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How Numbers Became Magical in Daily Life? (Elementary)

Jul. 10, 2013

One day, Lucy received a love letter from Zhangming. To her surprise, there were no words in the letter, but only some numbers: “584, 5201314.” She was totally confused, and did not know what to think. So she asked her friend Lihua for help. After reading the letter, Lihua translated the numbers into English for Lucy: “I swear that I will love you forever.” Lucy felt very happy and excited about what she heard.

Meanwhile, she began to wonder how these numbers could express such things. After Lihua’s explanation, she finally understood. He showed her how each number can take on a new meaning depending on its pronunciation. “5” in Chinese sounds like “我()”, “8()” in Chinese sounds like “发()”, “4()” sounds like “誓(shì).” Other Chinese characters with similarities in pronunciation are the following, “0(líng)” sounds like “你(),” “1()” is “一(),” “2(èr)” sounds like “爱(ài),”  “3(sān)” sounds like “生(shēng),” “4” also sounds like “世(shì).” They can not only express concrete numeral concepts, but also convey some implicit meanings. They are truly magical!

Originally, numbers were well, numbers. They were used to show quantity or to represent a numeral. But with the development of society and the advancement of Chinese culture, people began to pay more attention to finding interesting aspects of their daily lives, like in the use of numbers. For example, “520” is a fun way to say, “I love you,” in Chinese. “88” means “bye bye;” “5201314” means “I love you forever.” Such expressions are prolific. Why can these numbers when used together express such special meanings? The major reason lies in the similarity in pronunciation between numbers and Chinese characters.

Numbers can make writing fun and efficient; for example, in the sentence, "this gift is for you,” the “for you” can be written as 4U to save time and space. This situation often takes place during like interpretation. Interpreters need to remember a lot of information in a short time, and need an effective System to accomplish their task. In this instance, pronunciation similarity between numbers and English is a tool used by translators as a type of shorthand. “2” sounds like “to or too;” “4” sounds like “for.”

Exercise:

1. Which Chinese character does “9” sound like?

A. 我()

B. 久(jiǔ)

C. 发()

2. What does “520” mean?

A. I hate you.

B. I miss you.

C. I love you.

See answer

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