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Are there any differences (nuances or usage) when using prefix 子, 小 or 仔 for denoting young animals?


  • Kitten: 子猫 vs 小猫 vs 仔猫
  • Puppy: 子犬 vs 小犬 vs 仔犬
  • Pony: 子馬 vs 小馬 vs 仔馬
  • Calf: 子牛 vs 小牛 vs 仔牛
  • Lamb: 子羊 vs 小羊 vs 仔羊
  • Piglet: 子豚 vs 小豚 vs 仔豚
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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The OP's comment just now is on the right track:

小猫 certainly could be just a small cat.
仔猫 would be more common in science, but for a different reason than you guessed: 仔 is actually the correct character for a child animal, but it's not one of the 1945 -- er, 2136 as of last year, is it? -- 常用漢字. Since 子 looks and means almost the same, it took on the added responsibility of being the simplified form of 仔.

I think for the anthropomorphism case those characters would need to be switched. =p

Google hits [Japanese pages only]:
"仔猫" - 3,160,000
"子猫" - 10,700,000
"小猫" - 1,310,000

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Good point about 常用漢字. Muddying kanji-related waters since 1946! – Matt Sep 8 '11 at 4:25
@Ross Btw how did you search for Japanese pages only? – Pacerier Apr 27 '12 at 7:57

子 means child. 仔 means an animal child, but does not seem to be used much regularly except for mentioning a child of a horse. 小 means small, which often means child but not necessarily.

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In writing, is the choice of prefix kanji determined by whether we want to focus on the kitten as a child of a cat (子猫) or a smaller version of a cat (小猫)? And is 仔猫 the best choice when writing objective text where the focus is on the kitten being an offspring of animal (e.g. theses paper for biological research) whereas 子猫 is used when we want to treat kitten as if a human kid (i.e. anthropomorphism)? – Lukman Sep 7 '11 at 23:25
@Lukman I think you are on the right track. – user458 Sep 8 '11 at 0:15
Funny that the animal child character is the one with the human radical… – Axioplase Sep 8 '11 at 3:36

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