A View On China English Variety English Language Essay

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There are several researches of varieties of world English, one of the famous scholars is Krachu worth mentioning. He put forward the notion of World Englishes in 1970s. And in 1985 he proposed the three concentric circles to view the varieties of English in which the inner circle refers to the conventional culture and linguistic bases of English. It includes the USA, Canada UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand with population about 320- 380 million. The outer or extended circle stands for the institutionalized non-native varieties. It involves the earlier periods of the expansion of English in non-native environments, where English plays a significant `Second Language' function in a multilingual environment and it has become part of a nation's institutions as well. The countries are, India, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Zambia with population about 100-350 million. The expanding circle includes the regions where the performance varieties of the language are used essentially in EFL contexts, as in China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Greece, etc. with about over 750 million (Kachru 1985, 1992). There are about seventy-five countries and territories in which English has remained or kept on remaining a particular position, as a part of either the outer or inner circles (Crystal, 2001: 53).

A historical view of China English

The development of English in China is a process of linguistic and cultural regeneration of English in Chinese culture. Smith (1983) points out that language and culture are closely related to each other, but no language in the world is doomed to integrate itself with only one culture. The nativization of English in China is the process of integration of the English language and Chinese culture.

According to the lecture note, the Europeans have contacted with the Chinese since the 13th century, then British people and Chinese people have experienced nearly four hundred years since the first Englishman, Captain John Weddell, arrived in Macao in 1637. In early 18th the British set up regular trade in Canton, after that in early 19th, trade exchange between India and China was established by the world's biggest company at that time the English East India Corporation. English teaching and learning has also grown up since the English founded their trade. A lot of Christian mission schools as well as Christian universities and colleges were set up in Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai and other port cities during that time. So, the history of English in China is approximately as long as that of American English. Chinese English or China English is not an entirely new phenomenon, and Pidgin had its own origin.

Pidgin English and China English

A Pidgin is a lingua franca that comes up in order to make communication easy among different language speakers in some circumstances such as plantation or trade situations where they suffer in dealings with each other (William, 1992: 224). Actually, Pidgin English in China originated from Pidgin Portuguese when the earliest Westerners who came to China were the Portuguese in the 16th century. Pidgin Portuguese did not disappear until 19th century when the English colonists came to South China to extend trade. With the increase of trade volume of Britain in China, a new Pidgin, Canton English, emerged as the times demanded. Many English words gradually replaced those Portuguese words. Pidgin Portuguese had a great effect on late Canton English, now known technically as Chinese Pidgin English.

The formation of China English

The identifiable characteristics of a nativized English exist in any combination of phonological, lexical, semantic, syntactic or discourse features. The nativization of English in China appears to be most obvious at the phonological level, however, the various accents and dialects of Chinese makes it difficult for us to have a detailed generalization to support. So, here are some features of China English:

1. Lexical level

At the lexical level, Kachru (1982) has pointed out that a part of the lexicon is nativized in two ways. On one hand, native items are used in localized registers and styles in order to contextualize the language. On the other hand, English lexical items may acquire extended or restricted semantic markers. During the process of the nativization of English in China, the former is called "cultural words", the latter, "semantic shift". There is a great difference between Chinese and English culture, many a time we can't find equivalent English expressions to convey peculiar things in Chinese culture. Under this situation, people will employ different translation strategies, such as domesticating and foreignizing translations, literal and free translations, to interpret Chinese words of material and spiritual cultures into English. Domesticating translation mentions to the approach of translation in which a smooth, obvious form is accepted that lessen the oddity of a certain language text for its target language readers. Meanwhile, foreignizing translation indicates the translation method in which a target text intentionally cracks target traditional styles by keeping something foreign to the original. Words and phrases in China English are the main manifestations of the nativization of English in China. They get into English through the following ways.

1.1 Transliteration

Many Pinyin words have directly entered English because of linguistic relativity and intranslatability of the applied language. Transliterated expressions in Pinyin can be considered a most conspicuous feature of China English with the technique of literal translation and the strategies of foreignizing translation. Chinese personal and geographical names and even some other China-unique facts can be romanized in Chinese Pinyin either in completeness (e.g. Wen Jiabao; Shanghai) or in part (e.g. Maotai Liquor).

Actually, transliterated words from Chinese into English originated in the early 19th century. At that time, lots of Chinese personal names and geographical names were translated into English, according to Wade-giles system, the phonetic system called Wade System, "a system of Romanization of Chinese" (http://dictionary.reference.com) widely used in representing Chinese words and names in English, particularly before being adopted as Pinyin. It is also called Wade-Giles with some characteristics of English spelling, but it didn't stick to the principles of English spelling fully. And in the early times there were some transliterations from Guangdong dialects and Southern Fujian dialects, such as tea (cha); chowmei (chao mian ); won ton (huntun) cheongsam (qipao) and so on.

