LINGUIST List 4.494

Wed 23 Jun 1993

Disc: Acronyms

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Joel Nevis, Re: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms
  2. , Acronym definition
  3. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 4.493 Acronyms
  4. , initialisms (acronyms)
  5. Joel Bradshaw, Re: 4.482 Qs: Acronyms
  6. Robert D Hoberman, Non-acronym: OB-GYN

Message 1: Re: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms

Date: Sun, 20 Jun 93 12:37:41 PDRe: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms
From: Joel Nevis <>
Subject: Re: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms

I have consistently distinguished the two kinds of acronyms in my
introductory courses, using _acronym_ for the pronounceable NATO-type
and a different label for the less word-like TG-type. Originally I
followed a suggestion by Rich Janda to call the latter a
_Letter-By-Letter-Abbreviation_ or more iconically _LBLA_, but
more recently I noticed that David Crystal uses the designation
_alphabetism_ in his Encyclopedia, and I have adopted that shorter
term in my classes.

 Joel Nevis
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Message 2: Acronym definition

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 10:56:02 +0Acronym definition
From: <>
Subject: Acronym definition

Re:- terminological differentiation;
The French get round it by having two terms:
sigle = PTA, GB etc;
acronyme = 'sigle prononce comme un mot ordinaire' (Petit Robert), ie

Ros Temple, University of Wales, Aberystwyth
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Message 3: Re: 4.493 Acronyms

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 12:49:17 Re: 4.493 Acronyms
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <>
Subject: Re: 4.493 Acronyms

>From: (John S. Coleman)
>Subject: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms
>Not when I was at school, it wasn't. NATO, GAT, UNESCO are acronyms,
>PTA, TG, GB etc. are abbreviations, according to my dictionary.

for what it's worth, when i read the initial note, i had the same reaction. i
have never heard of pta, twa, etc. being called acronyms. i guess what
differentiates them from the usual abbreviations, e.g. st. for street, mr. for
mister, etc. for et cetera, is that the latter are simply *orthographic*
abbreviations, but i would call both types abbreviations. perhaps the pta-type
should be called monograms? :)

one hebrew-type acronym in english is veep for vice-president, where a vowel
sound occurs that doesn't follow from the first letters of the phrase being
shortened. of course, the source of the vowel in veep is different from the
source of vowels in hebrew acronyms, since i assume the vowel of veep is from
the vowel of the name of the letter v (vee), while the vowels of hebrew
acronyms seem to follow general phonological principles. (i would spell /viyp/
v-e-e-p, btw, and i would read v.p. as vice president--they differ in register
for me, veep being markedly informal.)
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Message 4: initialisms (acronyms)

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 93 12:51:14 -0initialisms (acronyms)
From: <bnevinBBN.COM>
Subject: initialisms (acronyms)

> From: Bruce Southard <ENSOUTHAECUVM.CIS.ECU.EDU>
> Subject: 4.482 Qs: German, Tibetan & Chinese, Acronyms
> In regard to acronyms which are pronounced as initials, e.g. AA, BTU,
> CIA, GOP, etc., John Algeo in his workbook _Problems in the Origins and
> Development of the English Language_ differentiates between acronyms and
> "initialisms." Pyles does not include the term "initialism" in the text
> book which Algeo's workbook complements, so I assume that the term
> "initialism" originiated with Algeo. I don't know if the term is used by
> others, but it seems a good choice.

This is from _Webster's 9th New Collegiate Dictionary_ (W9NCD):

 initialism (1899): an acronym formed from initial letters.

 acronym (1943): a word (as radar or snafu) formed from the initial
 letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a
 compound term

_Words Into Type_ (3rd Ed.), p. 100, under Abbreviations, refers one to
the _Acronyms and Initialisms Dictionary_ (Detroit: Gale Research Co.,
1970) for "thorough coverage of the subject".

For a very amusing example of an initialism domesticated, look up
"picornavirus" in an English dictionary.

