Is Chinglish Worth Saving?

The People’s Daily, of all places, has an interesting article about Chinglish. OK, the article isn’t really that interesting but the premise is; essentially they’re reporting that contingent of Chinese and foreigners oppose the correction of Chinglish signs on the grounds that Chinglish is more interesting that regular English and is a sort of cultural relic. As evidence of the movement, they cite the existence of a Facebook group with over 8,000 members.

The idea is that this affection for Chinglish isn’t ironic or mocking, but we’re not entirely convinced. For example, from the Facebook group’s front page:

This group is for all of those people who love to giggle at poor grammar, wrong context, and embarrassing spelling of the English language.

On the other hand, there are plenty of comments that make a legitimate argument for the “language”. One girl posted:

I just want to say,inspite of being a true Chinglish fan, I speak and write a bit of Chinese,so I think that if we would tanslate our signs/posts (here in the West) in Chinese everywhere it would be equally hilarious if not even worse considering the complexity of Chinese language/culture

Another boy wrote:

We live in a world of economic crisis, terrorism, famine and disease – dark times for many. If we all took time to smile at ourselves and each other then the chances of people meeting these challenges together rather than at odds with one another would be vastly bettered. Chinglish is an effective form of communication which means that in spite of an often serious and important message one can’t help but smile. It is a lovely, well intentioned and warm-hearted expression. The world should not be robbed of Chinglish.

Interesting, to say the least. The article in People’s Daily also makes some bold claims:

Chinglish has contributed five to twenty percent of newly-added English words since 1994, exceeding any other source.

This one doesn’t seem to be true. It’s difficult to find a complete list of all the words added to dictionaries since 1994, but checking year by year we found that probably more like 1-5% came from Chinese. Most came from the internet. The article also alleges that “the phrase “good good study, day day up” […] has become a famous Chinglish sentence,” which is true in China but not anywhere else (except, perhaps, Chinese language classrooms).

So what do you think? Does Chinglish breed affection or misunderstanding and derision? Is it worth saving, or should the Chinese government get rid of it? Can the government get rid of it?

0 thoughts on “Is Chinglish Worth Saving?”

  1. Completely agree. Every time I see a Chinglish sign it makes my day. Many counties which uses English as a second language use it in their own slightly idiosyncratic way so I don’t see why China need be any different.


  2. A word without Chinglish would be a sadder place indeed.

    At the same time, I would imagine that tourists might run into trouble misinterpreting Chinglish signs. It’s funny if you just notice it and don’t need to know what it really means. It’s not so funny if you can’t find what you’re looking for because its written in such a strange and incorrect way.


  3. The People’s Daily article is confusing two issues. The embarrassments that people are worried about on signage, on menus, and in poorly-edited texts come more from blind application of machine translation and dictionary entries than from actual English as actually spoken or written by anyone who can be considered to have any sort of proficiency in the language. That’s a world apart from stuff like “long time no see.”

    And would it really have been to much to ask the People’s Daily Online editors to actually name Oliver Lutz Radtke (the “young German with the Chinese name Ji Shaorong”) by his full name rather than clipping out an excerpt from a Guardian article and dropping “Radtke” context-free into the middle of the article? Honestly!


  4. The China Daily had done this article at least once before, also with Radtke being quoted.
    As for the subject: Yes, I think an effort should be made to make road signs, at least, more coherent and standard. Other than that, I don’t see why the government should care about restaurant menus.

    Oh sorry. It’s the Chinese government we’re talking about…

    As for actively perserving Chinglish, this energy would better be spent on endangered minority languages such as Pumi or Wa.


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