Photo by lauralk83
According to Huang Youyi, CPCC member and director of the China International Publishing Group, the Chinese language is facing a new invasion: by the English language. Huang feels that no good can come of the popular use of English words and acronyms (such as GDP and CEO) in published Chinese articles and everyday conversations. He told China Daily:
Chinese won’t be a pure language in a couple of years (…) In the long run, Chinese will lose its role as an independent linguistic system for passing on information and expressing human feelings.
In his defense, Huang went on to say that English newspapers (we assume those published in China…) rarely carry Chinese characters, relying instead on pinyin. But, as Stan Abrams from China Divide says, pinyin is not really English. Yes, they share the same Roman script, but otherwise it is simply another way of expressing the Chinese language (albeit, Abrams admits, without doing justice to its artistic nature).
Besides, as Abrams says, acronyms are convenient, a luxury that’s pretty difficult to argue against in this day and age:
It makes sense to use “WTO,” three keystrokes, instead of “世界贸易组织,” six keystrokes (actually more than six, once you factor in a menu-driven Chinese character input system). We’re all busy, Mr. Huang, give us a break here!
But for Huang, the issue was a non-negotiable:
Some of our people mistake using foreign words as being open minded and international. I don’t think so. Instead, we should have confidence in our own language. You cannot expect others to respect you unless you respect yourself first. So, too, your language.
We’re not entirely sold on this correlation between speaking your country’s language and confidence. But Huang is not alone on this one. Cai Jianfen, editor-in-chief of the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, has also expressed concern over the ‘impurity’ facing the Chinese language:
I understand the worry that cultures and languages would be assimilated with globalization going on, which is already happening, yet I believe that people in general, or even writers, should be given more freedom to make their own choices. (…) It might be controversial, but language is alive. The Chinese we use today is a product of historical development and assimilation. We should trust the vitality of it.
So, if Chinese is on a collision course to obliteration, what is to be done? Huang came up with three answers:
- All documents and speeches of top government officials should be written in pure Chinese, without the use of GDP, WTO or CPI.
- A law or regulation should be made as a guideline for the use of foreign words in publications.
- A national translation committee should be organized to translate foreign names and technical terms, which can then be published on a website.
Hmmm. Perhaps China has more pressing issues to deal with rather than legally regulating the use of foreign words in publications. Besides, what would these guidelines even contain? Huang needs a gentle reminder that languages evolve and change. And it will take a little more than ‘CEO’ to taint the ‘purity’ of Chinese.