Different words, different conception: China English and Chinese English

Category: China, Vocabulary
Last Updated: 04 Jul 2021
Essay type: Process
Pages: 8 Views: 76
Table of contents


The background of my writing

In the past 50 years, English has become a global language. It’s widely used in international conferences, multinational companies and the Internet. According to the Cambridge University Press Statistics, there are 1.4 billion people living in the country which used English as its official language. There are also 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion people used English as their mother language.

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The globalization of English is a indisputable truth in the world in nowadays. More and more people studying English from pole to pole. But at the same time, the English in the process of globalization has also brought a wide range of nativization. Although the British English and American English is still the mainstream of global English, people found a number of English with regional characteristics appeared in the world, like Australia English, Singapore English, South Africa English and so on. Many linguist attention about this phenomenon and do the research in this area. In my opinion, this is a kind of culture shock, because there are many countries have their local language, so when English step into their life, there must be a kind of exchange between English and their local language appearance. In China, English also become more and more important in people’s life. For young people, speak English is an indispensable skill. And in all schools in China, no matter middle school or university, English is the most important subject for students. In China, you can hear two different words to describe the English: China English and Chinese English. They aren’t with the same means. What the different between themWhat’s the real conception of China English?

China English is not Chinese English

Chinese English is also a kind of English from China, lots of people called it Chinglish. But it’s not the emphasis that I want to study. Chinese English different from China English. The phrase “Chinese English” is listed in the book International English Usage authored By British scholar Todd and American scholar Hancock (1986) who expounds Chinese English in the aspects of phonology, lexicon and grammar.

Chinese English originated from Chinese Pidgin English. Pidgin is the cultural production of colonization and semi-colonization. It forms during the course of the acquiring European languages by natives and also based on aboriginal languages. Chinese Pidgin English can be divided into four periods:

Birth Stage (1715-1748) : It was started in Guangzhou and Macao
Early Stage (1748-1842): It was in Guangzhou.
Expanding Stage (1842-1890): It was widely use in Hong Kong and other trading ports.
Declining Stage (1890-till now): The normal education of English became popular.

The main places of using Chinese Pidgin English are Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai and trading ports. Such as: Ningbo, Wuhu, Beijing and so on. Chinese business men and servant used it for communication. At the beginning, it was used for service and trading business by lower class. But later, it appears in different situation, including higher class.

The lexical and syntactic features of Chinese English

Chinese English is a deformed language variant. The vocabulary can best interpret the features of Chinese English. As we all know, Chinese learners often collocate words wrongly. They are inclined to express or translate word by word, which will cause wrong expressions. For example, three piece book (three books), chow chow (means eat something) etc.

Besides, the English words like see, watch, read and look at can all be translated into Chinese “?”, and may be used interchangeably. The situation of speak, say, and talk is similar. Phrases like “Can you say Chinese?” “I’m watching a book.” “Tomorrow I will look a movie.” may be produced.

Syntax, as generally defined, is the study of how sentences are properly formed out of words of a language. The different of the thinking mode of Western people and Chinese directly show clearly in sentences formation in two languages. For example,

  • 1: My go topside. He have go bottomside.

I am going upstair. He has gone downstair.

  • 2: Aftertoon my come.

I’ll come in the afternoon.

Speakers of Chinese English didn’t really understand English, but in order to communicate with foreigners, they had to use deformed English, which totally misused the vocabulary and grammar. For example, “change money” ( means odd change), “long time no see” (means I haven’t seen you for a long time). With the deepening of Chinese opening-up and reform, the number of English learners is steadily increasing. However, most of the learners have to “learn” rather than “acquire” the language by means of schooling, radio or TV programs or remedial courses. They are under the influence of Chinese Pidgin English. Lacking enough access to the English language and thinking mode. In consequence, the increasing number of English learners leads to more problems with Chinese English.

Examples can best manifest it. There is funny story between a foreigner and his Chinese servant. The foreigner came home and found the glasses were broken, he asked his Chinese servant how did it break. The servant said in Chinese English:” Inside zhi-zhi-zhi, outside miao-miao-miao, glasses broken.” There is no English grammar and logic in his answer. The servant only use some words to describe how it happened. Another example of the same kind can explain the features of discourse in Chinese English. The boss of a British man asked his Chinese driver to buy tickets of a cinema. The driver came back and said:” People mountain people sea. Today no see, tomorrow see. Same see.”

The appearance of China English

In 1980, the famous Chinese linguist Ge Chuangui put forward the conception of “Chinese English” in his article Ramble the translation. He said:” No matter in old China or new China, Chinese people speak or write English always accompany the Chinese trait. Like “imperial examination (??) ”, “imperial academy (???)”, “ May Fourth Movement (????)” and so on. These words with Chinese regional culture, not belong to the western people, and they also never use them. ” Since then, discussions about it have never stopped. The definition and the standard of China English has always been intensively discussed. A number of scholars have proposed their definitions of China English from their particular perspectives. China English has normative English as its core. Wang Rongpei holds that the definition of China English should cover the following three points:

  • China English is used by Chinese people in Chinese land
  • China English has standard English as its core
  • China English has Chinese features

But another scholar named Li Wenzhong disagrees with Wang Rongpei’s definition of China English. Li Wenzhong (1993) maintains that China English is not only used in native China. He argues that quite a few Chinese borrowings have entered the English languages and become part of it by transliteration and loan translation, eg: tea, kowtow, Great Leap Forward and so on.

