Lettered words in Chinese dictionaries

a challenge for non-Romanised language


  • Lan Li The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen)
  • Qi Gong Jinan University




Lettered words, Linguistic purity, Etymology, Classifcation, Selection criteria


Language use in the digital era has led to the surge of lettered words in non-Romanised languages. Some linguistic purists have concerns for these unwanted alien elements although lettered words have become a signifcant part of modern Chinese lexicon. Their omnipresence has also created a challenge to dictionary compilation. Although lettered words have entered Chinese dictionaries, what are the selection criteria? How can they ft into macro- and microstructures of dictionaries? This paper probed into a list of over 1000 lettered words from a recently published Chinese dictionary, analysed their origins, word class, and uses in modern Chinese together with corpus data. The findings show that lettered words are mainly used as nouns, and can also function as verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They are extensively used in diferent genres by diferent people. The challenge of including lettered words in Chinese dictionaries is also discussed. Drawing on the FUDGE factor analysis by Metcalf (Predicting new words: the secret of their success. Houghton Mifin Company, New York, 2002), the authors suggest that the treatment of lettered words in a Chinese dictionary should have practical guidelines for selection, defnition, pronunciation and usage. Frequency, unobtrusiveness, diversity of use and endurance of lettered words ought to be taken into consideration.


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How to Cite

Li, L., & Gong, Q. (2018). Lettered words in Chinese dictionaries: a challenge for non-Romanised language. Lexicography, 5(2), 85-96. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40607-018-0047-9