The language impact of the Confucius Institutes

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The China Daily, which is owned by the CCP, is China's largest circulation English-language newspaper.  It ran the following article in today's issue:

"Chinese increasingly heard around the world", by Yang Zhuang (2/24/18).

What with the flood of Chinese tourists, business people, officials, students, and so forth who are travelling to all corners of the globe, there is little doubt that Chinese languages are indeed being heard outside China nowadays more than at any time in the past.  But that's a very different matter than the claim made in the CD article that non-Chinese are borrowing more words from Chinese languages than before.

To test their claim, I'm going to list all the Chinese terms that the CD article asserts have become familiar to speakers of non-Chinese languages.  This survey is directed mainly to those Language Log readers who do not know Chinese and are not studying Chinese.  I dare say that many of the terms they list may not even be familiar to individuals who are learning Chinese, and, in some cases, listed terms may not be known to native speakers who are not from mainland China or who have not spent a lot of time there within the last few years.

There are a total of 17 entries.  I list the terms only in their Mandarin pronunciation.  If you're curious and want to know what they mean in English, you can look them up in the CD article. How many of these terms you knew before reading the CD article?  Remember, this survey is primarily for those who do not know Chinese and are not studying it.  If you do know Chinese and you want to participate in the survey, be sure to include your level (how long you've been studying the language).

1. chunjie

2. chongyang

3. Shaolin

4. kung fu

5. mingyun gongtongti

6. yi dai yi lu

7. zhongguomeng

8. zhongguo daolu

9. renminbi

10. yuan

11. zhifubao

12. jiaozi

13. tofu

14. huoguo

15. goqi

16. mantou

17. jianbing

To give you a hint of the rather esoteric quality of some of the terms which are supposedly contributing to this great "Chinese Language Fever", one of the expressions in the above list means "community with shared future for mankind".

I venture to say that, for those who do not already know Chinese or are studying it, the terms they might know were already borrowed into English decades ago and are not part of a current craze for Chinese language.  They also most likely have to do with food, that quintessential manifestation of Chinese culture.

Bear in mind that LLog is populated by people who are linguists or who have a strong interest in languages, so their sensitivity to and awareness of words from other languages are bound to be much greater than those of the general lay population.  But I suspect that even here on LLog familiarity with these words is going to be low — except for those that have already been in English for many years.

I think that this article was published at this particular time to prop up the tottering Confucius Institute soft power (propaganda) initiative of the Chinese government begun in 2004.  Estimates of how much the Chinese have poured into this program vary widely (the Chinese government doesn't publish figures, and they probably wouldn't be reliable even if they did), with some knowledgeable estimates citing a figure of around a billion dollars per year.

Within the last few years, and particularly within the last couple of months, even though the Chinese continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Confucius Institutes, the return for their enormous investment is minimal in terms of spreading Chinese languages.  In fact, as recent studies have shown (including one by a student of mine that I will publish in Sino-Platonic Papers within a few months), most CIs around the world do not devote much attention to serious curricular efforts to teach Chinese language in the classroom.  Instead they are engaged in such activities as cultural enrichment, community outreach, calligraphy, and — I kid you not — papercutting.

[h.t. Jim Fanell; thanks to Marshall Sahlins and Susan Radov]


  1. Christian Weisgerber said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:25 pm

    As your typical Westerner (EU) who can find China on a map but knows little else, I'm familiar with these entries from the list:

    3. Shaolin is some kind of monastery related to the (mythical?) creation of kung fu.
    4. Kung fu is a Chinese martial art.
    9. Renminbi is the PRC's currency and I don't know how the term differs from 10.
    10. Yuan is the PRC's currency and I don't know how the term differs from 9.
    13. Tofu is a food item and I'm fairly confident that the word is Japanese.

    The others are just random strings of letters.

  2. David Morris said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:28 pm

    Australian, lived in Korea for 3 1/2 years, many Chinese colleagues and students in Australia.

    As for Christian, with the addition that 'zhongguo' means 'China', but don't know what the rest of 7. and 8. mean.

  3. Paul McCabe said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

    The same five as Christian
    UK, never studied Chinese

  4. Jim Breen said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:35 pm

    The ones I recognize are:
    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    9. renminbi
    10. yuan
    13. tofu
    15. goqi (I had to check the article to confirm this was 枸杞. )

    I suspect the world-wide use of "tofu" is as much from Japan as from China. Of course in Japan it is recognized as having come from China originally.

  5. stephen l said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

    irish-born non-linguist, some exposure to classical chinese, exactly the same knowledge as Christian.

  6. Jeremy Fagan said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:38 pm

    Knew Kung Fu and Tofu, and know Renminbi from reading this blog for the past couple of years. I’m based in the UK, definitely not a linguist. Stumbled across this blog from a grammar related link from another unrelated blog.

  7. Bruce said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

    I don't meet the eligibility requirements, but I'll answer in the place of gweilo Vancouver, BC residents.

    The items familiar to English speakers here are the same as Christian mentioned. Shaolin appears in the adverts of martial arts schools and in fact has its own web site these days.

    Tofu as Christian says is the Japanese version of a Chinese word for a Chinese food staple. The food staple, whatever it is called, is firmly established here.

    Of course they didn't mention any number of Cantonese words embedded in Vancouver life even to outsiders. This btw is Vancouver, not the rest of BC nor say Halifax or Winnipeg. This is an output of China and was founded back in the 19th century for that purpose.

  8. Gianluca Lentini said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

    Italian here. I have never studied Chinese and I can't say I know much about Chinese culture and language, although I enjoy reading Language Log a lot.
    I recognize, much like Christian Weisgerber, 3-Shaolin, 4-Kung Fu, 9-Yuan, 10-Renminbi (I believe a renminbi is the 100th part of a Yuan, but I could be mistaken) and 13-Tofu. Like David Morris, I also recognise 'zhongguo' as 'China' or 'Chinese', but I have no idea of the meaning of 7 and 8.
    Nothing else springs to mind.

  9. Lazar said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:54 pm

    Likewise 3, 4, 9, 10, 13 and zhongguo. I flirted with Mandarin a while ago but have retained basically nil.

  10. David Scrimshaw said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 4:58 pm

    I'm a Canadian.

    3. Shaolin – sounds familiar to me. Is it a branch of religion or martial art?

    4. kung fu – the martial art that Bruce Lee excelled in

    10. yuan – the Chinese unit of currency

    13. tofu – I've been cooking and eating this for at least 30 years

    I don't recognize any of the other words. Even though I have dim sum fairly often.

  11. Michael said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    Canadian, and results similar to Christian though I know a little Chinese. I"d be interested in knowing if there are any Chinese words in English that aren't just names of culture-specific objects. Obviously adobe, kimchi, Prosecco, and kabuki are "English words". But are there any that have moved into truly mainstream, productive use, similar to Hindi words like pundit, typhoon, jungle, thug, or shampoo?

    I can think of kowtow (hardly widespread), chow (food) and chop-chop, maybe there are more. I can't think of many. Tea, I know, is a complicated case….

