Japanesey Chinese

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A new wave of Sino-Japanese borrowings?

During the last century and a quarter or so, Chinese has absorbed a large number of borrowings from Japanese:

"Recent Japanese loanwords in Chinese" (7/22/13)

"'And the greatest Japanese export to China is…'" (8/21/12)

"Sino-Nipponica " (7/26/15)

"Metaphysics has ruined Chinese" (5/27/15)

Previously, such borrowings have largely been restricted to lexical items, there having been few Japanese grammatical and syntactical patterns that were taken up by Sinitic languages.  With the rise of the internet and the regional and global impact of Japanese in popular culture and entertainment media, the Influence of Japanese language on contemporary Chinese usage has moved beyond the purely lexical realm to include morphological features as well.

In recent years, Japanese language elements have been increasingly noticeable in contemporary Chinese usage, particularly among the young generation on the internet. Nowadays a number of youth (especially girls and young women) in China and Taiwan think it is trendy to speak or write Chinese with foreign elements, and because Japanese is currently the only non-Sinitic language / script in the world still employing Chinese characters in daily usage, borrowing from Japanese appears easier, and thus more visible, in Chinese than borrowings from other languages.

We have observed the borrowing of English morphemes in Mandarin:

"A New Morpheme in Mandarin " (4/26/11)

"Morpheme(s) of the Year " (12/17/11) (English > Japanese > Chinese)

"A Sino-English grammatical construction " (3/23/15)

Now we can begin to track the assimilation of Japanese morphemes in Chinese as well.  Here is an example.

The word "desu です" is a copula that occurs at the end of a statement sentence in Japanese.  In Mandarin there was originally no such sentence final copula.  However, in contemporary internet language usage, it is fashionable among Chinese young people to add deshuō 的说 (lit., "X's saying") to the end of sentences. Though many of them may not know the origin of the expression deshuō 的说, despite their being fond of using it, it is most likely a usage borrowed from Japanese.

Here is an example showing the phenomenon:

English:  It is very cold today.

Japanese:  Kyō wa totemo samui desu 今日はとても寒いです。

Standard Mandarin:  Jīntiān hěn lěng 今天很冷。

Sino-Japanese (Mandarin with Japanese characteristics!):  Jīntiān hěn lěng deshuō 今天很冷的说。

This is a phenomenon I noticed back around 2008 (see here, here, and here), but I am only prompted to write about it now because in recent years so many of my students from Sinophone countries have developed such an enthusiasm for learning Japanese.

Here are a couple more example sentences of deshuō 的说 in action:

jīntiān kāishǐ fàng qiūjià deshuō 今天开始放秋假的说 ("[it is said that] starting from today we will have fall break")

míngtiān qǐ yào xiàyǔ deshuō 明天起要下雨的说 ("[it seems that] beginning tomorrow it will rain")

Bilingual (Mandarin and English) Chinese colleagues have explained this usage of deshuō 的说 as being roughly equivalent to "it seems that; it is said that".  Monolingual Chinese have told me that they think of deshuō 的说 as meaning roughly jùshuō 据说 ("reportedly; it is said that").

A trilingual (Japanese, Mandarin, and English) Japanese colleague suggested to me that deshuō 的说, rather than deriving from desu です, may have come from deshō でしょう ("it seems that; I suppose; perhaps; would"), the volitional form of desu です.

So far as I can tell, sentence final deshuō 的说 is used primarily by teenagers and young people in their twenties.  This is supported by the following remarks of one of our students from the PRC who is herself fluent in Mandarin, Japanese, and English:

Yes, I've seen the last kind of Chinese in many places, and those who prefer using such expressions are indeed those who watch a lot of anime and have some experience with hearing Japanese (but not in all cases).

Also, I think deshuō 的说 has a format translation that is used for Japanese desu no/desu ですの/です which is often seen in anime where a cute female character always uses semi-honorific style Japanese in speech which usually ends in desu です.

[Thanks to Li Chen, Fangyi Cheng, Miki Morita, Grace Wu, Melvin Lee, Tianran Hang, and Mien-hwa Chiang]


  1. Rodger C said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 10:21 am

    Should that be called Sino-Japanese or Japano-Chinese?

  2. Laura Morland said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 11:09 am


    It would be fun to learn about similar morphological feature-borrowing in other language pairs. For example, did the Basque French ever end sentences with something that sounded like "n'est-ce pas"? (Of course, that would have to have happened a long time ago, because —- sadly for those of us who learned it in school — "n'est-ce pas" has gone out with the minuet.)

  3. Eidolon said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

    I myself have never come across this usage talking to people in Beijing. Is there a specific area in the Sinitic language sphere in which it is common? Perhaps the usage is especially popular in Taiwan?

  4. Jamie said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 3:39 pm

    Or it could be from 'desu yo', a more emphatic form.

