Last night I saw a sign at a Thai restaurant asking for people to work at the front counter. It contained two words that puzzle me:

สมัคร <smagr> samák 'to volunteer' < Skt samagra- 'all'?

cf. Khmer ស្ម័គ្រ <smăgr> smak 'to volunteer; all'

พนัก <bnak> phanák 'backrest' < ?

First, I presume Thai samák 'to volunteer' was borrowed from Khmer smak, but was Khmer smak 'to volunteer' really borrowed from Sanskrit (as its spelling implies at first glance), or is it a native Khmer word respelled as if it were an unrelated Indo-Khmer homophone ស្ម័គ្រ <smăgr> smak 'all'? I can't imagine how 'all' could become 'to volunteer'. samák is not in Gedney's (1947) Indic Loanwords in Spoken Thai. Did Gedney regard it as Khmer?

Second, where does phanák come from? The Royal Institute Dictionary doesn't list an etymology. My guess is that it's from ភ្នាក់ Khmer <bhnâk> pneak 'support, prop, agent, official' (as defined by Headley 1997). I suppose then พนักงาน phanák ŋaan 'employee' (with ŋaan 'work') originated as 'work agent'. Did phanák ever mean 'agent' in Thai as well as Khmer? If it did, perhaps it only survives in that sense in phanák ŋaan 'employee'. WHAT IS THE SOUND OF THE WIND STOPPING?

Today I saw this cartoon with the following comment:

I'm afraid the bottom-right character in the Chinese panel isn't used in Chinese. It seems to be used in Japanese, though.

That character is 凪, a made-in-Japan character for nagi 'lull' or the first syllable of its root nag- 'to be calm'. It is a combination of the enclosing element 𠘨 of 風 'wind' and all of 止 'stop'. (That description sounds like something out of the Tangraphic Sea.) 凪 is a relatively rare character; it is not in this list of 3,289 kanji in order of frequency from two newspapers though it is on the JLPT N1 kanji list. I wonder how many people learn the character from the name of this restaurant.

One might argue that the character is Chinese since Wiktionary lists a Mandarin reading zhǐ and a Cantonese reading ji2 for it. That entry even includes a Sino-Korean reading 지 chi and a Sino-Vietnamese reading chỉ. But all of those readings are obviously simply taken from the reading of the bottom component 止. Do those non-Japanese readings have any reality beyond dictionaries?

What is to stop one from, say, inventing similar analogical readings for other 'non-Chinese Chinese' characters: e.g.,

Mandarin for the made-in-Korea character 乭 tol (by analogy with Mandarin 乙 yǐ)

Mandarin shàng for the made-in-Vietnam character 𡗶 trời (by analogy with Mandarin 上 shàng)

(12.3.7:20: zdic.net lists a Mandarin reading shí for 乭 by analogy with Mandarin 石 shí! But the site has no reading for 𡗶 which could also be a character for Zhuang gwnz [kɯn˧˩] 'top'. I am agnostic about the relationship between the Vietnamese and Zhuang scripts.)

Answering my own question, there may be a demand for Chinese readings for made-in-Japan characters when such characters appear in Japanese names in Chinese texts and have to be pronounced somehow: e.g., in this Chinese-language Wikipedia entry about 榊一郎 Sakaki Ichirou which even explains how to read the made-in-Japan character 榊 Sakaki in Mandarin:


'榊 belongs to [the set of] Japanese-language Chinese characters; its [Mandarin] Chinese reading is shén [as in] 神, and its Japanese pronunciation is Sakaki.'

Made-in-Korea or Vietnam characters (or other 'non-Chinese Chinese' characters like those of Zhuang, Bai, etc.) are far less likely to appear in similar contexts in Chinese texts. Hence there is far less of a need to invent readings for them.

As far as I know, nobody today reads Japanese names in Sino-Korean or Sino-Vietnamese, so invented Sino-Korean and Sino-Vietnamese readings for made-in-Japan characters may have no value beyond being fun 'what if' exercises. Thus I think a case could be made for including Chinese readings of made-in-Japan characters but not Sino-Korean and Sino-Vietnamese readings in dictionaries.

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