Loanwords in Chinese—the Chinese Words Borrowed From English

In the process of the formation of a language, it is rarely all formed by an individual language, and there are often cross-lingual word exchanges, that is, one language borrowed words from another language. The purpose of borrowing foreign words is to enrich the language, especially the lexical system of the language. When two or more cultures come into contact with each other, their native languages inevitably influence each other. Language contact is a very common social phenomenon, and one of the inevitable results of language contact is the emergence of loanwords. A loanword is a word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification. It is a common phenomenon that one language borrows and absorbs the vocabulary of another language. There are loanwords in all languages.

Chinese loanwords have a long history, the earliest can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties. Chinese has borrowed words from a wide range of sources, including Japanese, Russian, French, English, Greek, German, Korean, and Indian Sanskrit. With English becoming the most widely spoken language in the world and the emergence of electronic and information technology loanwords, English has now become the main source of loanwords in Chinese. Today let’s take a look at some common Chinese loanwords from English.

Different types of loanwords

According to word formation methods, Chinese loanwords can be divided into several categories, the most often seen types are words directly transliterated from the English; words transliterated from English and modified with Chinese meanings; words modified entirely modified with Chinese meanings and letter loanwords.

1. Words directly transliterated from English pronunciations, which the characters only imitate the foreign word in sound but make no sense.

Because the phonetic system of Chinese is different from that of other languages, it is impossible to convert into Chinese with exact the same pronunciations, it only can only take its approximation.

Cool: 酷 kù / Café/Coffee: 咖啡 kā fēi / Toast: 吐司 tǔ sī / Bus: 巴士 bā shì

Clone: 克隆 kè lóng / Omega: 欧米茄 ōu mǐ jiā / Golf: 高尔夫 gāo ěr fū

Marathon: 马拉松 mǎ lā sōng / Salad: 沙拉 shā lā / Chocolate: 巧克力 qiǎo kè lì

Brandy: 白兰地 bái lán dì / Salon: 沙龙 shā lóng / Pudding: 布丁bù dīng

Whisky: 威士忌 wēi shì jì / Pizza: 披萨 pī sà / Tank:坦克 tǎn kè

Radar:雷达 léi dá / Poker:扑克 pū kè / Copy:拷贝 kǎo bèi

Hormone:荷尔蒙 hé ěr méng / Guitar:吉他 jí tā / Gene:基因 jī yīn

Cartoon:卡通 kǎ tōng / Calories:卡路里 kǎ lù lǐ / Mosaic:马赛克 mǎ sài kè

Bikini:比基尼 bǐ jī ní / Olympic:奥林匹克 ào lín pǐ kè / Logic: 逻辑 luó jí

DINK: 丁克 dīng kè / Punkers:朋客 péng kè / Fans:粉丝 fěn sī / Boeing: 波音 bō yīn

2. Words transliterated from English and add on the category types or adjectives

Bowling: 保龄球 bǎo líng qiú / Sauna: 桑拿浴 sāng ná yù

Pub/bar: 酒吧 jiǔ bā / Hamburger: 汉堡包 hàn bǎo bāo

Rally: 拉力赛 lā lì sài / Nike: 耐克鞋 nài kè xié

Bus: 大巴 dà bā / Mini-bus: 小巴 xiǎo bā

Salmon: 三文鱼 sān wén yú / Soda water: 苏打水 sū dá shuǐ

Bowling: 保龄球 bǎo líng qiú / Ballet: 芭蕾舞 bā lěi wǔ / motor bike: 摩托车 mó tuō chē

3. Words transliterated from English and modified with Chinese meanings

Chinese as an ideographic character is easy to lead people’s imaginations. Therefore, transliteration often selects homophonic words or phrases that associate with artistic conceptions. It both sounds like and conveys the meaning of the original word.

Benz: 奔驰 bēn chí / Blog: 博客 bó kè

Coca-Cola: 可口可乐 kě kǒu kě lè / Talk show: 脱口秀 tuō kǒu xiù

Broad way: 百老汇 bǎi lǎo huì / Club: 俱乐部 jù lè bù

Biscuit: 饼干 bǐng gān / Ice cream: 冰淇淋 bīng qí lín

Starbucks: 星巴克 xīng bā kè / Internet: 因特网 yīn tè wǎng

Beer: 啤酒 pí jiǔ / Cheese: 芝士 zhī shì

Sandwich: 三明治 sān míng zhì / Apple pie: 苹果派 píng guǒ pài

Shampoo: 香波 xiāng bō / Sprite: 雪碧 xuě bì

Pepsi: 百事可乐 bǎi shì kě lè / Google: 谷歌 gǔ gē / Carnival: 嘉年华 jiā nián huá

4. Words converted into Chinese meanings by individual characters

Hot dog: 热狗 rè gǒu / Generation gap: 代沟 dài gōu

Dark horse: 黑马 hēi mǎ / Green card: 绿卡 lǜ kǎ

Blue collar: 蓝领 lán lǐng / White collar:白领 bái lǐng

Hot spot: 热点 rè diǎn / Software: 软件 ruǎn jiàn

Fast food: 快餐 kuài cān / Self-service: 自助餐 zì zhù cān

Green food: 绿色食物 lǜ sè shí wù / Chain store: 超市连锁店 chāo shì lián suǒ diàn

Multimedia: 多媒体 duō méi tǐ / E-mail:电子邮件 diàn zǐ yóu jiàn

5. Pure alphabetic words: word consisting only of letters

CT / TV / NBA

UFO / GPS / DJ / CEO

6. Alphabetic words formed by the combination of Chinese and letters

X-ray: X光 X guāng / T-shirt: T恤衫 T xù shān / The IP address: IP地址 IP dì zhǐ

SIM card: SIM卡 SIM kǎ / SOS Village: SOS村 SOS cūn / Vitamin A: 维生素A  wéi shēng sù A

Vitamin C : 维生素C  wéi shēng sù C / Karaoke: 卡拉OK kǎ lā OK

ATM: ATM机 ATM jī / The POS: POS机 POS jī

After reading through some loanwords, people may find it more confusing since the words sound quite awkward in Chinese. However, for most of the English native speakers or speak fluent English, it would be easy to learn Chinese vocabularies when coming across words that sound like or similar to English. The words that we listed above only consisted small proportion of the Chinese loanwords, we are sure that as your Chinese continues to improve, you will find more interesting loanwords along the way.