Choose your codepage:
Self-adopted words in Chinese language
When in 1987 I came to Guangzhou for the first time, my attention was attracted by the local taxis. They looked almost the same as fellow cars of Northern China, except for one detail: the roof lights were marked with 的士 dishi instead of familiar 出租 chuzu.
Having considered that Chinamen had transcribed the English word taxi in such a way, I calmed down and almost forgot about this fact. But, as it later turned out, despite of guessing relatively right, I had not seen the significant process of contemporary Chinese language standing behind the fact.
Chinamen try to use in their speech the words whose meanings are clear enough from the contained morphemes. For instance, the same 出租汽车 chuzuqiche and its shortened spoken variant 出租车 chuzuchewhich was in use in '80s. But 的士 dishi is dropping out of this scheme.
If it was the single fact, it could be easily ignored. But there were appearing new ones, like 巴士 bashi alongside with understandable 大客车 dakeche. Both words mean bus.
There obviously must be another tendency. In fact, this tendency really exists. Chinese linguists took it into account.
This is the process of infiltrating the lexics of local dialects into Putonghua (普通话), or Mandarin the official variant of Chinese language. In the case of 的士 dishi and 巴士 bashi the English words came to Mandarin not directly but via Cantonese.
Unfortunately, our Chinese courses pay very little attention to dialects; because of it, the majority of Russian sinologists have very schematic opinions about them: different phonetics and common graphics, lexics and grammar. Virtually nobody has the detailed knowledge. But the devil hides in the details.
In fact, there are words in a dialect that are unfamiliar to the people speaking another dialect. This is most characteristic for Cantonese, especially in its Hongkong variant, and for Taiwanese variants of Northern and Southern Fukienese. The grammar in dialects differ, and graphics as well. Concerning graphics, those are no distinctions between traditional and simplified characters. In Hong Kong and Macau they use some hundreds of hieroglyphs not presented in the continental or Taiwanese codepage.
Moreover, even putonghua spoken in Singapore and Taiwanese guoyu (國語) are significantly unlike the continental standard.
The adoptions from dialects are not only English words. The English adoptions properly are the specialization of Hongkong Cantonese. Taiwanese vocabulary have more adoptions from Japanese, taking into account the half of century of Japanese occupation (from the Sino-Japanese war to the end of WWII). Adding to it, the dialects have a lot of unique local words.
Making the analogy to 外来借用语 wailaijieyongyu (foreign-adopted words), I dare to call them 内来借用语 neilaijieyongyu (inner-adopted words), or 自借语 zijieyu (self-adoptions).
The intensive exchanges between the PRC and the outer world have lead to the use of the words from Hong Kong and Taiwan in the speech of continental Chinamen. First among the advanced youth, as the slang, then in the speech of masses, and finally in the newspapers and on TV.
At first glance this question seems purely academic, but it has a social background. As Li Bin, my old friend from Harbin, said: The words are taken where the money are. The intentions to share the way of life of little but rich Chinas reflect in the manner of speech: 的士 dishi is not a tiny 夏利 xiali (Daihatsu Charade made in Tianjin) but the respectable Toyota Crown; 巴士 bashi is not a riveted in any county no-name iron box on the chassis of 东风 dongfeng truck but luxury Mercedes-Benz or Neoplan coach.
Below are some samples of dialect-adopted words with probable foreign origins and translations. The source areas: 港 Hong Kong, 台 Taiwan.
The source of samples: 港台用语与普通话新词手册, 2000, Shanghai, 上海辞书出版社
© Dmitry Alemasov
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