File Size Vocabulary

I only realised just the other day that I’m not altogether familar with file size vocabulary in Chinese. I needn’t have been too worried though since it turns out in everyday conversation most Mandarin native speakers simply refer to the various file sizes in their English, abbreviated forms (KB for kilobyte, MB for megabyte, etc). These forms, I am told, are pronounced more or less as they are in English.

A list of file sizes and their corresponding Chinese translations:

  • bit: 位 wèi,比特 bǐtè,位元 wèiyuán
  • byte: B,字节 zìjié
  • kilobyte: KB,千字节 qiānzìjié
  • megabyte: MB,兆字节 zhàozìjié
  • gigabyte: GB,千兆字节 qiānzhàozìjié
  • terabyte: TB,太字节 tàizìjié
  • petabyte: PB,拍它字节 pāitāzìjié,拍字节 pāizìjié

Whilst the abbreviated forms are commonly understood by most people, interestingly the ones in Chinese characters are not. They are formal, almost technical, in register, though there is a certain logic to them that makes them easy to understand in written texts, the exception perhaps being 位 wèi (its derivation eludes me, I hope someone can enlighten me in the comments). The other translations are obvious transliterations, e.g. 比特 bǐtè, 太- tài- and 拍它- pāitā- standing in for English’s “bit”, “tera-” and “peta-” respectively.

There are of course many other complicated file sizes, but this list presents the ones most commonly used (admittedly, though, “petabyte” – equal to one quadrillion bytes – is pushing it).

3 Comments to "File Size Vocabulary"

  1. eric's Gravatar eric
    09/11/2010 - 5:51 pm | Permalink

    What is the most common in speech? I hear “mega” for megabytes and “G” for gigabytes. Not sure about the other ones.

  2. frieder's Gravatar frieder
    12/01/2011 - 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Similar to eric’s comment, in my experience the most common way to talk about storage capacity, bandwidth etc. is to use M, G, or T (i.e. 五百G的硬盘, 四M的网络).

  3. Zhang Jing Ming's Gravatar Zhang Jing Ming
    31/08/2015 - 10:14 am | Permalink

    Perhaps 位 wèi stands for bit because of meaning [a place, or a seat: a bit is the same/a bit can be either 0 or 1/it ‘holds’ the space]. Jim

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