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English invades Chinese language
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08:42, August 17, 2007

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Does technology pose a threat to the purity of the Chinese language?

Many Chinese use instant messenger tools such as MSN or QQ, listen to music on MP3 players and log on the Internet using ADSL - most without knowing the literal Chinese translation of the abbreviations.

But they don't have to, as many English letters have become part of the local lexicon.

A dozen abbreviations including GDP, NBA, IT, MP3, QQ, DVD and CEO are among the 5,000 most-frequently used words in the Chinese-language media last year, according to a report on the 2006 Language Situation in China, which was released yesterday in Beijing.

The report said some parents are so keen on English letters that a couple tried to name their baby "@", claiming the character used in email addresses reflects their love for the child.

While the "@" is obviously familiar to Chinese e-mail users, they often use the English word "at" to pronounce it - which with a drawn out "T" sounds something like ai ta, or "love him", to Putonghua speakers.

The study collected more than 1 billion language samples from newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and websites last year. The annual report is jointly compiled by the Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission.

"Nowadays, more and more English abbreviations are being used in Chinese, making them an important part of the contemporary language," said Hou Min, a professor at Communication University of China.

"The abbreviations have gained popularity because of the ease of usage," Hou said.

For example, DNA is much simpler to use than its Chinese version tuoyang hetang hesuan, and T xingtai (T-stage or fashion catwalk) combines the English letter with Chinese characters to give readers a visual meaning.

"As more Chinese people learn foreign languages, especially English, in recent years, using abbreviations has become a trend among educated people," she said.

Some language scholars fear such usage will contaminate the purity of Chinese and cause confusion in communication.

But Li Yuming, deputy director of the State Language Commission, said: "Chinese is a tolerant language which can absorb every advantage from other languages.

"We are trying to build a linguistically-harmonious society," Li said. "It is ideal that people speak some foreign languages besides their mother tongue."

Most of the abbreviations are used in the IT, medical, auto, economic and chemical fields.

However, excessive use of foreign letters might cause reading obstacles, especially for ordinary people, said Wang Tiekun, deputy director of the language information management department affiliated to the Ministry of Education.

"Misspelled and misused words can be seen in the media and need to be corrected," Wang said.

Source: China Daily



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