Xinhua English and Zhonglish

« previous post | next post »

With all Chinese schoolchildren studying English from elementary school, advertisers saturating the media with English-laden slogans, and English peppering text messages and other electronic communications, there is bound to be a significant amount of English-Sinitic interference in daily usage. What we are also seeing, I believe, is the emergence of hybrid forms of Chinese and English in which not only the lexicons, but also the grammars and the phonologies of the two languages merge with each other in surprising ways.

I here offer, first, an example of Chinese affecting English, and then an instance of English affecting Chinese.

A regular correspondent, Victor Steinbok, wrote to me as follows:

A headline grabbed my attention because it proclaimed, "China, EU vow to deepen cooperation".

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-01/31/content_10738742.htm

It's easily parseable, but what on earth possessed them to use "deepen" in this context?

I jumped to Google and, to my surprise, got 1.5+ mil raw hits. But if you look carefully at the websites, aside from a couple of NATO pages, and singular hits from the likes of "America.gov", Finland and Surinam, the majority of the first 100 hits are from China and other Asian countries (some Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore). But there is no mistake that the Chinese sites (in English) are dominant. Skipping ahead further (p. 22+), gives more Chinese and Vietnamese sites (about 5+ combined out of every 10), but now also includes single shots from Belgium, Sweden, Japan. But I see virtually no US, UK, Canada and Australia sites, except some that refer to Australian treaties with Asian countries.

Is this some sort of Chinglish derivative that made it into standard diplomatic talk? Or am I missing something else? Certainly, this is the way diplomatic talks would be reported in Russian. (Uglubit' sotrunichestvo", or something to that effect) But, in English, this is not what comes to mind when I hear "deepen".

Steinbok's observations are astute. He has identified a good specimen of what may be called "Xinhua English" (henceforth XE). There can be no doubt that "deepen cooperation" is the XE equivalent of Chinese JIA1QIANG2 HE2ZUO4 加強合作 (for examples of JIA1QIANG2 HE2ZUO4 being matched with "deepen cooperation," see here), which might more literally be rendered in English as "strengthen cooperation." On the other hand, if we back-translate "deepen cooperation" into Chinese, we are likely to end up with JIA1SHEN1 HE2ZUO4 加深合作. However, Chinese speakers show a clear preference for JIA1QIANG2 HE2ZUO4 over JIA1SHEN1 HE2ZUO4. It is curious that a Google search for JIA1QIANG2 HE2ZUO4 yields almost exactly the same total number of occurrences as Steinbok's search for "deepen cooperation" did (1.56 mil raw hits), whereas JIA1SHEN1 HE2ZUO4 results in a measly 40,800.

It probably won't be long before native English speakers say "deepen cooperation" without any qualms, just as they now say "paper tiger" and "running dog" with little queasiness. Never mind that, when I first heard these XE expressions (derived from ZHI3 LAO3HU3 紙老虎 and ZOU3GOU3 走狗) back in the 1950s, they sounded very strange to my ear.

Meanwhile, over at Beijing Sounds, we have an "uncle's" dismay over the Anglicization of two-and-a-half year old Cici's Mandarin. The gross intrusion of English grammar into Chinese documented in the Beijing Sounds blog is a phenomenon with which I'm well acquainted, having upon many occasions heard such priceless exchanges as the following:

Mother: QING3 GUAN1MEN2 請關門 ("Please close the door.")

Child: I am GUAN1ing ("I'm closing it").

In fact, "-ing" has already become a part of Chinese grammar, but this post has gone on long enough, so I will wait for another time to document this intriguing development.

Share:



56 Comments »

  1. Joe said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    Perhaps another emerging English phrase that bears studying would be "closing the lights" which replaces "turn on the lights". A few Chinese (and other Asian) friends have uttered this phrase but, apparently, Candians (via Quebec) use this as well.

  2. Jonathan Badger said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    While there are quite a few Chinese in Canada, and indeed areas like the Toronto suburb of Markham, where recent immigration would make Chinese probably be of more use than English, "close the lights" is probably from the French "fermez les lumières", as that would be the direct translation.