A system using the Latin alphabet, called Pinyin, has been developed in China since 1950s, and it is now in common use. Now let's compare the following different transliterated words according to Jiang Yajun (1995: 15):

In the Wade Giles system In the Pinyin system

Mao Tse Tung Mao Zedong

Peking Beijing

Taipei Taibei

With the fast increasing of publicity and exchange with the outside world, China has been greatly affecting the world in many different fields, like politics, economy, culture, education, science and daily life. In this case, more and more Chinese words expressing peculiar things in Chinese culture have been translated into English through transliteration and have become loanwords of English. They greatly enrich English vocabulary. Let's look at some vocabularies in China English from the lecture notes that are transliterated under specific historical and cultural background:

Confucius (Kong fu zi); Lao-tzu (Lao zi); Yin (Yin) and Yang (Yang); qipao (qipao); doufu (doufu); litchi (lizhi); wushu (wushu); quyi (quyi );kongfu (kong fu), etc.

1.2 Loan translations

When there are no transliterated borrowings, or hybridization, loan translations will be adopted. Many Chinese words and expressions have been translated into English by borrowing English words and phrases directly. There are three forms of loan translations. They are compound words, clipped words, and phrases (Zhou & Feng, 1987: 111-125). The essence of their ideas can be summarized as follows:

Loan translations are the form of compound words, like Canton ginger (Canton is a transliteration, and ginger is a native word); teacup (from Chinese word chabei); teahouse (from Chinese word chaguan), etc. Other examples of this kind of loan translation are the English calque, like beancurd (from Chinese compound word doufu; dou=bean or soy, fu-curd); red bean (from Chinese compound word chidou; chi-red, dou=bean), etc.

Another form of loan translations refers to English phrases translated from Chinese phrases literally. All these English phrases possess the peculiar characteristics of Chinese culture that can't be found in English culture. For example, things originating from the culture of Buddhism, philosophy and Chinese ancient literature: Taoism (Dao jiao); Buddhism (Rusijiao); The Analects (Lunyu); The book of Changes (Yijing) and so on. Loan translations in specific historical and cultural developing periods of China: red guard (Hongweibing); one big pot (daguofan); ideological remoulding (sixianggaizao); paper tiger (zhilaohu); four modernizations (sigexiangdaihua); spiritual civilization (jingshenwenming);material civilization (wuzhiwenming)Three Represents (Sangedaibiao); rule by virtue ( yidezhiguo); etc.

2. Syntactic level

Words are the smallest units of the language. While, sentences are the grammatical units of the highest grade in the language, and they are the basic linguistic units for people to exchange ideas and communicate with each other. At the syntactic level, China English is affected by the way of uses and using Chinese structures (Jia Delin, 1990: 93-7). Let look at some following features:

1. The most significant information is often placed at the beginning of a sentence, then modifiers one after one by English native speakers, therefore a linear series with a small part of head and a big part of trunk is created. Chinese people do it conversely, e.g. other extra information is first introduced, then the main information, for example:

I will follow you wherever you go.

Wherever you go, I will follow you. (CE)

2. The illustration of the cause and result about a thing in Chinese is in the reverse direction to that in English. In general, the result in English is firstly given and then the cause, which is opposite to Chinese word order. The following sentences can better exemplify this case.

The isolation of the rural world is compounded because of the paucity of information media.

Because there are not enough information media, the isolation of the rural world is compounded. (CE)

3. In English, there are many English sentences with pronoun "it" as empty subjects, but this kind of pronoun does not exist in Chinese. Let's compare several pairs of sentences below in order to identify the characteristics of China English more closely:

It is Monday today.

Today is Monday. (CE)

Who is it?

Who are you? (CE)

4. There are some differences existing in the positions of interrogatives, in responding to negative interrogatives.

I don't think you are right doing like that.

I think you are not right doing like that. (CE)

5. Different cultural background knowledge in Chinese and English also leads to different understanding in translation. For example:

Good luck!

Go to work happily, and come back safely! (CE)

From the above examples, we find the main difference between English and Chinese is that English is a language of hypotaxis while Chinese is a language of parataxis. Hypotaxis refers to that the sentences are organized by the grammatical relations. But parataxis means the sentences are structured by the logic relations. Therefore, English sentences are well knitted, and Chinese sentences are terse and lucid.


There is a growing awareness that English has become an international communication tool and a neutral information medium across the world. China English, as an English variety developed in Chinese culture, is sure to carry Chinese norms and behavior. So its variations are reasonable during the practical applications, and there should be no distinction of right and wrong or good and bad. For communication is the purpose of the language. And this will be the trend of China English development.