Xie Zhijun is against Li Wenzhong’s point of view about China English. Xie holds that both China English and Chinese English have the Chinese influence existing in all the aspects of China English-lexical, syntactical and textual. On the basis of his argument, Xie makes his contribution to China English: China English is an interference English variety used by Chinese people in cross-culture communication; its interference is caused by the Chinese language, the way of Chinese thinking as well as Chinese culture. China English is based on normative English and is capable of entering the English languages.

From the various definitions of China English, I can summarize some of the properties of China English.

First, China English is the English used by the Chinese. “The linguistic and Cultural Identities of China English and the Application in Chinese” refers to the Chinese people as those who have grown up in Chinese social and cultural background to communicate with the English –speaking people.

Second, it’s based on Standard English (it means English used by the Englishmen and Americans), that is , it’s in accord with the grammar of Standard English. Third, it is a transfer variety of English affected by Chinese culture.

The lexical features of China English

The lexical features of China English are mainly shown in the Chinese borrowings entering English. It takes Standard English as its core and the English language enriches itself by absorbing Chinese borrowed words.

First, early in the 1800s, some words with Chinese unique features entered the English language. Quite a lot of words and phrases in China English are directly transliterated from Chinese Putonghua and other dialects especially Cantonese. The examples are classified as follows:

  • About history and culture: like, zhongju (??), yamen (??) etc.
  • About recreation and local sports: like, Erhu (??), Kongfu(??),Taichi (??), Mahjong(??) etc.
  • About food, clothing, shelter and transportation:like, Cheongsam (??),Chowmein (??),Tea(?),Ginseng (??),etc.
  • About local conditions and customs: like, fengshui (??), Kowtow (??)etc.
  • About geographical names Inner Mongolia (???), Lhasa (??), Hong Kong (??)etc.
  • About measurement units: like, Yuan (?),Jiao (?), Mu (?) etc.

Second, after Chinese reform and opening-up, the total number of Chinese borrowings in English increased rapidly. These Chinese Phrases in English are translated by means of word-by-word translation. Below are some examples:

  • About Chinese history and culture: like Four Books and Five Classics (????),paper tiger (???),lefetist (??), Gang of Four (???) etc.
  • About Chinese reform and opening-up program: like, laid-off workers (????), Four modernizations (?????),one China policy (????), reform and opening-up (????),one country, two systems (????) etc.

The characteristics of the China English are unavoidable mainly because of the way of Chinese thinking and its traditional culture. This shows that one’s accomplishment of the language acquisition makes the formation of one’s thinking model. Chinese speakers have acquired their mother tongue and have formed the way of Chinese thinking before they study English. Therefore, the way of Chinese thinking must have a great influence on learning another way of thinking. So the Chinese characteristics inevitably exist in the English expressions created by Chinese people.

On the other hand, social linguists hold that a nation’s culture is unique. Chinese people are according in their element when expressing Chinese culture in Chinese language, but are clumsy at doing it in English language. A foreign language serves the function of a bridge in the import and export of the culture. Foreign cultures, when introduced into China, should be understood by Chinese people. Similarly, Chinese culture, when exported to foreign countries, should be understood by foreigners. Consequently, China English, on the basis of normative English, should bear Chinese characteristics; otherwise, it cannot surmount the difficulties resulting from the expression of the two different cultures.

Finally, China English is evolved from two sources:

Native speakers’ description/accounts of Chinese society and culture
Chinese accounts on ourselves and the world in English. It’s an English variety that is saturated with Chinese culture and some characteristics of Han language. It’s based on Standard English and shares idiomatic useage of world English. It helps to spread Chinese unique culture such as in words, phrases, syntax, cognitive style, figures of speech, literary style and discourse structure.


In conclusion, Chinglish and China English are both related and distinguishable. On one hand, both of them are to put across the unique things in China and thus have Chinese features. On the other hand, with new vocabulary and structure, China English is normative English and it will increase its strength with further publicity to the outside world while Chinglish is improper use of English due to poor knowledge to the English language and culture and shall according hinder the communication with other cultures. In future, Chinglish will probably diminish or even disappear with the deepening of culture communication between China and other countries.

We should avoid the deformed used of English Variety-Chinglish, and maintain the effective way of using China English. China English is exiting objectively. As the rejuvenation of China, the output of Chinese culture is becoming more and more important. China English is not enough to become national variety, it’s the absolutely necessary of the world English acting as the supplementary of standard English. Chinese English is the result of ignoring or misunderstanding of British culture and custom. So Chinese English is not equal to the China English. It can be the interlanguage of learning English, but not the taget language of interculture exchange. These two words just with three letters difference, but they stand for two conceptions, also two kinds of attitude.


  1. Bolton&Kingsley (2002), Chinese English: from Canton jargon to global English, Worm Englishes
  2. Joan Pinkham (2000), The Translator’s Guide to Chinglish, Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing
  3. Barber.C.L (1972), The Story of Language, Pan Books, London
  4. Todd. L.&L.Hancock,1986, International English Usage, New York University Press, New York
  5. Chen Dingan (1998), The translation of English to Chinese, China Translation and Publishing Corporation Press, Beijing
  6. Ge Chuangui (1986), Ramble the translation
  7. Jin Huikang (2004), China English, The foreign language teaching publishing press, Beijing
  8. http://www.51lunwen.com/language/2010/0413/lw201004130850416388.html
  9. http://wuxizazhi.cnki.net/CNKIVIEW/OnlineView1.aspx?filename=DYXT200807031*55-56*TOTAL*2&uid=
  10. http://www.my1510.cn/article.php?id=5756ee55ad74c151
  11. http://baike.baidu.com/view/300085.htm


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Different words, different conception: China English and Chinese English. (2019, Mar 23). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/different-words-different-conception-china-english-and-chinese-english/

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