  3. David M. Chess said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    To this monolingual native speaker of Amurican English, "deep" is a perfectly appropriate adjective for "cooperation" (at least as appropriate as "strong" if not moreso), and it's therefore natural to say "deepen cooperation"; this seems perfectly standard, and not offputting or Chinese or otherwise foreign at all. But maybe I'm just already Sinitified, having read too many headlines…

  4. rootlesscosmo said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    My grandmother–born Ukraine ca. 1885, native speaker of Yiddish and Russian, arrived US ca. 1920–said "close the light." The TV chef Lidia Bastianich, of Croatian birth, advises viewers to "close the fire" (i.e. turn off the heat) under a pan before adding cheese.

  5. Brendan said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    Another possible candidate: 深化合作, which – while less common than 加强合作 – is plenty common.

  6. pooka said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    I believe the "deepen cooperation" idiom was in current use when I lived in Malaya forty years ago. That doesn't argue against a Chinglish origin, as half the population of Malaya was Chinese – baba Chinese, Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese in the main. In the Straits Settlements and in Malaya English and Chinese had combined and competed for a hundred and fifty years already.

  7. hsknotes said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    Seemed like perfectly decent english to me, but after doing the google search it does appear to be at least heavily amplified by the chinese translation press. That's not to say it wasn't a "saying" pre-Xinhua/Chin-Eng dictionaries. But, I guess after thinking for a second, it does seem a bit off. Off, but the kind of off that seems acceptable, at least to me. NOT like "close the lights"! We are not going to be a close/extinguish the lights lot!

  8. David M. Chess said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

    I searched on "strengthen cooperation", and it also seems to be mostly used by them exotic foreign types (the very first hit on Google was from news.xinhuanet.com). I think we have to conclude that English doesn't have any natural native term for this concept, English speakers being such rampant individualists… :)

  9. taki said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

    Indeed, looking into article form Xinhua agency, people get overwhelmed by meaningless words made to sounds powerful, determinant and mind blowing. As a Chinese veteran for this bombard, I tend to hear Blah Blah Blah….

  10. Jan said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    "to deepen cooperation" didn't strike me as odd at all, but then I'm German and "Zusammenarbeit vertiefen" is perfectly acceptable and in common usage here.

  11. Ellen K. said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

    I'm thinking I'd most likely say "increase cooperation", or "further cooperation" perhaps if I were writing an article. But "deepen cooperation" didn't strick me as strange. It's a fitting metaphor.

  12. KYL said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    I somehow doubt that we will see US or UK journalists using this XE idiom anytime soon. China, in its official pronouncements, likes to emphasize "cooperation" mainly because it is not powerful enough to get others to go along with it on anything of importance. I don't think this phrase sounds particularly colorful (like "paper tiger") and probably won't be picked up by reporters seeking new, colorful phrases to turn into cliches.

    It is curious that XE opted for "deepen cooperation" over "strengthen cooperation," which would seem to be a more natural translation for "加強合作" — any theories why this was done?

    Victor constantly tantalizes us with these promised posts which have not yet materialized. By my count we are still waiting for the following posts:

    1. a post on the fascinating history of the "牛" lexeme in contemporary Chinese;
    2. a post on the title of the Manchu emperor
    3. a post on the history of the word for karaoke in Japanese/Chinese

    and now

    4. a post on "-ing" as a part of the grammar of contemporary spoken Chinese.

    I really want to see these posts.

  13. Irene said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

    As a native speaker of SAE, both deepen cooperation and close the light (for turn off the light) sound fine to me.

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    "Deepen cooperation" feels entirely unremarkable to me. "Close the lights", by contrast, has always struck me as foreign-sounding, but unobjectionable. "Turn off the lights", by contrast, is familiar but on reflection amusing, just as are "dialing a phone" or "boarding an airplane". My awareness of rotary room-light switches seems to come entirely from movies set in wartime Germany or England, but I have dialed phones myself.

  15. Garbanzo said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 6:45 pm

    "Deepen cooperation" sounds entirely natural to me. I actually can't even fathom what others might find unnatural about it. I quizzed a couple other native English speakers by showing them the headline and asking if there was *anything* unnatural about it, beyond the headline syntax. No one saw anything remotely odd about it. One of my respondents is a California native and the other two of us have lived in California for years, which might be relevant.