  12. Shawn Noble Maeder said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

    I am an American and have been teaching ESL to Chinese students in the US for the past 7 years. I recognize only the following:

    kung fu

    I learned the currency terms – yuan, renminbi – from my students. I think kung fu is an item of general knowledge in the US, as is tofu among those who eat Chinese, Japanese or vegetarian food.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

    A hearty thanks to all of the respondents!

  14. Jim Breen said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

    Just a further remark about "goqi". I only know it because I have mild macular degeneration and my retinal specialist suggested I add some strong anti-oxidants, such as "goji berry extract" to my diet.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:26 pm

    From Cori Akin:

    Strangely they left out Tiananmen. Possibly the most associable Chinese word of all time.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

    From Fraser Howie:

    You would be hard pressed to find a more surreal article than this. I know it's the China Daily but please.

    " Chinese political terms, such as mingyun gongtongti, or community with shared future for mankind " have become popular with foreigners?!*/+ really? What complete and utter nonsense.

    I must admit that last year when I was in Beijing in May the place was in lock down, it was the Belt and Road Forum, with dozens of heads of states. The name suited the event to a tee, BARF.

  17. Stephen said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

    English with no knowledge of Chinese.

    I know the same five as Christian Weisgerber lists.

    For Renminbi & Yuan, the former is the name of the currency and the latter is the unit of unit of currency. As the UK's currency is sterling and the unit of currency in the UK is the pound.

    Kung Fu & Shaolin have been common since the 1970s

    Tofu I must have know about since the early 1980s and Renminbi & Yuan for maybe a decade.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

    From Phil Wisecup:

    another data point: the olmsted foundation (im an alumni and board member) sends officers all around the world to study in foreign languages. example, i studied in strasbourg, france for two years.

    a problem we have today in sending students to china (and same in some other countries) is that a huge number of post grad courses in the top schools are taught in ENGLISH.

    just a data point.

  19. Stephen said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:33 pm

    Jim Breen's post appeared whilst I was typing.

    Goqi meant nothing to me but if it the same thing as goji berry then I have heard of that, maybe since five years ago.

  20. Michael said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:41 pm

    I think any Western reader can see the article is surreal, so who is the intended audience? Is there are a large enough readership in the PRC that can read English at this level, but whose movements are restricted enough that they might actually believe it? Or am I just underestimating ordinary chauvinism?

    The idea that zhifubao is "known" is insane.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:50 pm


    For those of us who read scores of articles from mainland newspapers like Global Times, China Daily, and People's Daily each day, this is par for the course. They are directed at us; they are preaching to those who are not in their choir, and they think that they can impress, intimidate, and convert us to their cause. We read these publications to see what they are thinking of us and of themselves — though they may be deluded in both cases. When the stakes are as high as they are in East Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia — though which a very large proportion of the world's resources and products pass — we must be informed.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

    From an anonymous colleague:

    As a former WestPac sailor my language additions are multilingual, misshapen, and probably excessively colonial; things are stored in godowns, procured from geedunks, and the common form of exchange was comshaw.

    My modern knowledge of Chinese is limited to three “T”s, Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen.

    Philippine bars were far more flexible in that service could be summoned and food and drink ordered in up to four languages, Vietnamese, two Philippine dialects, or Japanese. Many also supported Cantonese as that was where the “money man” owner was from.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

    If they included jiaozi ("dumpling") and mantou ("steamed bun") in their list, they should also have included baozi ("steamed, filled bun"), which has about the same level of recognition among Westerners. The obvious reason why they avoided baozi, however, is that Xi Jinping is often compared to it (ditto for Winnie the Pooh).

  24. Arthaey said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:03 pm

    American here, from California, in my thirties. Never studied any Chinese language. I only know "kung fu" and "tofu"!

  25. AntC said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:10 pm

    I recognised the same 5 as others. (I've heard of goji berries, but didn't recognise goqi.) I'm UK/NZ, been reading Victor's articles for years, and have visited Hong Kong/the Mainland in late 1980's.

    Of course they didn't mention any number of Cantonese words … Indeed. I think there would be at least as many Cantonese words familiar in the U.K. — especially for food. But the non-food terms perhaps wouldn't be politically acceptable for the CCP: taipan, gung-ho, pidgin.

  26. Arthur Waldron said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:23 pm

    In HK before handover some wag put out an innocent looking book called something like “hey! Let’s speak practical mandarin!” I remember two practice sentences. One was “how much sand am I allowed to add to this concrete?” The other was “how many prostitutes will this hotel hold?”

    The Chinese think that their so called reforms are the greatest thing since Solon but of course they are completely unaware of the Wirtschaftswunder or Japan or even Taiwan- which God gave us as a reminder that the PRC was by no means the best that Chinese people could do.

  27. Giles said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

    I'm another non-Chinese speaker who knows only those that Christian Weisgerber listed.

  28. Michael Watts said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:45 pm

    I do know Chinese to some degree.

    1. chunjie 春节 is the Spring Festival or New Year
    2. chongyang is meaningless to me
    3. Shaolin 少林 is also an English word.
    4. kung fu 功夫 gongfu is not listed as advertised in Mandarin pronunciation. In the form kung fu, it is also an English word.
    5. mingyun gongtongti means nothing to me, but it is the only possible candidate for the gloss "community with shared future for mankind".
    6. yi dai yi lu has been featured on LL before, glossed "one belt one road" and referring to some Chinese political initiative.
    7. zhongguomeng is presumably 中国梦, the "Chinese dream".
    8. zhuongguo daolu would similarly appear to be 中国道路, the "Chinese way".

    I'll note in passing that expressions like "the Chinese dream" and "the Chinese way" seem to me more like American influence on China than the other way around.

    9. renminbi 人民币 is the People's Currency, the name of Chinese money.
    10. yuan 元 is a unit of currency.
    11. zhifubao 支付宝 is the online payment system for taobao 淘宝.
    12. jiaozi 饺子 are dumplings.
    13. tofu is also given here in its form as an English word rather than a pinyin transcription of 豆腐 doufu
    14. huoguo 火锅 is hot pot.
    15. goqi means nothing to me, and is also not legal pinyin or wade-giles.
    16. mantou I believe refers to a kind of (food) bun.
    17. jianbing doesn't mean anything to me, but it reminds me of jianbingjian "side by side".

    I would tend to agree that English speakers are pretty familiar with the words Shaolin, kung fu, and tofu, and yuan is very well known although less well known than the other three. I think that tofu and jiaozi are better known by transcriptions of their Japanese forms, tofu and gyoza.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:48 pm

    It's remarkable how consistently the Christian list holds up as a sort of maximum for those who haven't studied Chinese.

  30. Peter said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:52 pm

    No real knowledge of any Chinese language to speak of and I recognise and understand 3, 4, 9, 10 and 13 and also "yi" in 6 and "zhongguo" in 7 and 8 alone. I also recognised 16 but did not recall what it meant until I looked it up.

