only 'kilogram'.

    For both [i]kilo[/i] entries, OED's transcription is, surprisingly, /ˈkɪləʊ/. LPD, EPD, ODP, Collins and American Heritage have only /ˈkiːləʊ/ (mutatis mutandis), while Random House and Merriam-Webster have both (ˈkiːləʊ first).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mitko Sabev

      In Bulgarian, too, we use килò [kiˈɫɔ] an as informal clipped from of килогрàм [kiɫoˈɡräm]. Киломèтър [kiɫoˈmɛtər] is never clipped.

      My wife tells me that Russian километр is occasionally clipped to ke me — i.e. a vocalisation of км.

      Delete
  10. In German too, Kilo is short only for Kilogram, never for Kilometer. And Americans do talk about kilos if they're talking about quantities of cocaine, a product which is apparently never weighed out in pounds. And there too, kilos means only kilograms, never kilometers. (Which I personally pronounce [kɪˈlɑmətɚ].)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a product weighed in South America, whose countries use the metric system.

      Delete
  11. I agree with Ryan: kilo = kilogram in AmE, and its vowel is tense, which makes me guess that it was borrowed considerably more recently than kilogram.

    Key [ki] also means kilogram, as in Arlo Guthrie's song: "Coming into Los Angeles / Bringin' in a couple of keys / Don't search my bags, if you please / Mr. Customs Man."

    Some Americans, notably in the military, use klick as a short form of kilometer.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Besides [kɪˈlɑmətɚ] and [ˈkɪləˌmitɚ], [ˈkiləˌmitɚ] (note the /i/) is also a possibility, at least for North Americans (if memory serves); same for kilogram (though [kɪˈlɑgram] is certainly impossible). The same would not probably hold for kilohertz, kilosecond (if someone would even dare say that), kilotesla, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Kilogram" is different from other SI "kilo"s in that the kilogram, not the gram, is the base unit in the MKS system.

    A similar funny: "mil" is short for "millilitre", not "millimetre" or "milligram".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joe Stynes

      A similar funny: "mil" is short for "millilitre", not "millimetre" or "milligram".

      According to the OED, that restriction is by a 1907 Act of Parliament — in Britain, that is, and for pharmacists.

      I know I've heard mil used for the currency unit milleme in Egypt, and according to the OED it has been used as the full form for one thousandth of some other currency units.

      I may be wrong, but I think I've heard mil to mean 'millionth of an inch'.

      Delete
  14. In my experience "megs" and "gigs" can stand for mega/gigabytes, mega/gigabits or mega/gigahertz; perhaps also other things?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Joe Stynes: I think that "mil" is a spelling pronunciation of the abbreviation "ml".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hence also the abbreviation (common in chemistry and pharmacology, if not everyday life) "mig" for "milligram" (mg).

      Delete
  16. In French, 'kilo' is also exclusive for 'kilogramme'.

    I do not know when the Japanese borrowed メートル, but the Japanese Wikipedia article confirms in its second paragraph that the Japanese version comes from the French "original language".

    Anyway, the transcription should be メトル because the è in French 'mètre' is short. There is nowadays no difference in French between long ε and short ε, but when this distinction existed 'mètre' was definitely [mεtʀ], whereas 'maître' was [mε:tʀ].

    The Japanese also have a nice way of putting the 4 katakana together in a sort of katakana-kanji, which is only one character in the extended Japaneses fonts. You may need to zoom in to see it distinctly: ㍍

    ReplyDelete
  17. Just to add to the list, for all your questions about AmE versions of these words and abbreviations, I'd say "yes." That has been my, potentially flawed, experience as an American.

    As for the borrowing of words into Japanese, my current experience with learning Japanese is that borrowed words are not as predictable as I'd like them to be. For instance, デパート /depaːto/ for "department store" seems to be a borrowing from English but I can't make heads or tails out of why it's borrowed in this form. They replace rhoticized vowels with long vowels, but this word seems to be a Japanese version of "depart," not "department" or "department store." Even if they borrowed an abbreviated form it would be "store" not a shortened form of "department." Perhaps there's something going on with taking the English sounds and parsing them into Japanese morphemes then abbreviating them? Wild guess there. (Another strange one is パソコン /pasokon/ for "personal computer" or "PC." If someone can explain to me the history of that one I'd be grateful.)

    I think something that also confuses the キロ example is that rōmaji is also used for English acronyms (and presumably abbreviations?). So I wouldn't be surprised to see them actually use "km" as is, especially since it's been suggested to me that Japanese is most willing to take on foreign language conventions in math and science (this is much of what the argument was for using rōmaji during the Meiji Period).

    Sorry, not sure how to get my full name to appear up top without making a new account.
    -Josh McNeill

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The way Japanese creates shortenings from words (both native and borrowed) often looks odd. Wikipedia has a great article here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_abbreviated_and_contracted_words

      Delete
  18. I have a nagging feeling that I've heard keɪ dʒi: as the abbreviation for Kilogram, and heard it quite recently. I wish I could remember what sort of people I was hearing speaking.

    ReplyDelete
  19. David,

    Talk of "kay-gee(s)" is very common here in New Zealand, as in "he could do with losing a few kay-gees". I'd say I hear kay-gee(s) and kilo(s) with roughly equal frequency.

    At work we often ask customers for their height and weight over the phone. They usually come out with something like "five-eleven and eighty kay-gees". Weird I know.

    -Chris Bolton

    ReplyDelete