Banning English abbreviations sparks debate

Updated: 2010-04-10 01:11
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BEIJING - Should Chinese-language TV use simple English abbreviations for some terms for the sake of simplicity? Or should it use lengthy Chinese equivalents in the name of keeping the Chinese language pure?

Chinese people, both ordinary viewers and linguists, are split over the matter.

A heated debate is underway on whether Chinese should use English abbreviations for terms like "NBA" and "GSM," after TV hosts were reportedly ordered to use the Chinese translation for foreign abbreviations on their programs.

It is believed the restriction will alleviate the concern too many English abbreviations have mixed with Chinese and soiled the purity of the Chinese language and Chinese culture.

On the Internet, Chinese netizens doubt the appropriateness of the authorities' decision.

"Is my ID now in danger?" netizen "unluckeyfreak13" wrote to ridicule the order in a post at the forum.

"So, we may have to use 'moving picture experts group audio layer three' to refer to the simple 'mp3'," netizen "b828" said.

Maintaining the purity of the Chinese language with a sweeping ban on the use of English words in Chinese reveals a lack of confidence, wrote Qin Ning in a signed commentary published in Friday's Beijing Times, a Beijing-based newspaper affiliated with state-owned People's Daily.

The reasonable use of some English words in Chinese facilitates daily communication and cultural exchange, Qin said.

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English abbreviations for specific words like "NBA" are used in broadcasting for brevity, and having to use their Chinese translation will simply make the expression lengthy and clumsy, Netease Sports commentator Liu Xiao said in a commentary at

Qianjiang Evening News in eastern China's Zhejiang Province quoted Sun Zhengping, a famous sports newscaster with state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), confirmed he had received a notice telling the channels newscasters to refrain from using English abbreviations for words such as "NBA," "GDP," "CPI" and "WTO" in their news broadcasts.

However, Sun told the newspaper such abbreviations are not completely banned, but they must be used with their Chinese translations.

When mentioning the NBA games on the channel's sports news program at 6:00 pm on Friday, the newscaster said, "The NBA, namely the National Basketball Association Games of the United States," instead of the previous practice of simply saying "the NBA."

However, abbreviations like "NBA" and "CBA" (Chinese Basketball Association) without Chinese translation still appeared in the rolling subtitles and trailer pictures of the channel's programs.

Still, there are some netizens who support the authorities' order.

"I am for the restriction," netizen "x860" said. "I don't think the elderly audience, especially those living in rural areas, can understand the exact meaning of CPI."

"In China, it would be better to make Chinese language comprehensible to all the Chinese people," said netizen "Lu Jian Bu Ping ABC."

Linguistic adjustment is not a new thing in China, and the Chinese language has always been open to innovation to keep its vitality, Peking University's Prof. Zhang Yiwu told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

Many words in the modern Chinese language are "borrowed" from western concepts and Japanese words, Zhang noted.

And foreign words are only adopted when they fit with Chinese culture, and so there is no need to fuss about "cultural impairment," he said.

However, he warned, his argument should not be used to justify an over "westernization" of the language.

Official usage of language needs to be normalized, and flexibility is needed to keep the language in tune with modern society, Zhang said.