Foreign words in print media

The article “China bans English words in media” from the BBC reminded me of an issue I have with foreign and translated words in the printed form. China is insisting all words printed by the sate media be in Chinese and that foreign words need an explanation. I think the desire to curb “Chinglish” (misused English) is a good thing. “Chinglish” is really nonsense English. I do not read the Chinese state media, so I do not have an example of the ratio of Chinese words to English words in print. But, it is an opportunity for me to discuss the need to expose people to the original language of transliterated words.

I would prefer that when foreign terms are used in translation, the original term (written in the native language) is presented as well. This comes from my own annoyance of guessing the corresponding Chinese characters when I come across romanized Chinese. When I read Chinese, there are times when English words are phonetically translated into Chinese characters. Then I spend some time sounding out a sequence characters to come up with the English word. The English word is often a proper noun, which can be even more confusing to decipher. I would prefer to have the word written in the transliteration (to preserve the flow of writing) and then the original word in the native language in parenthesis. Personally, it is really interesting to me to be able to see different scripts of the world. I may not be able to read the original language, but I can appreciate the original script and possibly identify the word later.

I think printing in multiple languages is also a good way to promote world literacy. People can be very ignorant of cultures and languages that are not their own. I have heard people say that Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters “all look the same.” Some people cannot distinguish between Spanish, Italian, and French. Perhaps the more foreign words are used, the more people will start to understand international languages and cultures. We are a global society and need to be sensitive and aware of other languages and cultures. I agree that English has become an international language, but perhaps we have become too reliant on one language.

2 thoughts on “Foreign words in print media

  1. Good post.
    I really enjoyed watching the Olympics in China and trying to figure out which athelete they were talking about. For example Michael Phelps is called Fei-er-pu-si, it took a long time to figure that one out.
    Last year the govt. did the same thing with limiting the use of super common phrases like NBA, which I found a little extreme, since almost all Chinese people are familiar with the term.
    I think the govt. might be a little confused about what its goal really is with this ban. After all they require years of English education in primary school – college, but at the same time are afraid of the influences of Western culture. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    • Thank you!
      I think these policies come from the need for the gov’t to maintain the country’s identity. Knowing the English language is essential for China’s place in the global economy (similar to Americans learning Chinese to do business in China) and is therefore required. However, the influx of English in the Chinese language can be seen as ruining the Chinese language and needs to be controlled (similar to the role of l’Académie française to preserve the French language). It does not necessarily make sense, but is somewhat understandable in the context of China’s identity.

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