Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Assimilation of English into Chinese

Below is an excerpt from a post at the Language Log blog by noted sinologist Victor Mair. The whole post may be read here.

The Assimilation of English in Chinese

The varieties of Chinese English are so numerous as to defy complete listing.  To name only the better known, we have pidgin, Chinglish, Singlish, Zhonglish, China English, Chinese-English, and sinographically transcribed English.  Martian Language, Internet Language, and much scientific, technological, and academic prose also are more or less saturated with English words.  Advertising language is particularly fond of using English words and phrases, often in very clever and unusual ways that are particularly well suited to the Chinese linguistic and cultural environment.

There have even been attempts to write English words in the shape of Chinese characters, the most famous being the "Square-Word Calligraphy" of the artist Xu Bing:  whole passage; character for "excellence"; character for "respect"; character for "elegance"; character for "design".

One type of Chinese writing that frequently displays a conspicuous amount of English vocabulary is poetry. 

Indeed, some Chinese poems use English words in quite ingenious ways and are of excellent quality.  I remember one in particular from Taiwan that I read around twenty years ago.  It very effectively played with the idea that the word "love" was inside the word "glove" like a hand inside an actual glove.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the following anonymous poem in which each line ends with an English gerund or occasionally another -ing construction.  I honestly don't think that the poem is very well written, but it certainly is a curious specimen.  The fact that such a poem could be composed and circulated on the Internet with the expectation that people would have no difficulty understanding it shows the degree to which hybrid Chinese-English styles of writing are accepted — outside of narrow, purist circles.

The title of the poem implies that "human life is full of laughing," and the first stanza may be translated thus:
Close your eyes and think hard,
Human life is like a painting,
With dots and drops, how to color it?
It all depends on how you're planning.


Anonymous said...

Hm, it sounds like the Chinese are having the same problem that the French had in the later part of the 1900s when English was the emerging de facto international language. English was creeping into the French vernacular (i.e. "le weekend", "la mcdonalds, etc.). The French are so protective - often to the borderline of paranoia - of their language that they've even terminated the English language services of their (international reaching) news services.

On a personal note, I practice my own version of Chinglish all the time. I'm the 1st generation child of Chinese immigrants. Growing up I never had the environment where I ONLY had to use Cantonese (in my case). Therefore my Cantonese is, at best, at a 3rd grade level and my reading and writing skills are next to non-existent. When I speak, I've had to replace the Cantonese words that I don't know with English. This situation is quite common among my generation of peers (Asian Americans) in the United States.

The mixing of languages is nothing new. Swahili is a mix of several languages merged together over the course of several hundred years; Tagalog itself is 10% Chinese and Vietnamese has its roots in Chinese, in particular Cantonese and the other southern Chinese languages. This is odd (from a Chinese American) hearing that the English is making such inroads in the Chinese language in the mainland. I guess we'll have to see how this goes.

Rick Matz said...

English remains the international language of business.

Compass Strategist said...

>English remains the international language of business.

As long as most programming languages are written in English, the English language is still in power.