  5. Dave Cragin said,

    October 9, 2015 @ 10:54 pm

    How does de shuo differ from ting shuo 听说/ wo ting shuo 我听说 (it is said/I've heard)?

    Is it usage? It seems like the usage of de shuo is more immediate (as in the examples above), whereas ting shuo is more for the long term. e.g., 我听说北京的冬天很冷 Wo ting shuo beijing de dongtian hen leng. (I've heard the winters in Beijing are cold).

    To be clear, I've never heard de shuo before, so I'm just guessing based on the examples provided.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 10, 2015 @ 7:23 am

    @Dave Cragin

    A huge difference between and deshuō 的说 is that the latter is always sentence final and meant to mimic Japanese desu です (or one of its variant forms).


    The demographics and contexts of the use of deshuō 的说 are described in the o. p.

  7. John Swindle said,

    October 11, 2015 @ 2:49 am

    Kind of reminds me of Mandarin "dehuà"(的话),a clause-final way of saying "if," but that's probably not from Japanese.

  8. Dave Cragin said,

    October 11, 2015 @ 10:57 am

    I was interested in the nuances of the use of 的说。 Whether it's being used because it's a fun new word (of Japanese origin) or because it conveys a sense that's different than ting shuo or other ways it might be said in Chinese. I can ask friends.

  9. JQ said,

    October 12, 2015 @ 1:54 am

    Dave Cragin,

    If people wanted to say 听说, they would say 听说.

    I think that in some cases, people may actually be saying です / でしょう / ですよ, rather than 的说, but 的说 is just the way of writing it down.

    Or perhaps 的说 is now *the* Chinese way to say it and pronouncing です like a Japanese person is *wrong*. Kind of like how I was recently castigated in Hong Kong for saying "van仔" (a minibus) pronouncing the van like in English, instead of "wehn仔", as Hong Kong people have difficulty pronouncing v.

  10. AP said,

    October 12, 2015 @ 10:47 am

    As a speaker of Japanese but not Chinese, the usage examples of 的说 given in this post sound more like でしょう rather than です to me. I also think that でしょう is more likely to be borrowed because

    1. it has a wider range of usage contexts in Japanese (meaning both "probably/maybe", as well as simply "…right?" as a tag at the end practically any sentence).
    2. it is used in both formal and casual speech (the latter often with a short vowel でしょ), while です is used only in formal speech, so でしょ(う) seems like a likelier candidate for adoption into hip young people's language.

  11. Eidolon said,

    October 12, 2015 @ 4:02 pm


    The demographics and contexts of the use of deshuō 的说 are described in the o. p."

    I understand that the people who use it tend to be the younger generation from China and Taiwan, especially those who are familiar with Japanese culture. I think I was wondering more about whether there is a specific geographic region in mainland China in which it is prevalent, because even talking to young people, I haven't come across it in Beijing. But I have, after a brief search on Baidu, come across the following:


    The article indicates that it is especially prevalent on the internet, and the following regions:

    1、网络口头语 – internet
    2、台湾、闽南一带方言 – Taiwan, southern Fujian
    3、浙江一带方言 – Zhejiang
    4、四川及重庆一带方言 – Sichuan, Chongqing
    5、江苏一带方言 – Jiangsu
    7、来自日本语 – comes from Japan

    Which does explain why I haven't come across it in Beijing and other regions of northern China.

  12. Matt said,

    October 16, 2015 @ 5:46 pm

    The example sentence "it is very cold today" in particular chimes very well with "desho" rather than "desu" – "desho" is the ending that weather forecasters use for the "weather forecaster future" ("kyo wa totemo samui desho" = "it will be very cold today").

    This is often cited as an example of a grammatical form invented (well, co-opted) to reproduce a feature of English grammar, and Shiba Ryotaro in particular is on record as having said that "desho" wasn't used that way when he was a kid. (I haven't looked that closely into the details myself.)

  13. Victor Mair said,

    October 21, 2015 @ 6:53 am

    From Karen Yang:

    The first time I've ever heard of "的说' was from a Taiwanese TV show, 10 years ago. Interestingly, in my topolect (Lower-Yangtze Mandarin, 下江官话), we say "说的" for the same meaning. One of my roommates in college who's from Sichuan was saying ”的说“ a lot when talking to her father over the phone, in Sichuan topolect. So "的说” may actually be a original Chinese word, either from the topolects in mainland China, or from Taiwan/Fujian.

    There's also possibility that it's from the Japanese word でしょused at the end of a sentence, which sounds pretty much like “的说”. But the meaning is still slightly different from what it means in Taiwan. In Taiwanese, "的说" is used to express someone's own feeling, or judgement towards something. In Japanese, it's used to ask for some one else's consent.

    Anyway it used to be a popular word that girls in mainland china would use to make them sound as cute as Taiwanse girls! LOL

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