    "Paper tiger" seems like a wholly unremarkable phrase to me. "Running dog," on the other hand, struck me as completely senseless when I first encountered it (in Doonesbury comics in childhood). Dogs run, what's notable about that, and why should it be an insult? A Chinese friend explained the metaphor to me years later. Now I think of it as a shining example of horrible translation.

  16. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

    Now that you mention it, what is the metaphor behind the expression "running dogs of imperialism"? I'm familiar with the expression, but it just now occurs to me that I don't really know the origins behind anyone saying that!

  17. ctc said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

    What about "open the light"? My daughter used "open the light" and "close the light" when young, a Mandarin influence I have to say.

  18. Dylan said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

    I'm not a native French speaker, but I would tend to say "éteindre la lumière" for "turn off the light". Is "fermer" also (or better) used in this context?

  19. Madison said,

    February 4, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

    Depending on who you speak to, « fermer les lumières» is either a Canadian bastardisation of the French language, or a perfectly acceptable phrase. Both groups would probably agree « éteindre les lumières » is the more formal/official way of phrasing the idea, although it might sound out a little stilted.

  20. The Chuck said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 1:21 am

    Even in the US for ELL's (and native speakers) sloganeering commerce has a direct impact upon grammar and befuddles those who study it. Just this week, I was teaching a class of ELL's about the difference between the present and the present progressive tenses, and they insisted that it was acceptable to use the present progressive with emotions because Mack-Done-Alds does it: "I AM loving it," they insisted.

  21. Garbanzo said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 2:51 am

    @Skullturf Q. Beavispants: A "running dog" is a dog that is so devoted to you that it will run after you wherever it goes, or that runs quickly to follow your orders.

    A much better, though less literal, translation — which I see occasionally — is "lap dog." A sentence such as "Our prime minister is America's lap dog" does a better job of conveying the contemptuous sentiment.

    Caveat: I'm not a native Chinese speaker.

  22. Tadeusz said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 3:09 am

    Stalin called Josef Tito "the chained dog of imperialism". Is not "running dogs of imperialism" an extention of this simile?

  23. Tadeusz said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 3:14 am

    _extension_ Firefox does have a spelling checker but I do not know how to make it switch between languages.

  24. Ginger Yellow said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 4:35 am

    "Deepen cooperation" seems perfectly natural diplomatese to my ears as well. Plenty of non-Asian references show up in searches at the Guardian, the Times and Reuters.

  25. yiQ said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 8:26 am

    As a Singaporean studying in Beijing, I would like to back Brendan's opinion of 深化合作, which would literally mean "deepen", but figuratively would imply bringing things onto a stronger/higher level. The Chinese television news frequently use 深化合作.

    The result of changes that occur due to language contact can actually be better observed in my country (Singapore), where an English-based education system churns with mandarin/Chinese dialect, as well as some Malay, to produce the famous "Singlish".

  26. Kris Rhodes said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    At the beginning of this post, I thought the idea was going to be that "deepen cooperation" comes from a too-literal translation of some Chinese idiom. But later in the post, this is ruled out (apparently) by the fact that the Chinese expression that would most literally be translated as "deepen cooperation" is not common. Instead what is common is a phrase that can be literally translated as "strengthen cooperation."

    But this leaves me with the question, where did "deepen cooperation" (in English written by people translating from Chinese) come from? I took it that part of the point of the post was to convey something about the origin of this phrase–but I never did quite clear on what that origin is supposed to be. How does it slip into English written by Chinese speakers if not because of something like an overly literal translation of some Chinese phrase?

    (For the record, I didn't think there was anything wrong with the phrase "deepen cooperation" but I bow to the testimony of Google.)

