Chinglish becoming more popular in China

Chinglish becoming more popular in China

BEIJING - A Chinese office worker exasperated with a colleague who keeps finding fault with his report might well retort: "You can you up, no can no BB!"

Welcome to the world of Chinglish. But first, the translation: "You do it if you are so capable; otherwise keep quiet!"

Just as Singaporeans love their Singlish and Thais have Tinglish, English with very strong Chinese characteristics has become increasingly popular in China.

"No zuo no die", often seen on social media, is used to warn others against doing something foolish that may land them in trouble. Popular words include "tuhao" (people who have lots of money but no taste or manners) and "diaosi" (geeks or losers).

Of late, more Chinglish phrases have entered the English lexicon, a development that, to many in China, underscores their country's growing influence on the world, especially with Chinese slowly becoming the language of choice in the Western world.

On April 9, "you can you up, no can no BB" became the latest entry in the online Urban Dictionary, which has 7.7 million definitions for slang and buzzwords not found in standard dictionaries.

Earlier entries included "gelivable" (fantastic or cool), derived from gei li, or "to give strength or energy". There is "erbility" - not to be mistaken for "ability" - used on someone who does something stupid. Similarly, "zhuangbility" (boastfulness) and "shability" (foolishness).

The latest entry was reported in an almost celebratory tone by Chinese state media. Xinhua news agency, on April 18, said "English speakers may soon be saying 'you can you up, no can no BB' in response to criticism".

The Global Times tabloid, in a commentary on April 26, noted that the popularity of a language is likely the best gauge of how much influence the country of origin has on the rest of the world.

"It is possible that Chinglish will be treated less as a negative example of English misuse, since an increasing number of Chinglish words and expressions are being accepted by mainstream native speakers," wrote reporter Liu Zhun.

This positive tone contrasts starkly with how Chinglish used to be frowned upon. In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China ordered signs and menus with Chinglish to be removed.

Still, the debate on the pros and cons of Chinglish continues.

"Some worry that too many loan words and exotic expressions will damage the independence of a language, but some believe it further proves the irreversibility of globalisation," wrote Ms Liu.

Proponents say Chinglish results from the creative use of language to invent words that reflect socio-political realities. For instance, "smilence" comes from the phrase xiao er bu yu, which means "smile in silence", while "sexcretary" refers to a secretary who sleeps with her boss.

Detractors see the prevalence of Chinglish as hindering the proper learning of English.

Ms Fan Rongrong, 26, who teaches English to working adults at the Open University of China in Beijing, advises her students not to use Chinglish in their school work if they want to master the English language.

Ms Sui Chunhui, 30, who works for a cultural exchange company in Beijing, does not use Chinglish, especially at work.

"It's not mainstream and it makes us come across as being too casual," she said.

Still, the Chinese authorities are more likely to welcome the rising popularity of Chinglish than the impact English has had on the Chinese language.

The People's Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, in an April 11 article, criticised a proliferation of English acronyms in the mass media for sullying the "purity" of the Chinese language.

Zhongshan University language professor Zhou Haizhong believes that China should be more accepting of Chinglish and view it rationally and objectively, adding that it will fade away if its usefulness diminishes.

"Students should learn standard English while the relevant authorities should facilitate the usage of Chinglish so that it becomes a unique reflection of how Chinese and Western cultures have assimilated with each other," he told The International Herald Leader, a Xinhua publication, in an interview last December.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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