By James Chang – Quite comical, yet clearly systematic. These literal re-translations reveal how the Chinese conceptualized these instruments and represented them in their language (often, via a characteristic or a material).
|Oboe||double reed pipe||双簧管|
|English horn||England pipe||英国管|
|Clarinet||single reed pipe||单簧管|
|Bass clarinet||low tone single reed pipe||低音单簧管|
|Contrabassoon||low tone big pipe||低音大管|
|Trumpet||little horn, or pee (slang)||小号|
|Tuba||big horn, or poop (slang)||大号|
|Timpani||low tone drum||低音鼓|
|Triangle||three angle iron||三角铁|
|Bass drum||big drum||大鼓|
|Snare drum||little drum, little military drum||小鼓，小军鼓|
|Celesta||steel sheet instrument||钢片琴|
|Accordion||Russian hand wind instrument||俄式手风琴|
|Violin||little lifted instrument||小提琴|
|Viola||middle lifted instrument||中提琴|
|Cello||big lifted instrument||大提琴|
|Bass||double low tone lifted instrument||倍低音提琴|
Of special note is how they translate the stringed instruments as “lifted” instruments, even if it’s just the violin and viola that are lifted to the shoulder. This perhaps implies that they were likely first familiar with the violin (viola works too, I guess, but it probably wasn’t the viola…sorry, violists) and applied size labels retroactively after the introduction of the other instruments of the family.
I also find it interesting how the word that came to mean “instrument” is itself an instrument, the qin, an ancient Chinese zither. It’s interesting to consider how this instrument, so incredibly important to Chinese cultural history, became the “mother,” linguistically speaking, of all other instruments.
Food for thought, as far as thinking about instruments is concerned!