  27. David M. Chess said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    @Kris: note that there isn't actually any Google testimony to bow to. The main suggestion of the Google searches cited here is that Asian culture may talk about cooperation more than Western culture does. But "deepen cooperation" doesn't seem to be any more specifically Chinese than any other similar phrase, at least as far as the tiny amounts of Google evidence presented here. I'm suspecting the whole thing is a prank of some kind. :)

  28. Randy Alexander said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    I've lived in China for 6 years, and run an English school. When we have a new class that starts, we say we are "opening" a new class (开课). It's gotten to the point where this doesn't sound foreign at all to me, although I remember early on feeling it was.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    In my Classical Chinese course this afternoon, I used a secret ballot to poll the 12 members of the class on their opinion whether "deepen cooperation" were idiomatic in English or not. Here are the results: 3 non-native speakers of English and 6 native speakers said that it was not, whereas only 1 non-native speaker and 2 native speakers said that it sounded all right to them. What is most curious about the 2 native speakers who said that "deepen cooperation" sounds idiomatic to them is that they had both spent many years living in East Asia and one is married to a Japanese woman.

  30. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    @ Kris, @ David: Not all XE usages can be logically and straightforwardly explained as due to overly literal translation. Sometimes they result simply from expressions that were devised — more or less from scratch — by the Xinhua (New China) News Agency and its minions; once established, they become de rigeur for the meaning in question. A sample of ten XEisms that require explication for native speakers of English may be found here: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24282

  31. James Wimberley said,

    February 5, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

    I agree with Nathan Myers that "deepen cooperation" is standard internationalese; you will find it frequently in the communiqués of international organisations, like the one I used to work for. This particular phrase is very useful as it's a meaningless pseudo-commitment, something you can say when there's nothing of substance. My guess would be that the usage passed from the UN family to Chinese government bureaucracies.

  32. Joseph Tam said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 2:45 am

    The common theme I'm getting from the comments is a confirmation of what I've learned about collocations — that if the meaning is clear and the grammar is fine, native speakers (NS) will have a high willingness to accept it, even if it isn't idiomatic. The "it seems fine to me" test as a NS is basically saying "as a NS, I can understand this phrase perfectly well." But, as shown by this post and Dr Mair's secret ballot, when pushed to analyze the phrase, more NS will find more idiomatic alternatives (as "strengthen co-operation; increase co-operation") than NNS who will completely accept it.

  33. JimG said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    Having read too much translated revolutionary and post-revolutionary Chinese "propaganda" and political science/history commentary, I have the sense that running dogs chase the parade, marching army or cargo carts and are harmless, unworthy of respect. I'd argue that it's not that they are trained to run after and bark at the invincible progressive movement, it's their nature to do so until they fall behind.

  34. Therese said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    There is NOTHING better than Xinhua "English". I spend at least 25% of my work day giggling at it (though it's sadly begun to invade my own spoken English…).

  35. marie-lucie said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    Depending on who you speak to, « fermer les lumières» is either a Canadian bastardisation of the French language, or a perfectly acceptable phrase. Both groups would probably agree « éteindre les lumières » is the more formal/official way of phrasing the idea, although it might sound out a little stilted.

    As a French speaker raised in France I was trying to think of circumstances in which I might use fermer rather than éteindre on the subject of lights. I would never use fermer if I referred only to the lights, as éteindre (the opposite of allumer) would be my only possible choice. But if there were several different things to be turned off (eg the TV, the gas line to a propane stove or water heater, the furnace, etc) I might use fermer as a general term, for example in instructing someone to turn off or to disconnect everything: "Tu fermeras tout avant de partir". Similarly for ouvrir.

    French kitchen stoves and water heaters are typically gas-powered, and there is crucial difference between Ouvre/ferme le gaz 'open/close the gas line' (eg first thing in the morning and last thing at night, for safety reasons) and Allume/Eteins le gaz 'light or turn on/turn off the gas' (the open flame, before/after cooking something).

    That éteindre (to put out [a fire], blow out [a candle], turn off [a light]) should be considered "formal" and "stilted" in Canada might have to do with the fact that it is a relatively irregular verb (eg the imperative forms are éteins and éteignez) and therefore problematic for uneducated persons to use, while fermer is perfectly regular, as well as less restricted semantically.

  36. Ken Brown said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    I always thought that the "running dogs of capitalism" were carriage dogs.

