Back in April, I wrote a blog entitled "A Ban on Roman Letter Acronyms?" In it, I discussed the proposal by the Chinese chairman of the International Federation of Translators, Huang Youyi, to purify Chinese of English expressions. At the time, no one (outside of Chinese rulership circles) ever thought that it would really happen. It seemed too preposterous and unworkable. No matter how much the language censors and purity zealots detested the look of English words and Roman letters in Chinese writing, they'd never be able to enforce such a ban.
Lo and behold, the news coming out of China the last few days is that the government has gotten serious and is really clamping down on the use of English words and expressions, Roman letter acronyms, and other contaminating elements, all in the interest of maintaining the purity of the mother tongue. The decree outlawing English has come forth from the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), China's regulator of news, print media, and internet publications.
So many articles on this subject have appeared, both in the Chinese press and in foreign media, that I shall only note a few of them here:
Global Times, "New regulations ban English words in Chinese publications"
Behind the Wall from NBC News, "China cracks down on media's use of English"
South China Morning Post, "Media banned from using English words"
Breitbart, "China bars English words in all publications"
BBC News, "China bans English words in media"
Here's a sample, from the BBC, of what the reports are like:
- China has banned newspapers, publishers and website-owners from using foreign words — particularly English ones.
- China's state press and publishing body said such words were sullying the purity of the Chinese language.
- It said standardised Chinese should be the norm: the press should avoid foreign abbreviations and acronyms, as well as "Chinglish" — which is a mix of English and Chinese.
- The order also extends existing warnings that applied to radio and TV.
Wouldn't you know, just as I was about to make this post, Mark Swofford called my attention to the most recent pronouncement from a Chinese government organ, again the Global Times, "Loanwords from English no cause for worry." Clearly, there has been an uproar among China's netizens, who are fond of peppering their writing with English words and Roman letters. So the Global Times tries to do some fast backpedaling, saying that, well, it is all right to use such authentically Chinese English words as "gelivable" (awesome), "niubility" (brilliance), and "smilence" (soundless smile), but — after all — it's really best to stay away from those non-Chinese English words, because they are threatening the national language.
Over the years, English idioms and terms have gradually crept into the native Chinese vocabulary, and replaced several Chinese words. The GAPP is worried that English intrusion is compromising linguistic integrity, making people "less Chinese." Thus the government intervention, if seen as justified, has won plaudits.
Meanwhile, Chinese students are learning English starting from Kindergarten, and there are more people in China who speak English than there are in America.
* * * * *By the way, when I mentioned to my colleagues at LL Central that I was going to write on this topic, Geoff Nunberg queried, "Not even chow mein?"
[Thanks are due to Wicky Tse, Rachel Reese, Carl Masthay, and Michael Carr]