 Bruce Nevin
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Message 5: Re: 4.482 Qs: Acronyms

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 19:24:10 Re: 4.482 Qs: Acronyms
From: Joel Bradshaw <bradshawuhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
Subject: Re: 4.482 Qs: Acronyms

To me, there is only a vowel's worth of difference between pronounceable
and unpronounceable acronyms, like GATT vs. GB or NATO vs. NT, although
many vowelful acronyms resist resyllabification: DoD, DOE. (I wonder if
the US Dept of Agriculture ever ends up DOA in print or speech.) To me,
the primary typological distinction is between alphabetic and syllabic
acronyms: Does North Dakota become NorDak or ND?

I'm sure there is heavy correlation with alphabetic vs. syllabic writing
systems, but it's not absolute. Indonesian uses a (latin) alphabetic
writing system but syllabic acronyms prevail: Sulawesi Selatan 'South
Sulawesi [Province]' > SulSel. Perhaps because of their military govt,
Indonesia seems especially rich in acronyms, so that a recent dictionary
devoted a whole appendix to nothing but acronyms, something more
dictionaries should do.

The writing system correlation shows up nicely in Chinese. The traditional
acronyms were (morpho)syllabic, like the writing system. So, Beijing Daxue
'Beijing University [= NorthCapital BigSchool]' > Beida [= NorthBig].
Japanese borrowed the Chinese characters but allowed the meanings to be
rendered into either native Japanese or Chinese loanword pronunciation,
usually two syllables in either case. (Chinese CVC loans usually ended up
CV(C)V in Japanese.) So the acronym of Hiroshima Daigaku 'Hiroshima
University [= WideIsland BigSchool]' > HiroDai [= WideBig]. Hiroshima
is native Japanese (the Sino-Japanese pronunciation would be Kootoo =
Ch. Guangdao), but Daigaku is borrowed [= Ch. Daxue].

Since the promulgation of the (latin) alphabetic pinyin supplementary
writing system, one sees alphabetic acronyms, some of them rather alarming
and most of them quite dysphonic (if that's the opposite of euphonic). For
instance, Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute could end up as GZWGYYXY
for GuangZhou WaiGuo YuYan XueYuan [= WideState OutCountry SpeechTalk
LearnYard]; or as GWYX for Guangzhou Waiguo Yuyan Xueyuan [= Guangzhou
Foreign Language Institute] if they take the first letter of each disyllabic
word rather than the first letter of each monosyllabic morpheme. I don't
know what the disyllabic traditional-style acronym might be for that
particular (real) school, but I suspect it might be GuangWai 'Guangzhou
Foreign [= WideOut]', which could then be alphabetically abbreviated to
GW. One problem with Chinese alphabetic acronyms is that few syllables
in pinyin start with vowels: 'a' is common, but 'e' and 'o' are rare,
and 'i' and 'u' are nonexistent. And of course 'x', 'y', and 'z' are

Speaking of GW, I once saw _Gone with the Wind_ abbreviated in print as
GWTW. In speech, the "abbreviation" requires 6 or 8 syllables (depending
on whether W is 'double-you' or 'dub-ya'), while the "long" form requires
only four. This suggests that alphabetic acronymification is driven by
orthography, not speech. Although once the acronym is regularly
pronounced, it is subject to syllabic acronymizing, as in the
'you-dub' pronunciation of the orthographic acronym (UW) for the
University of Washington. I suspect syllabic acronymification is
less orthography-driven, although I think a major impetus behind
both kinds is 'acronymy' of graphic effort and 'acronymy' of physical
space, not just the desire to avoid pronouncing a few extra syllables.

Joel Bradshaw <>

[Disclaimer: My Chinese forms may be a bit faulty. Apologies in advance.]
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Message 6: Non-acronym: OB-GYN

Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1993 17:18:32 Non-acronym: OB-GYN
From: Robert D Hoberman <>
Subject: Non-acronym: OB-GYN

Medical people (at least in the New York area) seem to usually pronounce OB-GYN
letter-name by letter-name so that it has five stressed syllables, rather than
saying either (1) "obstetrician-gynecologist" or "obstretrics and gynecology"
(3 to 5 main or secondary stresses) or (2) /ab gayn/ (2 stresses). I thought
English was a stress-timed language, and there is certainly a tendency to
shorten words and expression in English slang and jargon. So why do they do

Bob Hoberman
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