Following hard on the heels of French banning ‘le weekend’ and Quebec’s plans for air-traffic controllers to speak the international language of love, Chiense linguists are attempting to encase the language in concrete, ‘safeguarding of the healthy development of the language of the motherland’. Having banned all things ‘queer’ (read foreign or even worse, from Hong Kong) on CCTV, the next target of deviation is ‘OK’, and other useful foreign words.
At a seminar bringing together experts and media workers this week, it was acknowledged that China’s opening up and the consequent increase in interaction with the outside world, together with the popularity of the Internet, have led to this new trend.
The experts agreed that it has become a social issue that is detrimental to the healthy development of the national language, even causing ambiguity in the spoken language.
They divided the use of foreign terms into three categories:
Individual foreign words such as ‘Internet’ and ‘show’;
Abbreviations such as ‘WTO’; and
Combination of Chinese characters and foreign letters. For example, using B together with the Chinese character chao to mean ultrasound.
Social linguistics expert Li Bin told The Straits Times that experts were more worried about the first two categories and less about the third, where words were mostly sinicised.
Chinese language experts, he said, were not against the use of foreign words or abbreviations where it was necessary and appropriate, but were against overuse.
‘Why use a foreign word when there is a Chinese word for it? For example, there is a Chinese term for the abbreviation CEO, which is not understood by the common people,’ he
Which is why the word CEO is used, as well as DVD and K-OK or K-TV, and even email. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say ‘电子邮件’, but saying ‘e-mail’ everyone understands. I think there is less chance of Chinese becoming Disneyfied than there is of it wiping out Cantonese and other dialects on the mainland. In fact along with English, French, and Indonesian it’s one of the few languages of thousands that will be left in another hundred years.