What is the Real English Name of the Chinese New Year 2015?

The Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram


New year has just arrived (Chinese new year that is.) And this year is the year of the sheep (yáng). That is, of course, unless it is actually the year of the goat (yáng). Or perhaps it’s the year of the ram (yáng). It could even be the year of the lamb (yáng)

In Chinese the words for sheep, ram, and goat are all the same (yáng) so this does bring about a bit of a problem when translating the name of the Chinese New Year. In Mandarin the word xiǎo (little) can be attached to any animal to indicate the baby form. So a lamb is a xiǎo yáng (small sheep)

when you eat yang rou (yang meat) you usually don't know if it's mutton, lamb, goat or rat meat

when you eat yang rou (yang meat) you usually don’t know if it’s mutton, lamb, goat or rat meat

Similarly, a puppy is a “small dog” (xiǎo gǒu), a kitten a small cat (xiǎo māo) and piglet a small pig (xiǎo zhū). This can cause a problem if you’re wanting to describe an old cat that is physically small. Thankfully Chinese has the particle de, which can be placed after the word xiǎo to indicate it is an adjective describing a noun. xiǎo de māo would be a small cat and xiǎo māo a kitten.

In Chinese the suffixes mǔ and gōng can be used to distinguish the female and male versions of an animal. Thus gōng yáng would be “ram” and mǔ gǒu would be “bitch” (although in Chinese you can’t use mǔ gǒu as an insult the same as in English, and so “bitch” is often translated as biǎo zi, which is actually closer in meaning to “slut” or “whore”)

This leaves us with goat, which could also just be called a yáng in Chinese, but if you want to be specific you can say shān yáng. shān means mountain and yáng means…well, it seems like this blog post has come full circle.