Englishes in action in the Sinosphere

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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes has made several daring in-person investigations of China's military bases built on artificially expanded reefs and other features in contested waters far to the south of its southernmost provinces.  He describes his latest venture in this extraordinarily well researched and presented article:  "Flying close to Beijing's new South China Sea islands" (12/14/15)

The detailed map accompanying the article reveals just how far away from Chinese shores the reefs and islands are, and how close they are to Vietnam and the Philippines.  The photographs show the construction that the Chinese have done on reefs within the territorial waters of other nations; move the sliders left and right to see the great difference before and after the Chinese occupied the reefs.  Above all, if you watch the embedded video and two audio recordings, you can hear a Chinese voice shouting for him to leave the area.  You can hear the Filipino pilots calmly intoning that they are a civilian aircraft proceeding on course.  You can also hear an Australian voice announcing that his plane is exercising freedom of navigation rights.  Then, of course, there is Wingfield-Hayes explaining what he is up to in British English.  To my ear, the single most salient feature of all the Englishes in these recordings is when the Chinese says "air-craf-te".  Still and all, the speakers of these many different kinds of Englishes can understand each other.

Since we have often discussed the impact of English in commerce, culture, science, and other fields in East Asia, here I'd like to continue in this vein by providing specific information about the use of English in higher education in China.

Here's a website about "English Taught Program [sic] in China" that lists a number of universities whose entire curriculum is offered in English.

But this is far from being a complete list.  A more extensive listing of foreign universities operating English language campuses and centers in China may be found here.

To name only three of the major foreign universities that have invested tens of millions of dollars in the construction and operation of English-language campuses in China, we may point to Duke Kunshan University, NYU Shanghai, and The University of Nottingham Ningbo.  In a more southerly part of the Sinosphere, there is Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

There are also many Chinese universities that have programs, centers, and departments whose offerings are entirely or substantially in English.  Here I will mention only one in a field that might not be thought of as being particularly ripe for instruction in English, namely, the MA and visiting programs in Chinese philosophy at Fudan, one of China's major universities, which is in Shanghai.  These programs were launched in 2011 by Tongdong Bai, who received his Ph.D. in America and taught here at Xavier University for a number of years.  He is now Professor of Philosophy in the School of Philosophy at Fudan University.

Often when I visit different Chinese universities, I am surprised to find students from South Asia, Africa, and elsewhere who are taking English-language courses in a wide variety of fields (e.g., anthropology and archeology, economics, business, international relations, Buddhism, etc.), not merely in the sciences and engineering.

When it comes to primary and secondary levels, the number of English medium schools operating in China is too large to keep track of.  They are operated both as international schools managed by foreign organizations and as Chinese enterprises by local business people.  And this is not to mention the thousands upon thousands of students who come to North America, England, or elsewhere in the English-speaking world for summer programs, vacation break programs, a semester- or year-long stay, or for even longer periods.

I have noticed a curious phenomenon concerning many students from China who earn M.A.'s in America, especially in the humanities.  What is true in my own department at Penn, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, also holds for other similar M.A. programs in America.  When I ask our M.A.'s who go back to China what they are doing there, it is rather amazing how many of them tell me the same story.  Namely, they tell me that they have gone back to serve as educational counselors helping Chinese students to study abroad in English-speaking countries, whether in secondary schools, colleges, universities, or some of the many types of shorter term programs that I described above.  Such jobs are relatively easy to obtain and pay quite well, enough at least to lead a comfortable life in China.  In this manner, the flow of students travelling abroad for English-language education not only is self-perpetuating, it has a tendency to increase in proportion to the number of graduates who return to China to promote study abroad opportunities.

See also:

"The Growing Role of English in Chinese Education" (2/7/10)

That describes the situation almost six years ago.  The demand for English medium education is even greater now than it was then.

Beyond Standard English (SE), we have a number of different types of local Englishes in the Sinosphere:

"Kongish" (8/6/15)

"Kongish, ch. 2" (1/22/16)


"Xinhua English and Zhonglish" (2/4/09)

N.B.:  "Xinhua English" is also sometimes called "New China News Agency English".

Then, of course, historically there is Pidgin English and currently there is Chinglish.  In the near future, I plan to write a post about a very special kind of Mandarin-Hindi-English blend, and hope to publish a very interesting student paper on "China English" in Sino-Platonic Papers within half a year.  Lots of Englishes in the Sinosphere!

For the Sinitic context in which these many Englishes thrive, see:

"Sinophone and Sinosphere" (11/8/12)



"Cambria Sinophone World Series"


  1. Elessorn said,

    January 24, 2016 @ 12:08 pm

    This may be a difficult question, but if you have any concrete sense of it, how would you characterize the practical availability of such English-medium opportunities for Chinese people of non-elite socioeconomic backgrounds?

  2. AntC said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 1:35 am

    Elessorn asks a pertinent question. I know a few Chinese students on humanities courses in NZ. Their backgrounds seem to be all from the elite. Ironically, for some their motivation in getting away from China and from technical subjects is exactly to evade parental pressure to go into elite/military careers.

  3. Mr Punch said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 12:31 pm

    "English Taught Program [sic]" — this seems to refer to a program taught in English, but I wonder if there's some confusion with or influence from the British usage that distinguishes "taught programmes" from "research programmes" at the master's level.

  4. ahkow said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    I would not group Singlish (colloquial Singapore English) with the colloquial varieties spoken in HK or China. In fact I would be careful with treating Singapore as part of the Sinosphere, since the linguistic environment and demographics of Singapore is more diverse and complex than HK.

    To do so would require us to ignore or unfairly diminish the role played by non-Sinitic languages in the development of Singlish, notably Malay and Peranakan Malay (e.g. as a donor of vocabulary, discourse particles, and prosody).

  5. Mark P said,

    January 25, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

    When I went to graduate school in the early 80's at Georgia Tech, the head of the Atmospheric Sciences Department was from Taiwan. He was fluent in English but with a fairly strong accent. (He tried to use that once when stopped for speeding on I-85 by claiming that he thought the highway markers were speed limit signs.) He recruited a number of Chinese students from the mainland as well as Taiwan. The students from Taiwan spoke English quite well, while the mainland Chinese had very limited English. I don't know how they passed the language requirements for entry (which my Indian roommate had to take and pass), and I don't know how they managed to take the courses. I believe one of them, who was older than the rest and had had his education interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, finally had to return China without a degree. I suspect Chinese students today would be better equipped to handle courses in English.

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