    That is dogs specially trained (or bred) to run alongside the horsedrawn coach or carriage the rich capitalist is riding in. Parly for show, partly as guard dogs (though I'd have thought that guard dogs wopuld do better inside the coach)

    Supposedly an Austrian habit. The best-known breed of carriage dogs are the Dalmatians.

    S

  37. Bert Scruggs said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

    As I looked at Victor's note on the use of "-ing" with GUAN1 I was first struck by the fact that a mother used QING3. This, I think, already shows an English inflection. (Friends in Taiwan always giggle at their old classmates who return from study abroad and use please with their children.) It seems to me that "ba3 men2 guan1qi3lai2" is more natural.

  38. Victor Mair said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    @Ken Brown: People who only know Mandarin are tempted to translate ZOU3GOU3 as "walking dog," but ZOU3 in Classical Chinese means "running." In texts going back to the Han Dynasty and earlier (more than two thousand years ago), ZOU3GOU3 referred to hunting dogs. From that it much later developed the metaphorical meaning of an individual who is kept by a powerful person to do his bidding and, by extension, an obsequious expression for oneself in relation to a more powerful person.

    A more natural translation into English than "running dog" would be "flunkey" or "lackey."

  39. bocaj said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

    @KYL re: -ing in Chinese and 牛

    A couple of years ago there was a brief trend where -ing was used in Chinese text to express the present progressive. Though I no doubt have not spent as much time or effort researching it as Mr. Mair, I always associated it with advertisements geared towards young people and notes or text messages sent by young women. This usage appears to me to have been a fad; I haven't seen it used for some time.

    牛 niú ox, bull, cow, whatever synonym for bovine creature you care to use recently (?) has taken on a couple new meanings. It can mean stubborn, cf. 'stubborn as an ox' in English but I have no idea the relationship – or if there is one – between the two languages. It can also be used in the word 牛X or 牛B or 牛屄 all pronounced niúbī though the last one is not always used as it's one of the 'dirty' characters the stodgy commies tried to get rid of. However you write it X B or 屄 they all mean 'cunt'. 牛B means, I guess, something akin to badass or sometimes it is used like 'cool' in English, essentially to describe anything that the speaker likes, appreciates, or thinks is interesting. Of course, this is the year of the ox 牛. Another meaning of 牛 comes from the phrase 牛市 'bull market' which has the same connotation as in English. This year at all the Chinese New Year dinners I attended a frequent salutation or New Year's wish or drunken slur was to have a 'Happy 牛 Year' (which was covered here on Language Log, I think) which is sort of a three way pun. There's the obvious niu-new connection, it's the year of the ox, and also hoping that this year will see a 牛 market or economy.

  40. Victor Mair said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

    Some statistics from Google:

    "deepen cooperation" 51,000
    "strengthen cooperation" 300,000
    "further cooperation" 272,000
    "increase cooperation" 162,000
    "foster cooperation" 160,000
    "develop cooperation" 101,000
    While Chinese sources are well represented in all of these forms, they are — as Steinbok pointed out — disproportionately prominent for "deepen cooperation," which has by far the lowest number of hits among this group of semantically comparable expressions.

  41. Victor Mair said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 9:48 pm

    Yes, Bert, or just a peremptory "GUAN1 MEN2!"

  42. Andrew Dalke said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 7:50 am

    Google book search for "deepen cooperation", restricted to dates at or before 1950, finds 6 hits. All of them are what James Wimberley described as "standard internationalese" and used in treaties and meeting notes, but it's not until 1967 that I found the first direct mention of Asian countries.

  43. Nigel Greenwood said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    @ marie-lucie: In fact, as I'm sure you'll agree, éteindre is often used on its own on this side of the Atlantic to mean "turn out/off the lights" (Tu as éteint, chéri?). I'm afraid I can't agree that Canadian resistance to éteindre is due to its morphological "irregularity". And I'd be surprised if many other readers of LL would swallow that reasoning either. "Uneducated persons", in your words, have no particular aversion to that sort of irregularity!

