Computer in Laguages

October 9, 2010

Computer, מחשב, 计算机. These are the words that represent computer in English, Hebrew and Chinese. The impression each word leave us with regard to its language background might give us a clue of how a certain culture sees this prominent figure – computer. With little knowlege of language but enormous curiosity about the topic, I’m now trying to present my assumptions.

Computer roots from the verb ‘compute’, which seems to me is just an advanced form of ‘calculate’. A computer is a machine that computes. In the early days, this was true. But a machine that can think and create was already foreseeable back at that time. The term ‘computer’ was still assigned to it regardless of its great potential. Compared to English, the Hebrew word מחשב is apparently more friendly.

מחשבות (thoughts) is the root of מחשב (computer). So in Hebrew, a computer is a machine that can think and has thoughts! Note that computer came to the world almost at the same time when Israel was born. And immediately, those brilliant language creators – like their pioneer Ben-Yehuda, chose to call the machine a ‘thinker’ rather than a ‘computer’. And it certainly was bound to be.

Interestingly, in Chinese there are actually two words referring to computer. One is 计算机 (a direct translation from ‘computer’) and the other is 电脑 (electical brain, or similarly electrical thinker). Looks like Chinese people are acceptive to various ways of expression. But unfortunately, the former term is more widely seen in formal occassions.

After all this post is a result of an autumn daydream.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *