English “Invading” the Chinese Language? En Garde!

In a Telegraph article today a top Chinese translator warned that English words are invading the Chinese language. Here’s what he said: “If we do not pay attention and we do not take measures to stop Chinese mingling with English, Chinese will no longer be a pure language in a couple of years. The terms DVD, MP3 and CEO are so abundant in Chinese and they are very popular…”

Sure, everyone wants their own language to remain strong and relevant. You see this in France, in China, in the U.S.

But as far as the Chinese language goes – are there serious reasons to worry about its “purity”? There are 1.3 billion people in China, most of whom speak Mandarin. Add on Taiwan, Singapore, some of the roughly 40 million overseas Chinese around the world, plus the economic and political rise of China, and I think one can safely say that Mandarin isn’t taking a step back anytime soon.

In Calcutta, where there has been a Chinese community for more than a century, I learned that the Bengali word for tea is cha, just like in Chinese (though I’m not positive about the origin).

A Chinese-Indonesian friend remarked recently that Hokkien, a language from southern China, contributed many words to Indonesian, like cici (pronounced “chee-chee”), which comes from the Hokkien word for older sister. This makes sense, given that the Chinese have been in Indonesia since the 15th century.

Many Chinese words have already made it into English (kungfu, kow-tow, guanxi, kow-tow, qi, ramen, and lots more here). Here are two more I’d like to see in English dictionaries:

  • mǎmǎhūhū (马马虎虎), literally horse-horse-tiger-tiger, meaning careless or half-assed
  • máfán (麻烦), meaning troublesome, a hassle, or endless red tape

Via the excellent language blog Sinosplice, I discovered LightsOn’s list of “English words with Chinese characteristics.” “Smilence,” for instance, means smiling while keeping one’s mouth shut. Example given by LightsOn: “Once asked about what happened after July, 5th, 2009 in Xinjiang, the western province of China, many Uygurs smilenced.”

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