Chinese netizens form new English words

Updated: 2010-03-24 17:01
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BEIJING - It might be confusing for a native English speaker, but many young Chinese will immediately know the word "Chinsumer": a Chinese consumer, who spends lavishly on luxuries when traveling abroad.

English words or phrases, altered slightly to give them a new Chinacentric meaning, have been dubbed "postmodern Chinglish" by China's Internet users.

For example, "sexetary," serves to satirize moral corruption characterized by businessmen and executives who have close relations with their "secretaries."

"Togayther" reflects the increasing tolerance among young Chinese towards gay lovers who live together.

But other words are more difficult to comprehend by those who do not know China well.

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"Don' train" is the combination of "don't" and "train." The first part bears the same pronunciation as the first word of Chinese phrase "dong che," or high-speed train.

The term is used to describe high-speed railways, which are widely promoted, but are too expensive for many average Chinese.

"Suihide" derives from a major controversy last year involving the death of a man who mysteriously died in a detention center in the southwestern Yunnan province. Police said he died after hitting a wall while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates. But such an explanation was widely questioned and ridiculed.

Matthew Deal, an American teacher of writing at Peking University, said, "To be honest, when I first encountered the Chinese satirical wordplay combination (CSWC -- his own description), I deplored it greatly since I believed it might reinforce English misspellings.

"After the concept of CSWC was explained to me, I think CSWC is great for China, since we as humans must have an outlet to release our frustrations and discontent," he said. "This is a positive way for the Chinese people to speak their mind in a law abiding way."

Cai Junmei, an English teacher in the School of Journalism and Communication of Shanghai International Studies University, regarded it as a cultural phenomenon in the evolution of English language.

Word blending is also popular with native speakers, such as "Brangelina," she said, referring to the pairing of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

"English is becoming a global tongue and bearing new fruit when transplanted to another land," she said.

According to the British Council, the number of English speakers in China increases by 20 million annually.

It is estimated that China may already have more English speakers than India.

"Given that so many people are involved, it is natural that Chinese like to blend their own culture and linguistic traditions into English," Cai said.

Lei Yuxiao, a junior student in the Renmin University of China majoring in English, told Xinhua, "Young people definitely use more English in daily life than the older generation. When something interesting happens, I will not only seek a Chinese way to express it, but also want to say it in English."

Although many of these blendings are more likely to be used on special occasions, some might become established words, Cai said.

A handful of Chinese words and terms have been accepted in standard English, such as kungfu, typhoon, while the phrases "long time no see" and "lose face" are direct translations from Chinese.

"'Two sessions' is also increasingly mentioned by mainstream English-language media," Lei said, referring to the annual concurrent sessions of the National People's Congress, the highest legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.

It shows the increasing influence of China when more English blendings created by Chinese are accepted by native speakers, Cai said.