17 March 2010

Chinese language

Chinese probably has the least number of loan words of any language I've ever seen. Even modern words like computer (电脑, diannao, electric-brain) and airplane (飞机, feiji) are not loan words, but instead whole new constructions. The only loan words I ever used were 咖啡(kafei) and "inter-wang" (internet, because wang is "net"). I also often saw 卡拉OK (Ka La OK--Karaoke).

This is why it is so bizarre to me that the Chairman of the International Federation of Translators Huang Youyi is worried about China becoming an impure language due to too many English loan words. The article doesn't explain what the damage to China is, though. I would like to see his argument, because I've seen the same thing said by both Japanese and French scholars, without any argument.

This is in direct contrast to the experience of English, which has occupied such a central place (it is often said) because it adopts foreign ideas so readily. We have so many loanwords, from so many languages. (We even have a single loanword from Manchurian.) I'm biased, but I believe Chinese could use some of that same flexibility.

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