Spicks & Specks

incorporating 'A Thousand Miles of Moonlight'

货车 / 貨車

6 March 2012

There are lots of faux amis (false friends) between Chinese and Japanese. Unlike in European languages, false friends are usually based on the written form in Chinese characters, not on resemblances in pronunciation or suggestive similarities in spelling or etymology.

A simple example is kisha (汽車) in Japanese vs qìchē (汽车 / 汽車) in Chinese. The literal meaning is ‘steam vehicle’ or ‘vapour vehicle’. In Japanese kisha (汽車) means ‘train’ (cf ‘steam engine’ in English). In Chinese the same form means ‘car, automobile’ (probably based on qìyóu 汽油 ‘petrol/gasoline’).

Recently I came across a similar false friend, but one which had me nonplussed for a while as I tried to put my finger on what was wrong.

The specific occurrence was “貨車輸送” kasha yusō ‘transport by freight car’ in a passage in Japanese. The meaning was clearly ‘transport by train’, but since kasha (貨車) is in fairly restricted use in Japanese and wasn’t totally familiar to me, it didn’t click for a while that it didn’t have the same meaning as Chinese huò-chē (货车 / 貨車). In terms of Chinese characters the two words are the same, consisting of / 貨 ‘goods, freight’ and / 車 ‘car, vehicle’. Both thus have the meaning ‘freight car’ or ‘cargo vehicle’. But a Google image search turns up totally different items. A Chinese image search will turn up photos like this:

货车 / 貨車

Truck  Truck Truck

A Japanese-language image search, on the other hand, will turn up photos like this:


Goods vans Goods vans Tanker

The difference is fairly straightforward. In Chinese huò-chē (货车 / 貨車) is mainly used for road vehicles. It's a very familiar term in ordinary usage. In Japanese, kasha (貨車) is used only for goods wagons or freight cars hauled by trains. It's not particularly esoteric vocabulary, but it's more restricted in everyday use than the Chinese term.

To confirm these differences, it’s interesting to check Wikipedia.

Chinese Wikipedia: Searching for “货车” on Chinese Wikipedia directs you to the article on “载货汽车” (Trad. 載貨汽車zài-huò qì-chē, literally ‘freight carrying automobile’:

载货汽车,小型的通常称货车,大型的称做卡车 / Trad: 載貨汽車,小型的通常稱貨車,大型的稱做卡車

zài-huò qì-chē, xiǎo-xíng de tōngcháng chēng huò-chē, dà-xíng de chēng-zuò kǎ-chē

‘Automobile for carrying freight. Small type generally called “freight vehicle”; large type called a “truck”‘.

The corresponding English article is that on Truck, and it is possible that the Chinese article was intended to correspond to the English. The article title, 载货汽车 / 載貨汽車 zài-huò qì-chē ‘freight automobile’, is not a term in everyday use. Trucks of the kind familiar from everyday situations and purposes, such as deliveries, as well as tip-trucks, etc., are known as huò-chē (货车 / 貨車) ‘freight vehicle’, while very large trucks are more likely to be called kǎ-chē (卡车 / 卡車) or simply dà-chē (大车 / 大車) ‘large vehicle’.

Checking the corresponding Japanese entry, we find ourselves at “貨物自動車” kamotsu-jidōsha ‘freight automobile’:

主に貨物を運搬する構造の自動車をいう。一般には「トラック (truck)」、又は「商用車」と呼ばれる

omo ni kamotsu o unpan suru kōzō no jidōsha o yū. Ippan-teki ni wa ‘torakku (truck)’, mata wa ‘shōyō-sha’ to yobareru

‘mainly refers to an automobile with a structure for carrying freight. Generally called “truck”, or “commercial vehicle”‘.

Again, kamotsu-jidōsha (貨物自動車) is not an everyday term in Japanese, and it is more common to refer to them as torakku (トラック) for larger ones or shōyō-sha (商用車) ‘commercial vehicle’ for smaller ones.

Japanese Wikipedia: Searching for “貨車” on Japanese Wikipedia, on the other hand, will send you to the page titled “貨車” kasha:

貨車(かしゃ、英語: Freight Car)とは、鉄道において貨物を輸送するための列車(貨物列車)に用いられる車両を指す呼称.

Kasha (eigo ‘freight car’) to wa, tetsudō ni oite kamotsu o yusō suru tame no ressha (kamotsu ressha) ni mochiirareru sharyō o sasu koshō

‘Freight car (English ‘freight car’) is a name used to refer to wagons used on trains for freight on railways (freight trains).’

The corresponding English-language article is at Goods wagon. Clicking through to the equivalent Chinese page, we find ourselves at “铁路货车” (Trad. 鐵路貨車tiělù huò-chē ‘railway freight vehicle’, defined as:

铁路货车,泛指任何可供载货的铁路车辆,货车车厢有很多不同的种类 Trad: 鐵路貨車,泛指任何可供載貨的鐵路車輛,貨車車廂有很多不同的種類

Tiělù huò-chē, fàn zhǐ rènhé kěgòng zàihuò de tiělù chēliàng, huòchē chēxiāng yǒu hěn duō bù tóng de zhǒnglèi.

‘Railway freight vehicle’ broadly indicates any railway wagon that can be used for carrying freight. Freight car wagons have many different types.

While in normal use huò-chē (货车 / 貨車) in Chinese is used for road vehicles, the above wording on freight car wagons (huò-chē chē-xiāng 货车车厢 / 貨車車廂) shows that in a broader sense it covers any kind of large land freight vehicle, including railway goods wagons and freight cars. In this it differs from the Japanese, which can only be used for railway wagons.

To return to the original example: while kasha yusō (貨車輸送) in Japanese refers very specifically to rail freight transport and could not be taken for anything else, huò-chē yùnshū (货车运输/Trad. 貨車運輸)  in Chinese is less rigidly defined but most likely to be interpreted as road transport.

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