Campaign Against Foreign Words: ‘VIP, Wi-fi, iPhone’, Threaten Chinese Language ‘Purity’

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For World Affairs JournalGordon G. Chang writes:

Twice in late April, People’s Daily railed against the incorporation of acronyms and English words in written Chinese. “How much have foreign languages damaged the purity and vitality of the Chinese language?” the Communist Party’s flagship publication asked as it complained of the “zero-translation phenomenon.”

“Since the reform and opening up, many people have blindly worshipped the West, casually using foreign words as a way of showing off their knowledge and intellect. This also exacerbated the proliferation of foreign words.”

— Xia Jixuan, Ministry of Education

So if you write in the world’s most exquisite language—in my opinion, anyway—don’t even think of jotting down “WiFi,” “MBA,” or “VIP.” If you’re a fan of Apple products, please do not use “iPhone” or “iPad.” And never ever scribble “PM2.5,” a scientific term that has become popular in China due to the air pollution crisis, or “e-mail.”

 People’s Daily has criticized the use of foreign words as damaging the “purity and health” of the Chinese language. Adrian Bradshaw/European Pressphoto Agency

People’s Daily has criticized the use of foreign words as damaging the “purity and health” of the Chinese language.    Adrian Bradshaw/European Pressphoto Agency

“How much have foreign languages damaged the purity and vitality of the Chinese language?”

— The People’s Daily

China’s communist culture caretakers are cheesed, perhaps by the unfairness of the situation. They note that when English absorbs Chinese words, such as “kung fu,” the terms are romanized. When China copies English terms, however, they are often adopted without change, dropped into Chinese text as is…

“The use of imported words is becoming more widespread every day. It’s become so serious that the foreign words are even showing up in regular publications and formal documents, giving rise to resentment among the public.”

 ..In 2012, the Chinese government established a linguistics committee to standardize foreign words. In 2013, it published the first ten approved Chinese translations for terms such as WTO, AIDS, and GDP, ordering all media to use them. A second and third series of approved terms are expected this year. How French.

There is a bit of obtuseness in all these elaborate efforts. As People’s Daily, China’s most authoritative publication, talks about foreign terms damaging “purity and vitality,” it forgets that innovation, in the form of borrowing, is the essence of vitality. And as for “purity,” the Chinese people are not buying the Communist Party’s hypocritical argument. “Do you think simplified Chinese characters pure?” asked one blogger…(read moreWorld Affairs Journal

For the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog, Amy Qin writes:

Few major languages have felt the effects of globalization and modernization more acutely than Mandarin. The increasing use of keyboard devices, for example, has caused many Chinese to forget how to write characters by hand, to the extent that there is even a popular television show in which contestants compete to write complicated characters from memory.

Another consequence of China’s advancing global integration is less unique to Chinese: the incorporation of foreign words. While the absorption of such words is often seen as a positive mark of a society’s cosmopolitanism, the reaction in China has been anything but positive – at least according to state media.

In an editorial last week, People’s Daily lambasted the influx of foreign words, accusing them of having “harmed the purity and health” of the Chinese language…(read moreNew York Times

And for South China Morning Post, Angela Meng reports:

For the second time in recent months, government mouthpiece People’s Daily slammed the overuse of English acronyms in Chinese parlance, suggesting it could damage the “purity and vitality” of the local tongue.

“Why is it that words like Motorola and Nokia are translated into Mandarin, but words like iPhone and iPad are spoken as they are?” a culture report in the newspaper said.

It blamed the “worship” of Western culture and the lack of qualified translators – deterred by an non-lucrative field – for what it called the “zero translation phenomenon”.

Xia Jixuan, expert from the Ministry of Education, was quoted as saying: “Since the reform and opening up, many people have blindly worshipped the West, casually using foreign words as a way of showing off their knowledge and intellect.

“This also exacerbated the proliferation of foreign words,” Xia said.

“The English language has absorbed pinyin to adapt, yet why is Putonghua mixed with a large quantity of English words? How much have foreign languages damaged the purity and vitality of the Chinese language?” the People’s Daily report said.(read more) South China Morning Post


One Comment on “Campaign Against Foreign Words: ‘VIP, Wi-fi, iPhone’, Threaten Chinese Language ‘Purity’”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet For World Affairs Journal, Gordon G. Chang writes: Twice in late April, People’s Daily railed […]


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