In several recent posts (and in many earlier posts as well), we have discussed some of the ways in which English has had an impact upon Chinese:
- "'Have a good day!' in Mandarin"
- "Creeping Romanization in Chinese"
- "New radicals in an old writing system"
But the Westernization of Chinese reaches far beyond the types of influences and borrowings described in previous Language Log posts. Testimony of the extent to which this goes comes from a Chinese friend:
My mother, as I've mentioned before, said to me about ten years ago: "I often have difficulty understanding the Chinese in the newspapers," even though Chinese is her mother tongue and her only language, and she is well educated. I find it's because the Chinese newspaper's sentences are now a direct translation from English, with English, not traditional Chinese, grammar and vocabulary. The Chinese language is becoming inexorably westernized.
Following up on my friend's comment, I wish to introduce a new concept, that of Hybrid Chinese-English. Perhaps the best way to do so is to invite Language Log readers to view this phenomenal video from Taiwan. It has been viewed over two million times and has become something of an online iconic event. Virtually all young people I met while I was teaching in the mainland knew about this video, and it has its own entries in the Baidu encyclopedia. I even saw it featured in ads for instant noodles and other products.
The video stars "Miss Lin" in a virtuoso solo performance. She is discussing and demonstrating "fashion", and uses that English word many times instead of the Chinese equivalent, shíshàng 时尚, which occurs in the subtitles. There are many sensational moments in the video, but the one that captured the public imagination the most was when she says "hold住”. We need to spend a little bit of time on zhù 住 to see how extraordinary this usage is. Zhù 住 has many meanings and functions ("live; dwell; reside; stop; cease; halt; bide"), but in Miss Lin's construction it serves as a resultative complement of the English (N.B.!) verb "hold" and signifies that the action of the verb is to be maintained firmly. In other words, Miss Lin is talking about holding a pose, which is what being a model in the fashion industry is all about.
Here we have an English verb with a Mandarin resultative complement. Miss Lin uses this construction in a natural, fluent, relaxed manner and without any hesitation.
The subtitles of the video do not do justice to the large amount of English Miss Lin and the others who are present speak: "welcome", "party", "thanks", "well, well, well", "Paris" (not Bālí 巴黎), "university", "What is fashion?", "don't worry", and so forth. This is a language that all of the young people in the audience, and most other youths, speak and understand. As such, I would say that it is well on the way to becoming a hybrid form of speech. It is neither Chinglish nor Singlish, nor yet is it Zhonglish.
As a matter of fact, Chinese scholars and officials have long since identified and fretted over the hybridization of Chinese, as in an article called "What's your attitude towards the Chinese-English hybrid?"
I doubt that the officials and scholars can do anything to stem the tide. Miss Lin's fans love the way she talks, and they emulate her among themselves.
The Westernization of Chinese has been going on for a long time now. For those who wish to know more about the literary and linguistic aspects of this process, I can recommend two works by Cornelius Kubler:
- "Europeanized Grammar in Ba Jin's Novel Jia", Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 20.1 (February, 1985), 39-66.
- A Study of Europeanized Grammar in Modern Written Chinese (Taipei: Student Book Co., Ltd., 1985).
[A tip of the hat to Joel Heng Hartse and Julie Wei]