  31. maidhc said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

    Out of that list, I'm about the same as everyone else. I do know a few other Chinese words, but they mostly have to do with food, like "ma la", or the names of restaurants, Loon Wah (I guess that's Cantonese) and Shao Mountain are a couple of local examples. Or things people say in Yelp reviews ("The laogong had the beef noodle soup.")

    One problem I have is words you get in such contexts rarely have tone markings, and Google Translate does not react well to them.

  32. other one spoon said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

    I am not Chinese and have never studied Mandarin, but in addition to the five phrases here that are familiar to previous commenters, there are three that I know from work: namely, #5 (mingyun gongtongti), #6 (yi dai yi lu), and #7 (zhongguomeng). I work in the international relations field and have been professionally responsible for understanding China's political goals at the United Nations.

  33. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 8:01 pm

    Actually widely known and directly from some Chinese language is a pretty short list if you exclude place names… ketchup (debated), tea as noted, ginseng, litchi/lychee, wok… I guess mahjong is widely known. Shar pei and shih tzu… Taoism and yin/yang (note rhymes with fang) on the metaphysical front? Fengshui? There are more if you count Sino-Xenic of course (like tofu)… best example is perhaps soy via Japanese; I like to joke that "soy sauce" = "sauce sauce sauce"… so no to "community with shared future for mankind", whatever that means :D

  34. errg said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 8:45 pm

    The only ones I know are:

    3. Shaolin – I believe is a school of martial arts
    4. kung fu – martial art
    9. renminbi – I think the internationally traded chinese currency
    10. yuan – another chinese currency, I think not traded
    13. tofu – product made from soy bean, although I think of it as Japanese

  35. D.O. said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 9:12 pm

    3, 4, 9, 10, 13

    I also know "dao" and "zen" (and some proper names, obviously), but they were not included for obvious reason.

  36. D.O. said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 9:50 pm

    And also ginseng (because I speak Russian, it is zhen shen to me) and I know that word that means ambiance, now what is that?…..ah, feng shui. Had to look it up. And it doesn't mean "ambiance", but whatever. I know it. This is the idiocy of propaganda. There are words of Chinese origins adopted world over. Not a lot, but they are there. Legitimate words. Here's my selection from Wikipedia's List of English words of Chinese origin :
    chai (not exactly in the list, but it is a clear miss, they have tea, though), chopsticks, chow (mein), coolie, Dalai Lama, feng shui, go (this one is actually Japanese), gung-ho, ketchup, koan, kowtow, kung fu, lo mein, mahjong, nunchaku, oolong, pekoe, ramen, rickshaw (this one is also Japanese), shaolin, shogun (Japanese again), tai chi, tao, tofu, tycoon, typhoon, wonton, yen (Japanese), ying yang, zen

  37. Rube said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

    Canadian, late fifties, would have answered exactly the same as Christian

  38. Garrett Wollman said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 10:21 pm

    My answers would be the same as Christian's as well, except that I only know Shaolin as a personal name (specifically that of the Hungarian speed skater Liu Shaolin Sandor). I recognize zhongguo as the Chinese for "China", and based on what I've been hearing from the Olympics is also the Korean for "China".

    I notice Prof. Mair cites China Daily as calling these terms "familiar to speakers of non-Chinese languages", so is the claim that some of these terms may be loanwords in languages other than English?

  39. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 10:37 pm

    @Garrett Wollman:

    "…is the claim that some of these terms may be loanwords in languages other than English?"

    That's what they're hoping, but aside from older terms like those mentioned by Jonathan Smith and a few others above, I don't think that most of these terms have come close to attaining the status of loanwords in other languages.

  40. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 11:04 pm

    I knew shaolin (more or less), kung fu, yuan, and tofu. "Renminbi" sounded familiar, and I thought the ones starting with "zhong" had something to do with China.

    I would have recognized "goji", and I have the plants growing in and trying to take over my yard.

  41. Abby King said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 11:12 pm

    The Confucius Institute sponsors two-week language tours to China for several hundred teenage Mandarin learners from around the world, families just pay for the flight. My kid went twice, had a fabulous time, and learned quite a bit. We had a frank discussion beforehand about the Chinese Government's propaganda machine and how they handle uncomfortable history.

    More worryingly, apparently the CI supports Chinese departments at some colleges, and thinks they therefore can decide who will be hired.

  42. GMan003 said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

    Unsurprisingly, my list is basically the same as Christian's. Don't speak a word of Chinese but my general depth of knowledge is way above average and I *have* been skimming some papers on Proto-Sino-Tibetan recently for a conlang project.

    3-Shaolin: as others have said, it's some sort of monastic order. Pretty sure it's Buddhist, or at least related to Buddhism.
    4-kung fu: Chinese martial arts. I might recognize the names of some styles if I saw them in pinyin. This has clearly become integrated into English vocabulary, though – as the disco song "Kung Fu Fighting" will evidence.
    9-renminbi: Name of a Chinese currency. I know it's traded on foreign exchanges – I think it might have to do with that internal/external currency split they had at one point (still have?) but I might be mistaken.
    10-yuan: The Chinese currency unit. Like the difference between a "dollar" and a "United States Dollar". Cognate to JP "yen", probably cognate to KR "won", probably more.
    13-tofu: Soy-based food item. Came into English via Japanese, not directly from Chinese. Integrated into English to the point that it's a component: witness words like "tofurkey".
    17-jianbing: I don't know this word but I recognize "jian" as a style of Chinese straight sword. I know Chinese has a ton of homophones, especially when tone is ignored, so I wouldn't assume it's related but if I had to guess, I'd guess this word means something like "swordsmanship".

    There are a few words whose omission I find a bit odd. "Tai Chi" and "Feng Shui" are probably more recognized than "Shaolin" – I assume there's some sort of government-religion conflict behind it, but I've never really tried to understand Chinese internal politics that well. "Gung ho" is pretty common, but has some negative connotations that make it poor propaganda (which this piece seems to be). "Wuxia" is known as a film subgenre in America, at least in film subcultures. "Xanadu" is used more as a metaphor than an actual place name, might be worth counting. I have seen both "cheongsam" (Cantonese) and "qipao" (Mandarin) used in anime circles, although "china dress" is more common. And on that note, there's tons of obvious Cantonese words – "sifu" and "wok" being the biggest.

  43. Pau Amma said,

    February 24, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

    3. shaolin, which I associate with 4. kung fu because (I think) I often saw them together.
    9. renminbi and 10. yuan (recognize, don't know the meaning).
    13. tofu (but I thought it was Japanese, not Mandarin).

  44. Victor Mair said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 12:33 am

    Evan A. Laksmana on Twitter

    “Interesting study on the development and frictions of China’s #Confucius Institute in #Indonesia (PDF)”

  45. Michael M said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 1:19 am

    I know 3, 4, 9, 10, 12 and 13 and _zhongguo_ like many others, though I'm surprised jiaozi isn't more widely known. If you were going with food, I would have thought xiaolongbao was more popular. I recognise 11 and 16 but don't know what they mean. And I feel like maybe huoguo is hot pot but I could be way off base?

    In terms of Chinese words I'd put on this list as being likely to appear in English-language news articles I read, I'd add wuxia, hutong and guanxi, though I can see why CI might not want the last one on their lists!

  46. B.Ma said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 1:31 am

    As a Chinese person, the "Christian Weisgerber list" contains the terms I would use when speaking English to a non-Chinese person.

    I would translate the other terms into English if I wanted to use them.

    Outside of what could be described as more "cosmopolitan" areas, I doubt that people would have even heard of Shaolin and renminbi.

  47. Sven said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 3:58 am

    I (german native speaker, 47 years old) have not studied any chinese language. I recognize:

    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    9. renminbi
    12. jiaozi
    13. tofu

    I guess I picked up 12 from a collegue that had travelled to china, the others I don't remember when I heard them first, probably quite some time ago.

  48. John Walden said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 4:49 am

    3, 4, 10, and 13. I see that I am not alone!

  49. Berna said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 4:59 am

    I'm Dutch, 62 years old, and have never studied any Chinese. I know
    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    10. yuan
    13. tofu

    Renminbi did sound familiar, but I didn't know what it was; and like others I recognized 'zhongguo', probably from reading Language Log.

  50. Robot Therapist said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:10 am

    Yes, "Same as Christian" here (UK, never studied Chinese)

  51. Frans said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:14 am

    Native Dutch here, no knowledge of Chinese beyond what can be expected of anyone who's read some mainstream stuff like Judge Dee (the adaptations by Robert van Gulik — they may be less mainstream outside of the Netherlands), Journey to the West, and the Tao. The latter told me it's actually pronounced Dao, as well as one or two other curiosities that might be relevant to #15.

    3. Shaolin. Something about martial arts monks? That's probably wildly inaccurate. I probably would've missed this one if it hadn't been grouped with kung fu.

    4. kung fu. Might be related to the above. It's like nasty judo.

    9. renminbi. If you asked me about the Chinese currency I wouldn't be able to recite this word, but I'm pretty sure I recognize it. Like with Shaolin, I might've missed it if not for the grouping.

    10. yuan. What I would reply if you asked me about Chinese currency.

    13. tofu. Obviously.

    (15. goqi. Seems vaguely familiar but I can't place it. Could be tech, could be food. Based on tofu, logically it's probably part of a group of foods, with might start at #11 zhifubao and end with the final #17 jianbing. There's also something half-ringing-a-bell about mantou. My hypothesis is thus that goqi might be a different way of writing goji. If I understand correctly, for some reason beyond my comprehension qi is the transcription of what's actually pronounced something like /tʃi/, and go-chee sounds suspiciously similar to goji.)

    I'd say only tofu and yuan are in my active vocabulary. Kung fu is as well I suppose, but I can't think of a context in which I'd actually use it. The best I can do is: "judo seems cool, but kung fu looks scary."

  52. Frans said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:18 am

    "with might start" → which might start

    Looking at the article and the comments I see that my assumptions were basically correct, including goji. The fact that the groupings weren't randomized helped a great deal.

  53. Vilinthril said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:41 am

    Besides the stuff everybody seems to know (3,4,9,10,13,15), I also knew jiaozi and huoguo (yay, food), but nothing else.

  54. Vilinthril said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:42 am

    Oh, sorry, I forgot. Austrian, 31, no knowledge of Chinese besides basic linguistic meta-knowledge.

  55. Carlos said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 7:06 am

    I am from Spain, and have been informally studying Chinese for a while (using Coursera courses, books and apps). My level is probably a bit less than A2 (I plan to take the HSK2 test), and I know:

    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    9. renminbi
    10. yuan
    12. jiaozi, but I didn't know this one before studying Chinese
    13. tofu

    The rest, no idea.

  56. M. T. Welles said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 7:58 am

    I am an American (51) living in Korea but have never studied Chinese.

    I recognize these words:

    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    9. renminbi
    10. yuan
    13. tofu

    and guessed that 12. jiaozi was dumpling because it was similar to the Korean "gyoja", which is occasionally used for dumplings.

  57. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 8:57 am

    36yo Swede, don't know any Chinese but have read a reasonable bit about Chinese history. It will come as little surprise I recognized Shaolin, kung fu, renminbi, yuan, tofu and Zhongguo. And I thought tofu was Japanese.

  58. Vanya said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 9:15 am

    I have studied Chinese informally, spent a lot of time in the mainland and Taiwan and have a wife and friends who speak fluent Chinese. I am even typing this sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Europe. My list looks like Michael Watt’s except I wouldn’t have guessed 2 or 11 either. Tofu for me is certainly a Japanese borrowing, not Chinese. In Austria even Chinese restaurants call jiaozi “gyoza” or “dim sum.” I don’t think the word has much currency abroad.

  59. Jonathan said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 9:59 am

    Never studied Chinese, and so I get the standard 5 that Christian got. Words that I would have expected to be on the list but weren't include 'chi' and 'fengshui'. Chinese words that I, personally, have picked in the last few years are 'baozi' and 'Falun Gong' (whose absence from the list I understand).

    Long time watchers of Star Trek recognize the game that they are playing with this list. The show would sometimes have a character say something like "…. much like the famous playwrights Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Miller, or Zorglax VII". They get you nodding along with the first three and hope you'll accept the last one through sheer inertia. And even though I don't know what they mean, #5. "mingyun gongtongti", #7. "zhongguomeng", and #8. "zhongguo daolu" still stand out as the "Zorgalx VII's in that list. Am I right?

  60. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:04 am

    If you look at the google books n-gram viewer, the starts of the rises in usage in English-language texts of tofu, kung fu, and shaolin all occur within a few years of 1970, so whatever causal factors were involved making Anglophone countries more receptive to the referents of those words were not driven by post-Mao PRC re-engagement with the outside world, much less PRC funding of Confucius Institutes. Indeed the fact that "kung fu" rather than "gongfu" is the standard English spelling tells you that it's part of the pre-Communist stratum of loanwords into English.

  61. George Lane said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:06 am

    American here, studied Mandarin for 2 years, during which I really didn't learn much, but also studied Japanese for about 10 years.

    I knew shaolin and kung fu from martial arts movies in the 1970s.
    Renmenbi and yuan were familiar from the financial news.
    I've only every heard zhifubao referred to as Alipay.
    Tofu is familiar to most Americans, and I would have actually recognized jiaozi if I had seen it written in hanzi, having learned it in Japanese as "gyoza."

    So in summary: 7 our of 17

  62. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    General consensus seems to be that "tofu" came into English from Japanese, although that's similar enough to Mandarin "doufu" ("toufu" in Wade-Giles) as to I guess make the question of whether it's a Japanese loanword or an ultimately Chinese loanword transmitted into English via Japanese a matter of how people are defining their terms. Similarly I guess the listmaker could claim Chinese-origin credit for Japanese "shumai" as being a mere local variant of Mandarin "shaomai."

  63. John said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:17 am

    OK, so I count 6 that I can recognise and say with fair certainty what they mean: Shaolin (Buddhist monastery famous for martial arts), kungfu (martial arts), renminbi (the PRC currency), yuan (unit of said currency), jiaozi (a kind of dumpling) and tofu. I additionally recognise the zhongguo element in 7 & 8 as meaning "China", but apart from that I have no idea about any of them.

    I feel like I recognise some of the others like chunjie and yi dai yi lu, but I can't think for the life of me what they mean.

    (This is speaking as someone who's taught themselves a bit of Cantonese and also regularly reads about China through news sites and blog posts.)

  64. Fr. said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    32 y/o Frenchman living in France, zero Chinese training although several of my students are Chinese. Recognised 4 terms, which is also how many words I know in Hungarian, Farsi and Indonesian Bahasa:

    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    10. yuan
    13. tofu

    I thought 'tofu' was a Japanese word (see Jim Breen's comment above).

    All other Chinese words that I have heard (and since forgotten) in my lifetime are related to the Chinese food that you can buy in e.g. the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris.

  65. TIC said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    I'm an avid LL reader, in my 50's, with a lifelong (amateur) fascination with words and language… English is, sadly, my only language, but I read nearly every LL post and its comments, regardless of the language involved (and I learn so much in doing so)… I also read, watch and listen to a fair amount of international news… FWIW, I intentionally avoided reading this post's comments before responding… So, with all that blather behind us:

    As I suspect will prove true of many if not most respondents of my ilk, I have no recollection of ever encountering any but these five of the 17: Shaolin, kung fu, renminbi, yuan and tofu…

  66. Ellen Kozisek said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 12:27 pm

    I recognized 4.

    Shaolin. Which I didn't know what it means but recognized from movie titles thanks to working in a library.

    kung fu

    yuan. Which is a monetary unit, so I'd argue not really a true borrowing.

    tofu. Which I would not have thought of as Chinese. But then, it came to English from Japanese, not Chinese (according to Wiktionary and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

  67. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

    Four, hazily. A couple of others look like I might have seen them before, but not to the extent of knowing where, never mind the meaning.

    – Shaolin is a kind of monk, I think, or possibly a thing which comes from the ground and might clean you or make china (on investigation this turns out to be kaolin).
    – Kung fu is a martial art delivered by the matrix
    – yuan I think is a new spelling of yen
    – tofu is meat made of fermented plants

  68. Adrian said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 3:12 pm

    Same as David Morris, except the only bell "shaolin" rings is this athlete:

  69. Su-Chong Lim said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

    To elaborate on Jonathan Smith's inclusion of ketchup (debated) and tea, these are the pronunciations of the food items in Fujianese Chinese (or Hokkien, as you would say it in Fujianese). These loan words got into the English lexicon because the products left China on their way to the West (via Indonesia/Malaya in the case of ketchup) in the 1700s on ships from ports in Fujian. The originally cited article focussed somewhat shortsightedly on Mandarin Chinese loanwords into English (I'm letting "Kung Fu" and "tofu" slide in).

  70. Birgit said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 4:59 pm

    I just started learning MSM five months ago, mostly out of cultural curiosity, but also out of linguistic curiosity fuelled by languagelog posts!

    I recognised completely:
    3. Shaolin
    4. kung fu
    6. yi dai yi lu
    9. renminbi
    10. yuan
    13. tofu

    I recognised zhongguo in 7 and 8, and huo in 14 (for the latter I just assumed it was 'fire' as I have not come across a different huo yet. Lucky!).

    For what's it worth, I encountered 'yi dai yi lu' in a Guardian article and it stuck in my mind:

  71. Vanya said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

    “If they included jiaozi ("dumpling") and mantou ("steamed bun") in their list, they should also have included baozi ("steamed, filled bun"), which has about the same level of recognition among Westerners.”

    Baozi is a good one. There are a few “bao” restaurants in Vienna. It has much higher recognition, at least in Austria, than jiaozi and mantou.

  72. V said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 8:02 pm

    33-year-old native Bulgarian speaker with an interest in linguistics.

    shaolin — a monastery in the southwest of china.

    kung fu — a pop-culture thing that is supposed to be a "martial art". I think it's supposed to be guongfu in pinyin.

    renminbi / yuan — The official currency, non-convertible (although it might have been for the last decade or two?), of the PRC; not sure which one of the two, though.

    jiaozi — something with shrimp, I think?

    tofu — I eat it all the time, but assciate it with Japan.

    mantou — Mongolian / Korean dumplings.

  73. Robert Ayers said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 8:19 pm

    If I look the words up in the New Shorter Oxford, 3rd edition (1993), I find entries for the obvious four — kung fu, renmimbi, yuan, tofu. And also for mantou.

  74. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 11:48 pm

    The document in question is in pdf form here for those interested. There were 1200ish surveys (sent to non-Chinese-heritage over-18 edumacated folk of the USA, Great Britain, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Singapore and India) but also searches of online media (scoring detailed within), meaning they were going to get numbers whatever the survey results were. Top 100 items in terms of 认知度 'recognizability' were the following (pinyin annotations from

    1 Shàolín 少林, 2 yīnyáng 阴阳, 3 yuán 元, 4 gùgōng 故宫, 5 nǐhǎo 你好, 6 wǔshù 武术, 7 qì 气, 8 qìgōng 气功, 9 rénmínbì 人民币, 10 májiàng 麻将, 11 hútòng 胡同, 12 hùkǒu 户口, 13 lóng 龙, 14 pīnyīn 拼音, 15 hóngbāo 红包, 16 gōngfu 功夫, 17 Tàijí 太极, 18 guānxi 关系, 19 shīfu 师父, 20 dàmā 大妈, 21 Cháng'é 嫦娥, 22 Lǎozǐ 老子, 23 dào 道, 24 fèng 凤, 25 wǔxiá 武侠, 26 Qīngmíng 清明, 27 xièxie 谢谢, 28 jiǎozi 饺子, 29 Cháng Jiāng 长江, 30 hépíng 和平, 31 pǔtōnghuà 普通话, 32 mǎidān 买单, 33 mógu 蘑菇, 34 Tiāntán 天坛, 35 dòufu 豆腐, 36 guān 官, 37 bāguà 八卦, 38 máfan 麻烦, 39 Chóngyáng 重阳, 40 Tiān'ānmén 天安门, 41 yāngháng 央行, 42 lǎowài 老外, 43 Māzǔ 妈祖, 44 Kǒngzǐ 孔子, 45 fǎntān 反贪, 46 Chángchéng 长城, 47 Sūnzǐ 孙子, 48 Rú 儒, 49 Mèngzǐ 孟子, 50 xióngmāo 熊猫, 51 diǎ 嗲, 52 gānbēi 干杯, 53 chūnlián 春联, 54 Yuánxiāo 元宵, 55 fǎnfǔ 反腐, 56 Zhōnghuá 中华, 57 Zhōngyōng 中庸, 58 Zhōngguó 中国, 59 Duānwǔ 端午, 60 chūnyùn 春运, 61 Huáng Hé 黄河, 62 duìbuqǐ 对不起, 63 chuàngxīn 创新, 64 Chūnjié 春节, 65 Huáxià 华夏, 66 cùjū 蹴鞠, 67 huǒguō 火锅, 68 Zhōngqiū 中秋, 69 tǔháo 土豪, 70 gǒuqǐ 枸杞, 71 Wù Kōng 悟空, 72 mántou 馒头, 73 dàigòu 代购, 74 Zhōngguó mèng 中国梦, 75 Gòngchǎndǎng 共产党, 76 Liǎnghuì 两会, 77 héxié 和谐, 78 Zhīfùbǎo 支付宝, 79 Zhōngguó zhìzào 中国制造, 80 yīdàiyīlù 一带一路, 81 dǎng 党, 82 zhēnshíqīnchéng 真实亲诚, 83 gànbù 干部, 84 jīnsīhóu 金丝猴, 85 máobǐ 毛笔, 86 gōng'ān 公安, 87 dēnglóng 灯笼, 88 zhēnjiǔ 针灸, 89 xiǎokāng 小康, 90 wǎnggòu 网购, 91 shísānwǔ 十三五, 92 jiānbǐng 煎饼, 93 gāotiě 高铁, 94 Zhōngguó gùshi 中国故事, 95 mìngyùn gòngtóngtǐ 命运共同体, 96 Sīchóu zhī Lù 丝绸之路, 97 bīngmǎyǒng 兵马俑, 98 Zhōngguó dàolù 中国道路, 99 Zhōngguó shēngyīn 中国声音, 100 gōngbǎojīdīng 宫保鸡丁

  75. Ulf said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:11 am

    4, 10, and 13. US English speaker.

  76. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:15 am

    Since LL, criteria for selection of surveyed terms (p. 6):

    (1) English translations of the term directly employ pinyin (Renminbi, Tiananmen); or
    (2) while the term has a corresponding English translation, usage frequency/acceptance of the translation and the direct pinyin representation reflect competition (Gongfu, Hutong); or
    (3) while the term has a commonly used English translation, the direct pinyin representation now enjoys a certain degree of use/acceptance among media/audiences due to the term's relevance to peculiarly Chinese political/cultural spheres (Yidaiyilu, Jiaozi)

    So maybe most of the terms were category (3)…

  77. Ulf said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:15 am

    And Shaolin is a speed skater, with Chinese roots but skating for Hungary. But I doubt that's the meaning meant here. And zhongguo is vaguely familiar but not sure from what.

    Okay, off to read the other comments.

  78. Thomas Lumley said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:51 am

    3, 4,9,10, 12,13

    I studied Chinese at high school, which was…some time ago. I think I learned yuan, renminbi, and jiaozi in class, and Shaolin, kung fu, and tofu before that.

    On baozi: at least in New Zealand English, the term bao is being used mainly for the sandwich-like gua bao (刈包), and baozi are just called 'buns'.

  79. Michael Watts said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 1:59 am

    Long time watchers of Star Trek recognize the game that they are playing with this list. The show would sometimes have a character say something like "…. much like the famous playwrights Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Miller, or Zorglax VII". They get you nodding along with the first three and hope you'll accept the last one through sheer inertia.

    I don't think that's what's going on in Star Trek at all. I think Zorglax VII makes it into those lists because there's a significant segment of the audience who would be unhappy at the implication (if only people who were famous in the 20th century got listed) that there were zero notable historical personages between the early 20th century and the 24th century.

    I recognised zhongguo in 7 and 8, and huo in 14 (for the latter I just assumed it was 'fire' as I have not come across a different huo yet. Lucky!).

    Five months of Chinese hasn't covered the word "or" (或者 huòzhe or just 或 huò) yet?

    In my experience, 活 huó (live / alive / life) is also more common than 火.

  80. Chas Belov said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 4:32 am

    Studied Cantonese not Mandarin

    3. Shaolin – some kind of martial art?

    4. kung fu – some kind of martial art

    Strange they left out tai chi

    9. renminbi – Chinese dollar

    10. yuan – Chinese dollar, Chinese parliament

    12. jiaozi – pot sticker?

    13. tofu – tofu

    16. mantou – dumpling

    17. jianbing – street vendor pancake, only know because there are vendors selling them in restaurants in the SF Bay Area

  81. Soph said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 5:42 am

    French person, English speaker, studying Japanese.

    I know 3 and 4 from martial arts.
    9 and 10 from listening to business segments of news.
    13 from eating japanese food

    The others… sorry no idea what this is.

    Chinese words not present on the list? Dazibao (probably acquired from graphic art studies). Ginseng.

  82. loonquawl said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 6:33 am

    (and reading the comments i got 3 and 9 mostly wrong)

  83. Terror Incognita said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 7:24 am

    33-y-o native English speaker – no Chinese learning, but I am learning Japanese.

    I know 3, 4, 9, 10, 13 for sure. (I was surprised to see tofu there – I didn't know that the word was a Chinese import to Japan.) I work in political risk analysis so I know renminbi and yuan well. Kung fu and Shaolin I would regard as fairly common knowledge.

    I know that 'zhongguo' is 中国 (Japanese ちゅうごく chuugoku, meaning China)… I don't know what the suffixes are in 7 and 8 though. I thought perhaps 'meng' in 7 might have been 民, again based on Japanese knowledge, but after a quick Google I see it's actually 夢 ('dream').

    For the others I had no idea. After reading the comments here, I'm kicking myself for goqi -> goji, which I know. Also for 12 I know the kanji 餃子 as Japanese ギョウザ (gyouza).

    Fun exercise overall, and particularly interesting to see what a strong consensus there is among non-Chinese learners.

  84. Frans said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 8:58 am

    @Terror Incognita

    I know gyoza. It didn't occur to me that jiaozi could be the same word. It registers as Japanese to me. (As does tofu.)

    I did wonder if the bao in #11 could be related to bapao, an Indonesian steamed filled bun. I didn't say so explicitly in my reply because it was already getting a bit long, but that's one of the reasons I grouped zhifubao with what I presumed to be the foods. Apparently it's supposed to go with financial stuff instead.

    Would it be at all correct to interpret it as roughly analogous to a payment system named, say, Belgian Waffle?

  85. V said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 9:27 am

    Jen in Edinburgh: Shaolin is related to kaolin? Huh.

  86. Ursa Major said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 10:05 am

    New Zealander in the UK. My list is pretty much the same as others. Shaolin and kung fu, obviously. Also tofu (which to me is most associated with Chinese and SE Asian food, not Japanese) and yuan. I recognised jiaozi but had to look it up. I didn't recognise renminbi but I know that there are more words than yuan associated with Chinese currency.

    I didn't recognise goqi although I know goji. I really struggle with the use of q in pinyin and have to force myself to read it properly (I don't have the same problem with x, probably because there is much more variation in the sound it represents in English). If I'd worked through goqi slowly I probably would have guessed its meaning.

  87. Vassili said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 11:55 am

    American, emigrated from Russia, never studied Chinese. "Same as Christian". I would have recognized Falun Gong had they included it in the list!

  88. DCBob said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

    From an economist who studies martial arts: Shaolin, kung fu, renminbi, yuan, and that's it. Oh, and tofu, which I think of as Japanese. Never heard of any of the others.

  89. BZ said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

    American, emigrated from Russia, never studied Chinese. Almost same as Christian except:
    3. I recognize the word and the phrase "Shaolin Monks", but am not familiar enough with the meaning to say I understand it.
    9/10. I know the difference

  90. Jens B Fiederer said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 5:03 pm

    I was going to respond to the survey, but my answers were an exact match to the first commenter: 3,4,9,10, and 13.

    The only exception is that "yi dai yi lu" sounded vaguely familiar (but I had no idea what it meant). Upon looking it up I found that I really HAD read about it before, right here on this very blog.

  91. Jichang Lulu said,

    February 26, 2018 @ 11:01 pm

    So, as Jonathan Smith has found, the China Daily article contains 17 out of the 100 items in a methodologically peculiar survey of Anglosphere awareness of Chinese words and phrases. The 17 aren't the most popular; e.g. yī dài yī lù 一带一路 ('One Belt One Road', Xi Jinping's geopolitical initiative) came out 90th but made it to the 17. Tiān'ānmén 天安门 (square in Beijing) was the 31st most popular, but didn't make it. Go figure.

    As others have noted, many words not included in the entire survey ('wok'…) would be much more familiar than, e.g., no. 82: zhēn-shí-qīn-chéng 真实亲诚 (as per some official translations: "sincerity, practical results, affinity and good faith"—rolls off the tongue), enjoying 10.3% Anglosphere awareness. That is a bit more than jiǎozi 饺子, which was recognised by several in this thread, so the authors of the report should be willing to bet that a few non-China-wonkish commenters here are familiar with this expression.

    As Smith says, the "survey" was blended with online media searches to make sure the result was as required. There are some pretty remarkable items, such as fèng 凤 'phoenix' (36.7% awareness in India). What sort of "survey" makes toneless pinyin "feng" (as opposed to fenghuang (fènghuáng 凤凰)) recognisable as 'phoenix'? Once you get 0 'awareness' of feng=phoenix from the survey with actual people, how do you even design a bias online search to get 36.7%, specifically in India?

    As for Mìngyùn gōnggòngtǐ 命运公共体, officially translated as "Community of Shared Future": this is a Xi-speak item familiar to those who follow Chinese politics. I must say I am shocked, shocked commenters would not recognise it, since per the survey it has 8.0% Angosphere awareness.

    The 'Community' thing is explained in a new article by Nadège Rolland ("Beijing's vision for a reshaped international order") that describes the concept with multiple quotes from Chinese sources. Geremie Barmé, an Australian Sinologist, has noted that the term bears some similarity to Japan's Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏). Barmé is also worth quoting in this context for his writing on "New China Newspeak" in general (including its Manchukuo component through 協和語 Hyōwago). The latest incarnation of New China Newspeak would be New Era New China Newspeak ('New Era' xīn shídài 新时代 being another Xiism, now enshrined in the Constitution). Some of these Xi-speak items are for domestic consumption and can on occasion be left out of official translations; others, namely the ones in this "survey", are supposed to become popular among furriners. This is rarely successful, of course, and when foreign academics/politicians/officials do use this jargon you can assume that something's going on. Cf. this 'human rights' professor. I wonder what an average person without constant exposure to Chinese propaganda might think about this Community, after reading e.g. Rolland's article.

    The output of the propaganda system is full of these slogans and neologisms. A personal favourite: Xi's Ass Theory (驴论). This list is full of such Xiisms for foreign consumption. They have generally positive connotations, and refer to currently approved political doctrine. Things like 'Red Guards' or 'Let a hundred flowers bloom' aren't there (let alone Kuomintang/Guomindang, which I suspect many people would actually recognise).

    Notice the report quoted in Smith's comment found begins with a Xiist invocation, referencing a Central Committee-issued document on "strengthening and improving Sino-foreign people-to-people exchanges" that includes a passage on interaction between languages and cultures. The survey, its report, the China Daily article and any other manifestations of it are probably created to justify and publicise the success of efforts inspired by that document.

    There's some further theoretical background of possible LL interest: the report quotes the Global Language Monitor (and its honcho Payack) to the effect that Chinese has been the main source of loanwords into English since 1994. The Monitor has been discussed on LL, and Payack had some interesting 'exchanges' with Zimmer, Pullum and Nunberg. There's precedent for Payack being quoted in propaganda pieces ("Chinese puts in a good word for the English language").

  92. Joshua K. said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 12:29 am

    @Jonathan Smith: Thanks for the full list, which I had not been able to find (presumably because the entire document is written in Chinese). I"m a native speaker of English, never studied Chinese, and my answers would have been basically the same as the first commenter.

  93. Joshua K. said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 12:34 am

    By the way, they are correct to say that #40, Tiān'ānmén 天安门, is well-known to English speakers, but I doubt they want to publicize the reason for that.

  94. Joshua K. said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 12:45 am

    I see that one of the eight countries in which surveys were conducted was Singapore — a country where nearly half the population speaks Chinese as their native tongue. That would seem likely to skew the data as to whether the words and phrases surveyed are known to English-speaking people, since many of the people in Singapore who would respond to an English-language survey also know Chinese.

  95. Joshua K. said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 12:49 am

    Following up to my prior post, I now see that the survey excluded ethnic Chinese respondents in all of the countries surveyed. Nevertheless, I would expect that Chinese words and phrases would tend to have a greater influence on the English used in Singapore (even by non-Chinese people) than they have on the English used in other countries.

  96. DCA said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 1:56 am

    Same list as Christian. I'm American, purely English speaker, visited China several times, first in 1981: language acquisitions on that trip were [phonetic spelling and inferred meaning] may-oh for "definitely no" and chi-sway for orange soda. OTOH, I've read all but about 3 volumes of Needham et al's Science and Civilization in China–clearly his chosen words (not many) are not on the list. Nor is one word (Dao) that has made it into specialized English–like kaolin.

  97. maidhc said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 4:21 am

    Reflecting after having read this thread, I think I must probably know somewhere around 50 Chinese words ("feng shui", etc.) although I have made little or no effort to learn any.

    I know a few Japanese and Korean words, and for Vietnamese I'm down to maybe 5 or 10. Most of the words I know are food words. I have some in Hindi, but my wife is fluent in Hindi so that has added some. Amharic I know "injera" and "doro wat" and "key wat" and that's about it. But my wife has an interest in cooking so we go to the Ethiopian grocery store to buy injera and spices so she can replicate these dishes at home. And also to the Korean market and the Vietnamese supermarket.

    It's interesting that as you bump up against different cultures you learn a few of their words. In my case for quite a few languages it is less than 50 words each. But consider this operating over centuries and it could make quite a difference.

  98. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 4:57 am

    V: Not that I know of, I just wasn't really sure that Shaolin was monks and not minerals – I started by writing down my ideas to see how close (or far off) I was. (To be honest, I was hazy about all of them – even with kung fu I have no idea what makes it different from other martial arts.)

    Although 'kaolin' does turn out to be another Chinese word in English!

  99. Jason M said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 8:23 am

    Fascinating thread. I audited a semester of spoken Chinese 25 years ago in grad school, practice with friends on and off, self-taught some characters, currently in China on my third trip in the last year. But pretty much no more recognition than Christian, other than zhong guo. Interesting, though, that if I'd seen the characters of a few, then they would have let me guess at the meanings ("huo" "yi dai yi lu"), but that, of course, would have defeated the purpose of showing recognition among English speakers.

    Have to say it made for an interesting conversation today with Chinese friends. They were not surprised at which words English speakers would likely know (basically, Christian's list) and which not ("mingyun gongtongti").

    Later on today I heard "mantou" when my friends were talking about dinner and knew what it meant. That was kind of the reverse of what the list was supposed to be about: expanding my Chinese vocabulary from this list of now "English" words!

  100. Victor Mair said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 10:58 am

    From Aurelius Wang:

    "Most Understood & Used Chinese Words By Foreigners"

    ExpatLife (2/27/18)

  101. ~flow said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

    As a German, Mìngyùn gōnggòngtǐ 命运公共体 evokes Schicksalsgemeinschaft and that's not a positive term. FWIW I'm getting the impression that all of mankind pretty much shares the same problems only its more worse [sic] in some quarters than in others. As a quotidian example, when you read through this article (and the very informed comments) about a report to the French government about the future of their national railway system:

    you can't help feeling that you've heard it all before and that this is just another instance where people get paid to produce printed falsehoods and doctored figures so the ones in the say can go on and do what they have wanted to do all along anyway. Meaning that even the mainstream even in the heartlands of western democracy is systematically lying to themselves in too many respects.

    I majored in Chinese and I find the proposed ranking absurd to say the least. But thanks to Jichang Lulu for reminding me of 'wok' which I definitely didn't realize when going through the above list wondering what Chinese words might actually be frequently used in English (or German, for that matter). Mahjiang would be another popular item.

  102. Victor Mair said,

    February 27, 2018 @ 10:15 pm

    From Keith B.:

    You may be interested in the results of an informal poll conducted via Reddit based on the same China Daily article (links below). The Reddit page also refers to your Language Log post.

    About the data:

    The survey was linked on the /r/China subreddit, so it's likely that the respondents had above-average exposure to Chinese.

    Although the poll page says there have been 172 votes, this does not mean n = 172. Rather, the poll allows for multiple responses ("check all that apply"), and 172 is the total number of "checks" across all respondents. The highest number of checks for term was 22, so that's a lower bound for n. 172 would be an upper bound.

    Thus the pie chart and percentages don't mean much.

    But the ratios among the responses might be meaningful. 22 people knew "kung fu," while 11 people knew "mantou" and 2 people knew "yi dai yi lu," for ratios of of 2:1 and 11:1.

    One naïve interpretation of the data is to assume the minimum of 22 respondents. Keeping the ratios, that means 50% of people knew "mantou" and 9% knew "yi dai yi lu." Or we could assume the maximum of 172 respondents. Keeping the ratios, that means 6% of people knew "mantou" and 1% knew "yi dai yi lu." The true number of respondents is of course much closer to 22.

    Link to survey results:

    Link to Reddit page:

  103. Jichang Lulu said,

    February 28, 2018 @ 6:48 am

    My comment above blasphemously calls Xi's grand project Mìngyùn gòngtóngtǐ 命运共同体 (the 'Community of Common/Shared Destiny') "Mìngyùn gōnggòngtǐ 命运公共体" ('Public Body of Destiny'). The alternative name should be understood within the framework of the Toilet Revolution aka Lavolution (Cèsuǒ gémìng 厕所革命) and indeed Ass Theory (Lǘ lùn 驴论).

    @~flow: Mahjong/májiàng 麻将 is on the list of 100, but not among the 17 selected by exoprop outlet China Daily. Tao/dào 道 (as in (D|T)aoism) is also there. Many other phrases could have been included based on the loose criteria used for the "survey"

    Again, this entire exercise is an artifact of the propaganda bureaucracy. I doubt anyone involved is really pretending to believe the numbers in this "survey". It's about as scientific as the reddit poll cited by Keith B., only more money changed hands (to the benefit of, in particular, Victor Yuan (Yuan Yue 袁岳)'s polling firm).

    Let's remember that the report quotes Friend of LL Payack's Global Language Monitor with the claim that most loanwords that have entered English since 1994 came from Chinese. Quis monebit ipsum Monitorem?

  104. Jichang Lulu said,

    February 28, 2018 @ 9:07 am

    A search reveals two earlier references to Mìngyùn gōnggòngtǐ 命运共同体 on Language Log.

    This comment by Eidolon (Sep '16), with a news story mentioning the Imperial concept and an automated translation that ominously renders it as "the fate of the community".

    This guest post ("Of dotards and DOLtards") by yours truly (Oct '17) alludes to it in a Korean context (my emphasis and notes):

    Dotards and DOLs [Disgusting Old Lechers] are thus grandly and Peacefully Reunified [an allusion to the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (Zhōngguó hépíng tǒngyī cùjìn huì 中国和平促进会), a United Front organisation] and fused into a Shared Community of DOLtardhood [Hosaek gongdongche] 호색공동체 好色共同體. Yay!

  105. ajay said,

    March 1, 2018 @ 11:21 am

    Agreed – not a Chinese speaker, but I recognised the same five as everyone else. Shaolin (isn't this actually a place name? Not a Chinese word, really, unless you also allow "Beijing" etc?), kung fu, renminbi, tofu, yuan. A few food terms that probably don't really count like keemun, oolong, puerh, baoxi etc.

    There are a few words whose omission I find a bit odd.

    Yeah, and I suspect that, as you say, with a lot of them it's propaganda-based. Feng shui. Tai chi. Falun Gong. Tiananmen. Guanxi. None of them exactly the sort of thing you want to be publicising.

    Omissions other than that: wuxia, the martial arts film genre. Shenzhou, because that's what they call their spaceships. (Means Heavenly Ship or something.)

  106. Eidolon said,

    March 1, 2018 @ 6:41 pm

    Looking at the full survey from Jonathan Smith, the countries that stood out as being particularly knowledgeable about Chinese terms, besides Singapore whose population is overwhelmingly Chinese, are India and the Philippines. Methodological issues aside, how accurate is this? On the surface, it is certainly possible that Chinese influence is much stronger in developing countries where their products are often market dominant, than they are in developed ones where they have a negligible impact.

  107. Toby said,

    March 5, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    Interesting point about the tottering Confucius Institutes.

    In Australia I think the educated classes have become aware that the Institute's real role is to buy off politically useful people with sinecures (which has become harder and harder as people realise what they are) and to spy on Chinese national students here in order to police and harass them.

    As the belt/road tightens, no-one takes the Institute seriously here any more.

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