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Are there some differences between 信 and 讯?

such as

新华社讯(why not 信?)

通风报信(why not 讯?)

It seems they are always the same. Are there some cases where we need to use 信 and 讯 selectively?

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  • Does this answer your question? Differences: 信息 vs 讯息?
    – L Parker
    Apr 28, 2021 at 5:00
  • sorry this is not what I want Apr 28, 2021 at 5:31
  • nowadays,for daily user perspective,讯 usually involves telecommunication,while 信 is more generic。
    – imkzh
    Apr 29, 2021 at 9:48

3 Answers 3

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Relevant meanings of the glyphs

信:adj./v. 人言可信true, credible, trust → n. 书信 letter → n. 音信,信息 the correspondence (letters and message) (between two parties), message → n. 信息 information

信,会人言可信之意。That is the glyph is composed of two semantic components, human 人 and say 言, implying that what is said is true. Extended from 人言, 信 is used to refer to 按照习惯的格式把要说的话写下来给指定的对象看的东西、书信, which is basically a letter. Extended from the meaning of letter, it's used for message. With this meaning, we have 口信、通风报信、信息、信息 etc, and it can be used with 儿, i.e. 信儿. The meaning of information for 信息 is formed rather late with the development of technology.

讯:v.审讯 interrogate → v.询问 ask → n.询问的内容 what is being asked/the information obtained from asking → n.书信 letters

讯,像一人反缚其手,临之以口,会审讯之义。That is the glyph is drawing a man who is tied back and a mouth, implying interrogation of a prisoner. It's then extended to mean 询问 to ask. These are usages as verbs. It can also be used as a noun, meaning 询问的内容 (what is being asked/the information obtained from asking). It's further generalized to mean 书信 letters.


Usages

The derived meaning of 信 and 讯 are very similar. Most times they are used interchangeably in compound words. The selective usage is more of pragmatics than semantics. The following categorizing is very rough.

1. Can be used interchangeably but the word one is used with much higher frequency.

音讯=音信:往来的信件和消息 correspondence of letters and messages

杳无音信,互通音信

They have exactly the same meaning. In Classical Chinese, 音讯 is rarely used. But in Modern Chinese, 音讯 is slightly more used than 音信. But this could depend a lot on dialectal habits. Some dialects which keep more classical vocabulary may still have overwhelming use of 音信.

信息=讯息+ the definition of information in modern technology

①音信,即往来的信件和消息 家里已有一个多月没听到哥哥的讯息/信息了。

②消息:掌握市场讯息/信息

Again, 信息 is used way much more than 讯息. 信息 also has a specialized meaning of information in modern technology which is not possessed by 讯息.

2. Different meaning

通信: ①v. 用书信互通消息,反映情况等 to correspond with letters

通讯:①v. 翔实而生动地报道客观事物或典型人物的文章 to vividly write (news) reports/articles in details

通信=(outdated)通讯:②利用电波、光波等信号传送文字、图像等 to transmit texts, graphs and etc. via radio or light waves.

The meaning ① to correspond with letters of 通信 is more-than-thousand-year old. The common meaning ② of 通信 and 通讯, to transmit texts, graphs and etc. via radio or light waves, is a new meaning adapted to the development of technology. However, 通讯 is outdated. But spun from this very meaning,通讯 is exclusively used as to vividly write (news) reports/articles in details. This is usually connected with a news agency, as in 新华社(Xinhua Agency)讯(reports). There was also a newspaper called 社讯. 信 doesn't have this meaning.

This is probably why 报讯 by itself is not used for to inform someone because it creates confusion. We use expressions like 本报讯 at the beginning of a news report to mean this newspaper reports.

In 通风报信, the variant 通风报讯 came before the invention of newspaper. But as usual, 信 is much more frequently used and considered the canonical form.

Another set of words that just came into my mind are more complicated.

信号:the general term for light, radio, sound, movements and etc. that are used to send messages or deliver commands. 信号灯,信号弹. 讯号 cannot be used here because it's too specific.

讯号:the specific sign, signal etc. for some specific message. 等待总攻击的讯号 讯号 is preferred to 信号

信号:an omen/signal for something that's about to happen. “这是蒋介石公开发出的全面内战的信号”

讯号、信号:message/signal in radio,electrical, electrimagnetic waves


If you come up with more sets of minimal pairs, we can discuss them further.

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  • Quote:- "...音信 is used way much more than 音讯" I always feel that people use the latter more in writings and the former in conversations because 音讯 "sounds" more "classical" and "poetic", which is why it appears in old songs? Just a personal impression. Feb 23, 2022 at 2:11
  • @Wayne Cheah Thanks for pointing it out. I didn't proofread that passage; I was thinking about them in Classical Chinese. I've updated the answer. In Modern Chinese, however, 音讯 is actually slightly more used than 音信. I don't feel any formal vs. informal difference. A brief look at the corpus also confirms this. It's another story in Classical Chinese, where 音讯 rarely appears. So I'd say 音信 is more poetic. Some dialects may keep more features of MC, so 音信 could be colloquially dominant in some dialects. Maybe that's why you feel it's more casual.
    – lilysirius
    Feb 23, 2022 at 2:42
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讯 is "news", its broader meanings and usages include "ask" and "interrogate".

信 is "letter" (that contains and delivers a message). It also has broad meanings and usages, but none of them comes close to the meaning of 讯.

By your judgment, which word is to be used in the following sentences.

新华社"信" - Xinhua news agency "letter" (信), or should it be Xinhua news agency "news" (讯)?

通风报"讯" - An act of an embed person (線人) alerting and sending the "news" (讯) of the recipient's (usually his associates) enemy or opposition, or an act of alerting and sending the "information" (as through a message,信) of the recipient's enemy or opposition?

Same as in English, sometimes we need to know the broader meanings of a word and its typical usages in order to fully understand the word and its proper uses.

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The difference between 信 and 讯 is explained here Differences: 信息 vs 讯息?

  • 讯: message; a specific piece of information

  • 信: letter (contains information in general)

通风报信(why not 讯?)

Type in 通风报 in the search engine, the first page will be filled with 通风报讯 entries. Obviously, some people use 信 and 讯 interchangeably and made 通风报信 a somewhat accepted variant of 通风报讯 which is the standard one

通风报讯 (Whistleblowing) is more appropriate than 通风报信 because the act of 通风报讯 is more like sending a message than giving a report

新华社讯(why not 信?)

讯 in 新华社讯 implies there are specific pieces of information (news items).

新华社信 implies 'a letter from 新华社' -- like an editorial

More examples:

通信 = exchange letters (互通书信)

发信 = send a letter (发出书信)

通讯 = exchange message (互通讯息)

发讯 = send a message (发出讯息)

发讯号 = send a signal (发出讯号)

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