  44. Milena said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    In Quebec French, 'Fermer/ouvrir les lumières' is perfectly acceptable, standard wording for 'turn off/turn on the lights'. It has nothing to do with irregular verbs being avoided by 'uneducated speakers' (an assertion which, by the way, I think many Québécois who use this term would find offensive). It is simply a difference in terminology, the same as how North American anglophones say 'on the weekend' and the Brits say 'at the weekend'. The conclusion that it sounds 'stilted' probably comes from the fact that most French Canadians know allumer/éteindre is the correct, 'standard' French expression, but it's not something that they ever use.

  45. Mike said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 3:02 am

    I'd be going with "enhance cooperation".

  46. Jerome Chiu said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    Stand-up comedian Dayo Wong's humorous use of "Chinese affected English grammar" (in Cantonese, at about 5min40sec):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPaTE7KaxUQ

    While "富 可 敵 國-s" might never enter common usage, we in Hong Kong have a habit of cracking this kind of jokes, e.g. "I hold my sword horizontally and laugh at the sky" (a deliberately silly rendering of 我 自 橫 刀 向 天 笑).

  47. Jerome Chiu said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    Erratum:
    Line 1-2: "Chinese affected English grammar" should have been "Chinese affected by English grammar".

    Or, better, I should have used "English-grammar-affected Chinese".

  48. Victor Mair said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

    Thanks, Mike, I shouldn't have left out "enhance cooperation": 211,000 hits.

    @Andrew Dalke: It would be interesting to see how many hits you would get in a similar search for "strengthen cooperation," "further cooperation," "increase cooperation," "foster cooperation," "develop cooperation," and "enhance cooperation." If the numbers are disproportionately larger than they are for "deepen cooperation," as they currently are, then we would hardly want to speak of "deepen cooperation" — with 6 pre-1950 hits — as "standard internationalese."

    Anyway, 1950 is not an entirely magic cutoff point when if comes to XE, since the Xinhua Tongxun She began in November, 1931 as the Red China News Agency. It changed to its present name, New China News Agency, in 1937, and was already broadcasting in English from 1944. So it wouldn't be at all surprising to find XE seeping into English from the 30s and 40s onward. Indeed, "paper tiger" — which we have also covered in this post and in the comments on it — was introduced into English during the mid-40s, directly by the Great Helmsman!

  49. Ben M-W said,

    February 10, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    Incidentally, the phrase 深化合作 produces about 6.8 million hits on Google, so I would agree that is most likely the original phrase. The English does seem jargony but is an accurate translation (if it is 深化合作)

  50. Noetica said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 9:22 am

    Strengthen has two consonant clusters that would be difficult for many non-native speakers of English. Mandarin especially has nothing comparable. It lacks consonant clusters, and also lacks /θ/ and (for many speakers) our versions of /r/. Deepen is much simpler, and can even be pretty well represented in pinyin: di pen. So deepen is a far easier choice than strengthen. That might help to account for its preponderance as a qualifier of cooperation in phrases of native Chinese provenance.

    Now suppose that a non-Chinese came up with strengthen cooperation as a translation, and checked this with a native speaker of Mandarin. The verdict might be unfavourable, because the reviewer might not be comfortable with this word that hardly rolls off the Chinese tongue, and might actively suggest, or passively reinforce, replacement with deepen.

    Anyway, deepen cooperation sounds just fine to these Australian ears. Every bit as acceptable as strengthen cooperation.

  51. Andrew Dalke said,

    February 13, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    @Victor Mair: I didn't mean to say that "deepen cooperation" was standard internationalese, rather that it was used in contexts full of standard internationalese: treaties, international reports, and the like.

    Looking at a few of your suggestions

    "strengthen cooperation" date:1900-1950 => 184 hits

    biased examples: Review of International Affairs (Yugoslavia, 1950), India Quarterly (1945)‎, Agricultural Appropriations (US Congress, 1950), The Church and the Community (US, 1920), Treaty Series: Recueil Des Traités‎ (UN, 1946), Science News Letter (Australia, 1945), American Cooperation: A Collection of Papers and Discussions (1930), Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1913), Indian and Foreign Review (1947), The China Christian Year Book‎ (1934).

