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Chinese English

Chinese English, or ‘Chinglish’, is the spoken or written English language that is influenced by the Chinese language. In Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong it refers mostly to Cantonese-influenced English. It often consists of remarkably creative and idiosyncratic English in Chinese situations.

Origins

The English language first arrived in China in 1637 with the British traders who were visiting coastal towns. At first, Chinese Pidgin English was the lingua franca for trade between British people and Cantonese-speaking Chinese people. By the mid-nineteenth century Pidgin English had spread as far north as Shanghai. Soon after it began to decline as missionary schools started to teach Standard English. In 1982 the People’s Republic of China made English the main foreign language in education.

Local influences

Chinese English is a combination of local Chinese culture and the English language. It has influenced certain widespread English expressions that have been translated from Chinese. For example, the expression ‘to lose face’ comes from the Cantonese diulan. The very commonly used phrase ‘long time no see’ derives from hǎojiǔbújiàn, although some references claim this expression comes from American Indian Pidgin English. Chinese English can be seen all over present-day China on public notices and signs in parks, tourist sites, on shop names and in their slogans, in hotels and many other places. As it is often translated directly (transliterated) Chinese English can often yield delightful and inventive results. A famous example is ‘Show mercy to the slender grass’, meaning, of course, ‘keep off the grass’.

Unique words and idioms

Chinglish has characteristics that are different from Standard English in all linguistic aspects, although the most noticeable differences are at the lexical level due to transliteration. Some words are confused by Chinglish speakers, for example, ‘to turn on/off’ and ‘to open/close’. A Chinese English speaker might say ‘close the light’ instead of ‘turn off the light’, or ‘open the TV’ instead of ‘turn on the TV’. Other examples include ‘Slip carefully’ (‘Be careful not to slip and fall’); ‘Note that the level of gap’ (‘Mind the gap’); and ‘Exterminate Capitalism Lobster Package’ (‘gourmand lobster meal’).

Pronunciation

There is often no contrast between two sounds for Chinese English Speakers. For example, ‘sheep’ and ship’ would be the same in pronunciation. The same goes for stress in a sentence. The word ‘for’ is stressed differently in the sentences ‘What is it for’? and ‘This is for you’. To a Chinglish speaker the two are pronounced the same.

Please feel free to add your own examples of Chinese English to this post!

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