Explosion of lexical coinages reflects change

Updated: 2007-08-20 14:01

The education authorities for the first time publicized 171 new coinages collected from the latest common usage among the Chinese, including "house slaves" which refers to young people who are under great pressure to pay for huge housing mortgages.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) issued a report over the weekend on new words which were coined in the past several years and are prevailingly used today.

Li Yuming, a senior MOE official who is in charge of standardizing the use of modern Chinese language, told Xinhua on Monday, "Those new coinages reflect rapid cultural and social changes in recent years as well as thriving new concepts in our daily lives."

Some new words were from political jargons, such as "ba rong ba chi," a catch-phrase literally translated as "eight honors and eight disgraces," which was initiated by President Hu Jintao last year for promoting socialist ethics and personal integrity.

Most of the 171 coinages, however, show the cultural and social sides of the Chinese life.

"Smiling Beijing" ("Wei xiao Beijing") is a phrase created by the Beijing Olympic organizing committee to encourage Beijing residents as hosts of the upcoming Olympics to give more smiles and friendliness to outsiders.

Some metropolitan young couples, highly educated and smartly paid, are now trying a life style of purposed separate residence but short of divorce. Those couples, who willingly limit intimacy with each others for keeping personal space and romantic sense of marriage, are called "semi-honey couples" ("ban tang fu qi").

Quite a few double income no kids (DINK) couples in big cities are now favoring to raise pets and give them very comfortable living. Such a new kind of DINK families are labeled as "ding chong jia ting," or "DINK families with pets."

Fashionable young Chinese tend to euphemistically use "duan bei" referring to male homosexuals. "Duan bei," with a literal meaning of "brokeback," was borrowed from the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, a R-rated American film directed by Ang Lee.

Li said the release of the 171 new words is based on a two-year research on more than 900 million words and phrases in daily use of the Chinese language. The MOE, together with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute of Linguistics, has built a huge database garnering new words with the highest frequency of use since 2005. The linguists picked new words from mass media and the Internet, analyzing their social, psychological and semantic connotations. They also studied the influence of words borrowed from foreign languages.

Another senior MOE official Wang Dengfeng warned permanent influence of foreign languages, particularly English, over modern Chinese, because learning English has been required for students since middle school.

Xie Lei, an journalism-major senior at Shanghai International Studies University, said, "I have not had much Chinese language training since my middle school years and now English is the predominantly important course."

Some people even create names for children you have never heard of before with the introduction of new stuff, such as email. A couple tried to register "Zhao @" for their son with the local public security administration.

The father claimed that everybody writing emails uses "@," therefore the name is so cool. The application was turned down because the administration rules out any use of symbols in people's names.

The wild creativity in naming children, analyzed by experts, is somewhat responsive to the colorlessness of widely-used Chinese names in the past decades. People usually chose very politicized names during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), such as "wei dong" which contains the meaning of "guarding Chairman Mao Zedong."

Afterwards, people preferred to use simpler names. The latest demographic survey showed that at least 300,000 people nationwide are named "Zhang Wei." Zhang is a popular Chinese surname and Wei means greatness.

Public security administration authorities advise people against using rarely-used characters in their names. Police officers said it difficult to input obsolete characters into the computerized household registration systems.

New coinages are not easy to find their way in new entries of modern Chinese dictionaries, either, linguists said.

Some of them will be distilled into the authoritative dictionary. Chao Jizhou, a principal compiler of the 2005-edition Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, said, "The new dictionary adds about 6,000 new entries and deletes 2,500 outdated ones."

Before being elected into candidacy for dictionary compilation, the new words have to be under meticulous scrutiny of 15 leading linguists from the CASS Institute of Linguistics.

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours