English's New Influence in the Chinese Language

Languages often take the trends that are exhibited by cultures. To a large extent, they are hardly self–sufficient. They depend on other languages to enrich themselves (Zuckermann, 289). There are several situations that present the need for different linguistic groups to interact. The factors could be social, political or economic. Whenever such interactions occur, the dominant linguistic groups have much influence on the minority linguistic groups. It means that direct or indirect interactions between two neighboring languages that are considered as a culturally dominant result in the interaction between the languages. Such interactions can turn out to be hostile, for instance, when a minority language is influenced by a majority language to the point of being extinct, or friendly, where the interactions only result in minimal changes in the two languages involving borrowing of different lexical items into the contact languages.

Several political and economic activities make it inevitable for people to interact each day. In the course of such interactions, people have to communicate so as to conduct their transactions. Communication can only occur if there is one language that is understood by the two interacting parties. In case there is no language that is mutually intelligible to the two groups, interaction is interrupted and transactions become futile. Currently, it is not possible to identify a completely isolated language or dialect. Even among the smallest linguistic groups, there are various activities, such as intermarriages, that result in one language influencing another (Bianco, Orton & Yihong, 72). It is because linguistic groups are small and their sizes open rooms for intermarriages with members of different linguistic groups or speakers of different dialects of the same language.

The main factors that expose languages to the influence of other dominant languages are identified as intermarriages, political influence, intertribal trade, and general cultural interactions (Zuckermann, 290). However, even if a minimal interaction occurs between neighboring linguistic groups, some degree of language interinfluencing has to be witnessed in the process of the interaction or in the end. In most cases, the influence is seen to show biasness towards one language. The linguistic group that is perceived to be the center of culture is in a better position to influence other languages that are spoken by the neighboring linguistic groups than it can be influenced by them. Borrowing of words is the simplest and the most common influence that a language can have on another one. Language is used to communicate a people’s culture (Bonvillain, 34). Therefore, whenever people borrow their cultures, as it is often the case when speakers of different languages come together, it is more likely that the interacting linguistic groups will also borrow the associated words. It is interesting to study the historical aspect of the loan words. By examining the extent to which one language has infiltrated into another, it is possible to figure out the role that a given linguistic group has played in the establishment and spread of cultural concepts in the linguistically influenced language.

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English is treated as the world’s universal language. Most countries have opted to use English as their official language due to its neutrality. It is because of the need to select a language that cannot cause tension between the countries and language groups. As English retains its position in the society; several native languages are diminishing on a yearly basis. A part from people’s native languages, several language speakers worldwide use English as their second language. The current trends of language acquisition are attributed to the influence of the CNN and the existence of the ‘ab’ initio Internet that is highly dominated by English (Zuckermann 287). The electronic and new media have facilitated interactions to the point that physical movement is not necessary for speakers of different languages to share their lexical items. The world is continually becoming bilingual despite various technological advancements that have availed technological methods of translation.

According to Zuckermann (292), a close observation of the trend by which English continues to influence native languages leads to a perception that English may onetime achieve complete dominance over native languages that face the threat of becoming obsolete. It is because national boundaries are continuously declining as the world is becoming a global village. Besides, non-geographic economic affiliations are emerging, hence increasing the dominance of English, which is understood by many cultural groups. Native languages are also threatened by the fast paced spread of the English language due to the belief that whenever people speak two languages as their mother tongue, chances are high that each one of them will be degraded (Zuckermann 287).

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For several years, the Chinese has been regarded as the world’s largest speech community with English being the most dominant international lingua franca (Bianco, Orton, & Yihong 53). Currently, English appears to be the only language that is used worldwide with respect to entertainment, politics, and technology. The English language allows explaining technological terms because it is reach in vocabulary. Modern advances in technology and the prevailing political influences have currently presented the need for the English and Chinese speakers to interact. As a result, the two languages have had influences on each other. English has exerted a notable influence with its international phraseology on the Chinese language that is known to be highly regionally-confined. In most cases, the Chinese language that is genetically different and that is highly culturally conserved borrows a great number of words to express cultural concepts obtained from the native English-speaking countries. This discussion seeks to analyze the linguistic interaction that exists between the two languages are considered to be most visible.

Young Chinese Learning English

The young in China are increasingly getting exposed to the English language (Curtis 74). The influence of English is becoming so extensive to the point that it is used beyond the basic communication functions. As the young adopt the use of English by learning it, the language shows much influence on the native Chinese language and Chinese culture. It also has a significant influence on the thought patterns of the young Chinese. It is perceived that more people are currently studying English in China than there are people living in the USA. China has reported that English is taught in the Chinese primary schools in the third grade and that plans are in their advanced stages to ensure that it is taught by all schools starting from the kindergarten level of education. The trend is predictable and one can be safe to assert that knowledge of the English language will be a core skill expected of employees below 40 years old. It is due to the projection that all employees below 40 years old will be expected to know a minimum of 1000 English phrases (Curtis 87). The plan faces a challenge due to lack of the adequate proficient English teachers. The Chinese government is keen to ensure that teaching of English is accelerated. However, it is clear that the language will only be proficiently spoken by the next generation of Chinese as their natural form of communication.

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China remained as an isolationist country for long until the time when it accepted to participate in international trade and adopted capitalism in 1978 (Curtis 79). After the decision, the Chinese government started emphasizing the use of English as the country has been seeking to become more international. The government realized the essence of having its citizens speak English as the language allows interacting and communicating effectively with the international community. Therefore, the focus on English speaking is perceived to have an advantage regarding business interactions between the Chinese citizens and the international community, besides enhancing technological advancement. Learners have realized the need to acquire proficiency in English to enable them to learn scientific and technological terms. It is because scientific and mathematical terms are written in English and they can hardly be learned without knowledge of the language. China has come into terms with the reality that English is the international business language that can enable them to engage in business dealings with the West. Therefore, speaking English is taken as a perfect move towards the adoption of technologies from the West and facilitation of the ongoing growth of China.

The moment English started gaining fame among Chinese people, the native language became threatened. In every multilingual society, there are common trends of code switching and code mixing. Such situations often affect both languages that are used by the multilinguals. Speakers often have tendencies of code mixing whenever they have not developed high standards of proficiency in the L2. In such cases, the first language (L1) dominates a conversation; though, speakers are likely to incorporate some lexical items of the L2 in the course of communication. In the process, the two languages start influencing each other, and the language that is perceived to have more economic importance is likely to exert more influence on the other one. Due to this reason, English is seen to have a significant influence on Chinese. The Chinese language has ended up borrowing several lexical items from English. The borrowed words are intended to be used in expressing various cultural and technological concepts that do not exist in the Chinese culture and in the Chinese language (Bianco, Orton, & Yihong 57).

When young Chinese can communicate and gain fluency in English, older Chinese face a lot of difficulties in interacting by the use of the English language. It is because of the factors that influence L2 acquisition. At a young age below 12 years, a child’s brain is elastic enough to accommodate a second language as opposed to the later years when the brain has become fully wired. Therefore, young Chinese are likely to speak English more proficiently than the older ones who are likely to have more English influence in their Chinese language. The old are more likely to have English words used in Chinese as they use more of the Chinese lexicon items than the English words. The situation is not similar among young Chinese citizens because they have options to choose from. They can decide to code switch from Chinese to English of vice versa. However, the value that is attached to the English language and the overwhelming desire among Chinese speakers to gain proficiency in English make them borrow English words and to use them in their communication.

Learning English is slowly reducing the cultural role of the Chinese language to Chinese citizens. Language serves to express a people’s culture. The Chinese remained culturally reserved for a long time due to the value that they attached to their native languages. However, the situation is slowly changing as English is used in several business activities. The English influence is being felt among the Chinese as they start using it as the transmitter of culture. The use of English has weakened the bond between Chinese citizens and their culture that was expressed through their native languages. It has also resulted in the adoption of cultures that are largely associated with the West. For example, the Chinese people are currently wearing clothing that is made in the American style; they watch American-based shows, such as American Idol (Sagert 102). The influence is strong among young Chinese who associate English with advanced social prestige. English is slowly replacing the role that Chinese served, hence reducing its purpose to mere communication. Young Chinese are adopting American thinking and behavior at an intense rate because the Chinese language is no longer perceived to be as prestigious as it got used to be. It no longer urges the people to reserve their culture. Furthermore, the English language has weakened the structures of the Chinese language as a result of lexicon borrowing and code mixing.

Younger Chinese regard the ability to speak English as a good thing, and they envy their peers who have gained a lot of proficiency in speaking English. As opposed to some countries that regard speaking English as being non-nationalistic, the young population in China understands that the language presents them with opportunities beyond the constrictions of the Chinese language and the Chinese life that is propagated by the Chinese language. When the Chinese borrow English languages and use them in their language, the words broaden the capacity of the Chinese language to express a wide range of ideas that do not exist in the Chinese culture (Curtis 87). The borrowed words enable the Chinese language to give a sense of status to its speakers. When the Chinese can use English lexical items within the Chinese language, they develop a feeling that their language is becoming more modern and competent enough to address concepts that exist in the modern society.


Borrowing, as mentioned earlier, is the most common way by which language can influence another one. It is regarded as the natural way of language change that involves a process where a language enriches its lexicon by copying words from another language. The term borrowing is used instead of harsh terms such as stealing or copying. According to Field (50), borrowed words are often referred to as loan words or borrowings. Speakers of different languages often borrow words from other languages whenever their languages cannot be effective in expressing all aspects that they intend to communicate. As with other languages, the Chinese language has largely borrowed from English.

One of the main reasons for borrowing is that languages often have semantic gaps in their lexicon. It is the case when a language lacks appropriate words to express the loan; hence, it is compelled to borrow a word in order to expressg the concept that it can hardly express on its own. This situation is evident in the Chinese language when examining the influence of English on Chinese. It can be seen in the way the English word ‘Disney’ is borrowed into the Chinese language. In Chinese, the word ‘disini’ is used to refer to the same concept as the English word ‘Disney’ that has its origin in the United States. The word was borrowed for use in Chinese because the Chinese language did not have its synonym. Bilingual speakers are likely to borrow words in the situations when they retrieve words in their L2 faster than they retrieve lexical items in their L1. It is often the case with bilingual speakers with the adequately high levels of education (Field, 57). They find it easy to speak in their L2 more than they do for their L1. As such, they are more likely to borrow words from their L2 for use in their L1 whenever they take long to retrieve their L1 words. In the sociolinguistics perspective, borrowing occurs due to the need to use foreign terms as euphemisms that are required in conversations. It is common in situations when speakers intend to keep their moral status; hence, they wish to make a correct choice of words that cannot be perceived as offensive.

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Similar to other cultural groups, the Chinese have words that are not generally acceptable for use. When they intend to express the words, they opt to use English words that are synonymous to the concepts. In the long run, the English words end up being acceptable for use in the Chinese language. At times, words are borrowed by speakers of a language as a sense of identity (Field 58). In most cases, borrowing happens due to language contact or culture contact. Contact is vital due to urbanization, economic activities, educational travels, religion, and politics. The type and the amount of borrowed words have a great relation to the socioeconomic status of the speakers of the contact languages and cultures. Therefore, the Chinese language tends to borrow more words from English than the latter does because Chinese citizens associate the English language with a higher status and different socioeconomic benefits.

There is a gradual process by which English words become loan words in Chinese. The English words that are regarded as loan words in the Chinese language are said to be morphologically, phonologically and grammatically integrated into the Chinese language that is the host language in this case. There are two levels of borrowing, namely pure and adjusted borrowing (Durkin 305). In cases when English words are purely borrowed into the Chinese language, the words retain their original features. On the other hand, some English words are adjusted before they are used in Chinese. In the latter case, the words are made to adopt the structural criteria of the Chinese language.

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Linguistic integration of the English language into Chinese occurs at three levels. Some of the English words are used in Chinese while they retain their English phonology. There are English words that are partially integrated into the Chinese language, while the other words are fully integrated into Chinese to the point that they can hardly be distinguished from Chinese words. In some situations, the words borrowed from the English language do not become nativised; hence, they end up affecting the Chinese language. To measure the level of integration of English words that are borrowed by Chinese, one can look at the number of times that the word is used in communication, as well as the words’ ability to replace the native synonym and to adapt to the host languages’ grammar and sound systems.

English words that are borrowed by Chinese and that influence the Chinese language are of two types. There are some English words that have phonological similarities with the Chinese words. The Chinese language takes advantage of the transliterated loan words to use English words that have the closes possible sound and meaning to the original Chinese word that is replaced or for which it is used to refer as a euphemism (Durkin 305). For example, the Chinese language uses the word ‘baibai,’ which is highly identical to the English word ‘bye bye’. Apart from the structural similarities between the two words, they are used in the same contexts.



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