Foreign lingo like Wi-fi, VIP threaten Chinese language's ‘purity’, state newspaper says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 7:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 7:45pm

For the second time in recent months, government mouthpiece People’s Daily slammed the overuse of English acronyms in Chinese parlance, suggesting it could damage the “purity and vitality” of the local tongue.

“Why is it that words like Motorola and Nokia are translated into Mandarin, but words like iPhone and iPad are spoken as they are?” a culture report in the newspaper said.

It blamed the “worship” of Western culture and the lack of qualified translators – deterred by an non-lucrative field – for what it called the “zero translation phenomenon”.

Xia Jixuan, expert from the Ministry of Education, was quoted as saying: “Since the reform and opening up, many people have blindly worshipped the West, casually using foreign words as a way of showing off their knowledge and intellect.

“This also exacerbated the proliferation of foreign words,” Xia said.

“The English language has absorbed pinyin to adapt, yet why is Putonghua mixed with a large quantity of English words? How much have foreign languages damaged the purity and vitality of the Chinese language?” the People’s Daily report said.

“Scarcity of talent is one of the reasons,” said Wu Bo, an English professor at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. “There are many foreign-language-to-Chinese translators, but few Chinese-to-foreign-language translators. How can we achieve cultural balance?”

Earlier this month, the state newspaper published another story warning readers not to “abuse” foreign words such as PM2.5 or e-mail.

It urged the public to help establish linguistic confidence and preserve cultural heritage by using the direct Chinese translations of such words.

The Communist Party, leading the world’s second-largest economy, has been concerned with preserving Chinese culture and heritage at the same time it engages with other countries in a globalised world.

Over the past decade, the increasing demand for foreign education, such as US schools, has seen millions of Chinese students become “Westernised” and return to their homeland with not only foreign expertise and languages, but also a new cultural mindset.

In a quarterly report from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement released in January, more than one-quarter of a million Chinese students held student visas in the United States.

“The problem of loan words abuse is not unique to China, it is common in many countries, especially developing ones,” said Wang Gangyi from the China Foreign Languages Publishing and Distribution Administration.

But Wang said: “We should not close the door on foreign languages, but we also cannot abuse foreign language.”