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Chinese Language Study Aids

English Loan Words in the Chinese Language

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Foreign words and concepts are adopted into the Chinese language in either of two ways. One way is to create a new compound word that actually translate the concept behind the word. For example, a computer is known as a diannao () or electronic brain, while a telephone is dianhua (), or electric voice. Another way is for the foreign word to be transliterated into Chinese. Unfortunately, this approach has a number of drawbacks. One is that since the Chinese characters were not designed to represent sound, the result is usually just a rough approximation of the original sound. Moreover, since the characters may be pronounced very differently under various dialects, what is a close approximation under one dialect may not be under another. Hence, it is not unusual for the same foreign word to have multiple Chinese transliterations based on the dialect. Another disadvantage of transliterated words is that since every Chinese character has a meaning, a transliterated word is nonsensical unless one immediately recognizes that one should read just the sound and ignore the meaning of the underlying characters. This can be very confusing for beginning Chinese readers.

Increasing globalization means that foreign loan words are likely to increase the Chinese language. In Hong Kong, where residents freely insert English words into their Cantonese dialect, they tend to have more transliterated English words than other Chinese speakers.

English Source Chinese Transliteration Alternate Chinese Variant
Baby *
Bar  
Bowling
Brandy  
Buffet *
Bus
Bye Bye
Calorie
Cartoon ,
Cheese
Cherry *
Cocoa *
Coffee  
Chocolate
Curry  
Cyanide *
Disco *
Fashion *
Film *  
Gallon  
Golf  
Guitar *
Hamburger  
Jelly
Mile
Morphine  
Motor
Ounce
Pudding
Salad  
Sandwich
Sardines *
Salmon *
Sauna *
Sofa
Strawberry *
Sundae ,
Taxi ,
Tips * ,
Toast ,
Toffee *
Vitamin
Vodka  
Whisky  
*Cantonese

See also

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