Will Chinese Loan Words Become Commonplace in English?

Languages28 April 20143k

There have been relatively few Chinese words or phrases to have been adopted into the English language in recent times. 

While words such as schadenfreude (German), fiesta (Spanish) and karaoke (Japanese) have all become commonly used and accepted loan terms in English, the same crossover cannot be seen with Chinese.

Considering it is the most widely spoken language in the world – indeed ISO-6391 classifies Chinese as a macro language with 13 sub-languages – this is perhaps surprising.

Part of the problem can be traced to issues with pronunciation, as Chinese words typically have a different tone. Nevertheless, if you study and memorize vocabulary and grammatical structures, it can be mastered! 

The lack of Chinese loan words could all be about to change though, as the official Xinhua news agency has reported a big spike in the number of Chinese buzzword entries in Urban Dictionary. 

The web-based dictionary contains more than 7.7 million definitions and these are typically slang, buzzwords and other words or phrases that are not found in standard dictionaries.

Among the terms to have appeared on Urban Dictionary is 'gelivable' (awesome or amazing), 'people mountain people sea' (very crowded) and 'zhuangbility' (boastfulness).

While it is not a foregone conclusion that Chinese terms will start making their way into English, it does point to the fact there is a greater appetite for these words than previously thought. 

According to China Real Time, a couple of words that are well placed to make the leap are 'mafan' (hassle or difficulty) and 'mamahuhu' (so-so). Indeed, with Chinese becoming increasingly important on a global scale, the process of integration may speed up.

It also pointed out the "trickiness of French or Japanese pronunciation hasn't stopped English from embracing words from either language".

Bearing this in mind, it might not be too long before we all know a bit of Chinese. Just make sure you stick to the experts for translations though!


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