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".
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.