Adding Spice to Alphabet Soup
transformation ever, thanks mostly to translation mistakes made by some 250
million Chinese second-language speakers, according to the San Diego-based
consultancy Global Language Monitor.
As the first truly global language, Global English's propensity for
absorbing new words has made it the world's lingua franca, with
globalization accelerating its rate of word assimilation.
At the same time,
global influence means most of the new English words coined daily are being
online, English's lexical bank grows richer by the day.
"Long time no see", a word-for-word Chinese-English translation, is now
a standard English phrase, and more Chinglish terms are on their way
according to the experts.
English than native English-speaking countries. That's pretty astonishing,"
said GLM president Paul JJ Payack.
Chinglish words, such as "drinktea" a literal translation of the
Mandarin word for rest found on storefront signs and "airplane pulp" meaning
airline food are being absorbed into Global English's lexicon at a
Payack says about 30 percent of these new words and phrases are
recognizable to native English speakers without explanation. Others, such as
"beware, the slippery are very crafty" caution, slippery when wet are just
GLM has been using a predictive quantities indicator (PQI) to scan the
Web for emergent English words and track their mainstream use over time.
Using the Elizabethan definition of a word as "a thing spoken and
understood", GLM has detected 991,000 words in mainstream Global English.
The number is expected to hit the million mark around April.
It also found that Chinglish had contributed 5 to 20 percent of the
words added to Global English since 1994, more than any other single source.
"We know that in the past four or five years in particular, the rate has
increased dramatically because of the economic boom," Payack said.
He believes the rate of absorption will explode in 2008. "The
Olympics are going to be particularly exciting, because that's going to be
the ultimate cross-pollination and will make the cycle spin more quickly."
The Beijing Municipal Tourism Bureau is now working to stamp out mottled
English in the capital. There is a sign reading "
calling for a "scattering" instead of an evacuation.
Perhaps the most offensive are the "deformed man toilet" signs posted
above some of the city's handicap-accessible restrooms.
Payack points out that translating between the two languages is
difficult, because each Chinese ideogram has several possible translations.
"You're going to come up with translations that don't make sense on
either side because of the pragmatism of English and the subtly of Chinese,"
While many mistranslations boil down to unintelligible alphabet soup,
others add spice to the flavor of Global English.
"Interesting things start to happen when second-language speakers begin
to inhabit a language," Payack said.
"You could have people translating Shakespeare in ways it's never been
translated before and writing English novels with turns of phrase that never
It even opens the door for possible changes in cognition.
"Language colors the way you think. Thinking in Chinese is completely
different," Payack said.
He offers the meaning of his own surname "spider" as an example. While
the English word denotes an eight-legged arachnid, its Chinglish equivalent
means "clever bug".
"Clever bug means so much more than spider. It tells you something else;
it looks at what it's doing," Payack said.
Before 1994, Global English's absorption of Chinglish was limited to a
handful of words, Payack said.
That year saw the launch of the first user-friendly Web browser Mosaic
and the takeoff of
"A lot of this is driven by the youth because they take up new
technology before anybody else does," Payack said.
In the 1960s, linguists incorrectly believed English was on its way out
as the world's dominant tongue. At the time, there were about 250 million
English speakers, mostly from the
their former colonies.
Today, the same number of Chinese possess some command of the language,
and that number could double within seven years to a generation, Payack
The question then becomes, 'Where does English go from here?'
One possibility is the plethora of localized "lishes", such as
Chinglish, Hinglish (a Hindi-English hybrid) and Spanglish (an
English-Spanish hybrid). Eventually, these lishes could branch so far from
standard English that they become mutually unintelligible tongues sharing a
common root, much as Latin did in Medieval Europe.
Another possibility is that an internationally standardized form of
English will facilitate global communication in ways yet unseen.
"It's difficult to predict," said Payack, who believes that if the
lishes splinter, Chinglish will likely become the most prominent offshoot by
virtue of sheer numbers.
interesting here," Payack said, "is that
we're talking about the
possibility of the Chinese becoming the owners of the English language."