Like Dr. Seuss' Wickershams and Wockets; Final Fantasy's Bandersnatches and Moogles; or Dr. Who's Daleks and Chronovores, English works of fiction (most commonly fantasy) often contain fictitious creatures and races with creative names that aren't found in the average dictionary. However, while authors describing their new worlds in English are able to throw together new words quite freely, Chinese authors can't exactly draw up new Chinese characters and expect anyone else to be able to read and understand it.

As seen in many translated works, many of these created names can be represented in Chinese phonetically ('Dalek' becomes '戴立克'), and sometimes the Chinese name of the new creature is created from its description (Harry Potter's 'basilisks' become '蛇怪', literally calling it a snake monster). This allows for the words to be represented in Chinese writing, but is there any way for a Chinese author to create an original word that isn't literal or spelt out the same way as foreign words?

  • To be a bit more clear, real animals such as cats and dogs have characters that only represent that one animal, so when writing has to switch from unique characters for real creatures to phonetic name for something fictional, it seems to show a distinct difference between the two creatures, even though they may both exist in every day life within the story. – Question Marks Apr 7 '15 at 20:35
  • I am not sure I understand '...an original word that isn't literal or spelt out the same way as foreign words'. Do you mean names that are neither straightforward word representation of the creature, nor transliteration from another language, but strike people as names of alien or exotic creatures? – NS.X. Apr 7 '15 at 20:35
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    But you don't want to see 狗 in its name right? This is the 蛇怪 argument. – NS.X. Apr 7 '15 at 20:40
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    It's really an interesting question. Please don't delete it! – Stan Apr 7 '15 at 20:52
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    @QuestionMarks I understand. That's why translation between two different languages is so difficult. And, this question is quite deep, complicated as well. I can just simply answer "yes" and provide some examples such as 饕餮, 窮奇, 檮杌, 猼訑 for you here. I feel quite difficult to answer this question comprehensively. – Stan Apr 7 '15 at 21:11

It is true that, compared to Chinese, English (and related languages) have an advantage in its alphabet and rules of pronunciation, such that you can easily make up new words by creatively arranging letters. Certain letters and syllables can evoke different feelings or cultures, which gives authors tremendous creative flexibility, and is exploited by great conlangers. The Chinese analogy is usually not possible, as readers can't figure out how to pronounce it, plus it would be a huge hassle for typesetting, which explains why you almost never see made-up Chinese characters.

Not that it never happens though; as Stan mentioned it used to be done for mythical creatures, for example the characters in the famous 麒麟 (a sort of chimeral-unicorn-deer creature) are almost never used for other words. More recently, some netizens created a character for the Jackie Chan / Duang thing, but since it's impossible to type it, who knows whether that will stick.

Instead, what Chinese authors can do is creatively combine known characters to create new words. Although this is a far cry from the flexibility afforded to made-up English words, the fact that Chinese is disyllabic means most characters typically have many meanings, which makes the meaning of fictional words ambiguous, and it is this special ambiguity that can add flavour to those words. For example, the fictional sword "倚天剑" has multiple translations and meanings, without it being clear which one is right. 倚 could mean rely or close to, 天 usually means heaven but could also be a metaphor for royalty. Therefore, you could variously translate the sword as "Heavenly Sword", "Heaven Reliant Sword", or "Royal Sword", "Sky-scraping Sword"...

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