    "deepen cooperation" date:1900-1950 => 8 hits (one false positive)

    All examples: Treaty Series: Recueil Des Traités‎ (UN, 1946 multiple matches), Minutes of Meeting‎ (not sure; US? Russia? Europe? 1941), The American Federationist‎ (AFL-CIO 1941), Review of International Affairs‎ (Europe, Yugoslavia? 1950),
    Official Records of the General Assembly (UN, 1948), Documents on International Affairs (UK 1939)

    "further cooperation" date:1900-1950 => 741 hits

    Examples: American Cooperation (1928), Eastern Economist: a Weekly Review of Indian and International Economic Affairs (1945), Proceedings of the High School Conference of November 1910-November 1931, Oil, Its Conservation and Waste‎ (1930), Scandinavian Review (1935).

    "foster cooperation" date:1900-1950 => 614 hits

    Examples: Classified List of Projects in Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology (US 1930), The College Blue Book (US 1923), Science‎ (1922), Wool and Manufactures of Wool (US 1912),

    It seems "foster cooperation" is more used in science and education fields. There aren't as many treaties coming up.

    So "deepen cooperation" was not as common as the others, and bureaucrats like to write about cooperation.

    To check against bias error in Google's part:

    cooperation date:1900-1950 => 20,066 hits
    Examples: Report on Cooperation in American Export Trade (1916), Cooperation in General Education (1947), Library of Christian Cooperation‎ (US 1917), On the Trail of the Pigmies: An Anthropological Exploration Under the Cooperation of the American Museum of Natural History and American Universities (US 1921), Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples‎ (Margaret Mead, 1937).

    "spirit of cooperation" date:1900-1950 => 1,630 hits

    and I'm loosing steam on listing more examples.

    By contrast,

    "paper tiger" date:1900-1950 => 258 hits

    and over 1/2 of the titles I looked at have the word China or Asia in them.

    BTW, I extended that search for "paper tiger" back and found:

    Dictionary of Similes (1916) – "Harmless as a paper tiger. — CHINESE PROVERB"

    The Honourable Gentleman and Others (1919) – "Paper tiger!" the little almond-eyed urchins shouted after him, since a tiger made of paper cannot bite and, by the same token, a man whose hands are …

    as well as others with the same meaning, antedating the mid-40s.

  52. ut_diehard said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 12:30 am

    I think deepen cooperation should map to 深入合作 instead of 深化合作 (which actually sounds funny in Mandarin)

  53. MikeyC said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    The Corpus of Contemporaray American English (COCA) gives these hits:

    strengthen cooperation – 7 in 1 miilion words
    deepen cooperation – 5 in 1 million words
    enhance cooperation – 15 in 1 million words
    improve cooperation – 10 in 1 millon words
    increase cooperation – 10 in 1 million words
    expand cooperation -7 in 1 miion words

  54. Stephen Jones said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 12:43 am

    I did a Google Search on "deepen cooperation" limited to *.in domains and the first hit that came up was from the Chinese Embassy in Delhi. And quite a lot of the 126 hits (compared to 41,000 hits for the phrase world-wide) are actually talking about Chinese diplomacy. It seems to be clear to me that the English phrase is the one used by the Chinese diplomats.

  55. yaonan said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    This is a very interesting and thought-provoking post. But could anyone here tell me what Professor Victor Mair means exactly by the word Zhonglish? Is it used in this post to refer only to the Chinese produced by the native English speakers? Or does it also mean the English produced by the native speakers of Chinese, like Xinhua English?
    I would be grateful for your help.

  56. Ushi's Scribbling Moments said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

    I was just surfing the net with no particular thing to search for, just doing it to kill boredom but i never expected to learn something new today. I am from the Philippines and English is our second language. The phrase "deepen cooperation" sounded like a little odd to me. I would rather use the "strengthen". We share your Zhonglish problem, we in our country have this so called thing Taglish. It is the incorporation of English in Tagalog. Though only use in informal conversation, it is very irritating. I prefer that if my people would speak in English, they would do it in pure English; the same with Tagalog because the combination sometimes is not good to hear. People who tend to do this strike me as "social climber".

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment