China limits use of English in written material

I know this is nothing to do with Arabic, but it's very interesting. This article from Taipei Times announces that China has made it so that English words and abbreviations are no longer allowed to be used in newspapers, websites, and books. They are claiming that allowing English to be used is contaminating the purity of their language. I'm kind of torn on this issue. When I first read the article I though, "How dare they ban English!", like it was an attack on my country or something, but I can see where they're coming from. I'm sure a lot of countries around the world, not just China, feel like they're being culturally attacked by English.A lot of countries don't care and even embrace English as a road to prosperity, but it seems China's leaders don't want their country to lose its identity. I'm not sure how I feel on this. After all, shouldn't China's people be able to choose for themselves what they read? I know I wouldn't be for it if the US suddenly banned foreign language use in print, so I guess it's hypocritical of me to say it's ok for it to be done in China. What do you think about this subject?


Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't think it's as much about Chinese heritage as it is about keeping the Chinese people unaware of the abuses going on in their government. It's the same reason for the "Great Firewall of China". If English materials are not allowed, then access to information contradicting the Chinese government's official word is decreased. One example of this is the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The Chinese government basically pretends that it never happened. It's even easier to pretend it never happened if English-language media is banned. Similarly, one of the reasons I'm learning Arabic is to get an idea of what the Arab world thinks of the United States, because it can be insightful as to what's really going on.

Marcus said...

I think it's a doomed endeavor. France has tried similar controls to limit English from influencing the French language, but languages don't stop evolving and taking on new words just because the government tells them not to. No language is "pure" and to try to restrain a language from adapting to the needs of its speakers is ludicrous. Sure, they may not appear in official documents, but China is sending record numbers of students to the US to study. You can be sure that these students will come back with a wealth of English words that are going to find their way into speech. It's only a matter of time from then on that they will make their way on to the printed page.

Ben said...

Good on China. Unless there are large efforts like this to slow down spread of English as the world's primary language we'll lose an enormous amount of culturally diversity in a couple of generations and we'll have a one global, (dull), homogenous culture. I'd like to see the Arab world do more to promote words of pure Arabic origins.

Linguist said...

China almost universally now uses the so-called “Arabic” (ultimately Indian) numerical system even on official documents and I’d like to see them ban that !

The Arabic world is also slowly dropping the perfectly useable Arabic symbols for “Western” numbers. After all, if you’re going to write a letter to New York from Riyadh, it better use Western numbers for the ZIP code, if nothing else, if you expect your letter to arrive at its destination sometime this century.

Many countries have tried to establish “modernisms” to avoid the English word, but it’s a losing battle.

Any English word having to do with “technology” (even the word TECHNOLOGY) is now common currency all over the world in all sorts of languages.

I don’t know about Chinese, but certainly in the Arab world, words such as COMPUTER, INTERNET and so on are universally used, both in FUSHA and DIALECT. I have a feeling the word COMPUTER in Chinese closely resembles the English word and trying to find a “native” Chinese word for it would be an impossible task.

The word for TELEPHONE appeared as the Arabic HATIF for a few decades, especially on official documentation, but it is now rare, though you still find it.

In fact, in some Arabic dialects, not only was the NOUN taken from English (a very common event), but a VERB came into use for “to telephone someone” (an extremely rare event).

(Most “borrowings” from one language to another are NOUNS. Other grammatical categories, such as pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and verbs are almost never borrowed).

As a native Spanish speaker, for example, I can’t think of a SINGLE Spanish VERB in modern usage that has come from the Arabic. There are dozens of Arabic noun borrowings, of course, but a verb? Can’t think of a single one. And remember, Arabic was in use in Spain for about 700 years !!

SideBar: I estimate the number of Arabic words IN COMMON USE in Spanish to be under 100, if that. I know that in my own everyday speech, there may be 10 (!!) words that I recognize as of Arabic origin. Most people believe Spanish is peppered with Arabic words numbering in the 1000s. That’s preposterous.

FunnySideBar: When speaking with my family, especially, there I’ll be blabbering away in Spanish and I’ll suddenly find myself interjecting YA3ANI here and there. No one has ever asked me about this. I think they really don't "hear" it.

The “problem” of borrowings is really exaggerated.

As I said, most borrowing are nouns which in no way interferes with the foundations of a language. I hear Arabic all the time and when the subject is technology, almost every other word is a borrowing from the English….but…….they’re still definitely speaking Arabic.

The few times it has become an issue with me I always remind my listener that at least ½ of English words are of Latin origin, with a lot of Greek thrown in, not to mention words from dozens and dozens of other languages. Talk about “borrowing”!! That usually shuts ‘em up.

SideBar 3: Strangely, GERMAN very reluctantly borrows. Check any SCIENTIFIC glossary. Almost every word is very different from the English (ultimately Latin or Greek) word.

For example, just the word SCIENCE (ultimately Latin) is similar in all kinds of European languages, EXCEPT German. In German, the word for SCIENCE is WISSENSCHAFT. The word for DOCTOR (found even in Arabic) is ARZT !! in German. And, here's the interesting point: I don't think this was a deliberate event. No government "banning" of foreign words. German just developed that way on its own.

Linguist said...


I did a little research and I guess I was wrong about a few things:

1. In Chinese, the word for computer is:

电脑 meaning "Electric Brain" and pronounced diàn nǎo which doesn't resemble the English word "computer" at all.

Same with Chinese for "Internet" which is 互联网 and is pronounced: hù lián wǎng

However, that's not the end of the story (as is usual when discussing languages).

The above Chinese characters are the "simplified" system. The "traditional" system uses much more complex characters.

In addition, the 2 systems are very often "mixed" so that the word "computer" can be written in several ways(!).

And.....I still believe that if you go to China and use the English word "computer" etc., you'll have no problem being understood.

For an interesting and easy to read write-up of the Chinese word for "computer" see:

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The Arabic Student said...

Linguist, as always, very insightful comment. I'm planning on making a video about the different English words that are used in Arabic. Not just the simple stuff like telephone, television, etc. I want to show the words that I myself found odd that they were used. كنسلنا الطلب (we canceled the request), عملت اكس عليه (I crossed it out (literally, I put an X on it)). However, these are used more in Lebanon where they are open to other languages (often at the expense of Arabic) more so than in other Arabic countries.

German does seem to be a weird case considering much stranger and far removed languages than German use the word "doctor" as well as a lot of the English words that German doesn't.

I don't know much about Chinese, but it seems like they don't let too much English (or any other language) into their own language. When they make a word it actually seems to catch on unlike in Arabic where the English word is often used.