Chinese-to-English word-for-word translations catching on
With English being one of the three most important major courses throughout a Chinese student’s school career, alongside Mandarin and
and math, how to apply this language in their daily lives can be a headache for people of all ages in China. Interestingly, more and more Chinese expressions are now being admitted into the English language lexicon, such as “lose face” (diu lian) and “long time no see” (hao jiu bu jian). Such direct Chinese-to-English word-for-word translations is colloquially known as Chinglish.
Most recently, “add oil!” (jia you), an expression widely used in China for encouragement, similar to “come on!,” was included into the Oxford English Dictionary. As foreign languages are affecting and impacting each other in a more profound way in today’s global village, will Chinglish catch on in the West just as English has in China? Or perhaps Chinglish will someday serve as a universal second language much in the way that Esperanto attempted to last century.
Metropolitan recently set out for a Chinglish test on the street of Beijing. We showed a list of 10 very popular Chinglish terms to young foreign and Chinese passersby to gauge their knowledge and understanding of this unusual hybrid vocabulary.
British national Paul is a tourist who just arrived in Beijing. Coming from a native Englishspeaking country, Paul was interested in taking our little test. His misunderstanding of “adding oil” was a process in cooking, but he guessed correctly that “losing face” means to be embarrassed and “laugh die me” is similar to laughing to death.
Know is know
Paul guessed incorrectly to all our other questions, to which he conceded “Sorry I’m really bad at this test. My Chinglish is very bad.”
Our second contestant was a Danish citizen who only gave his Chinese name, Yang Guang. Yang has been living\ in China for
two years and already speaks fluent Putonghua. It’s no surprise, then, that Yang got many answers correct.
For example, when it came to “people mountain people sea,” he not only gave the correct answer as there are too many people and being very crowded, but also added that it was like the situation during the Chinese National Day holidays.
However, Yang might be great at Putonghua, but his Chinglish abilities only scored a 30. Federico from Austria has been studying Chinese in Beijing for two months, and Ulli recently arrived to visit him.
Having never before encountered any Chinglish terms on our list, the two friends used their imaginations, guessing three correctly: “laugh die me,” “no zuo no die” and “know is know, no know is no know, is know.”
This video about people’s understanding of Chinglish became very popular on Chinese social media recently, with a total view count of 4.5 million views on Weibo alone.
In the video’s comments section, many Chinese expressed that they had no idea that so many English expressions were in fact translations of Chinese.
Some netizens discussed if cultural confidence is the key to a successful translation. “The Japanese have lots of local words translated from Japanese pronunciations, such as judo, ninja and kanji,” netizen Fan Zhendong wrote, adding that such words are also well-known in the West.
“But we Chinese, being afraid that foreigners may not understand us, turn our unique expressions such as ‘add oil’ into Chinglish instead of keeping the original Chinese,” Fan wrote.
“Very soon,” Fan concluded, “people will forget where these terms come from and may even think they are from the English vocabulary.
The key is that the Chinese lack confidence.”
As different languages are affecting and impacting each other in a profound way in today's global village, more and more Chinese expressions are now being admitted into the English language lexicon. Add oil
While some Chinese are glad that Chinglish has become more widely accepted, some are worried that it displays a lack of cultural confidence.
Paul from the UK
Federico (left) and Ulli from Austria