Thorsten Pattberg, a research fellow of Peking University has written an interesting article about the lack of Chinese words in Western languages. China has contributed many concepts and ideas to the world yet when these are exported to western countries, the original Chinese word for the idea or concept is often changed by translation. Pattberg argues that this distorts reality as translating the idea into ones own language erases China’s involvement in its creation thereby making it seem as if the concept did not originate in China. Pattberg does state that some concepts have retained their original names.

Although some Chinese concepts like yin and yang or kung fu have been adopted by Western writers; there still seems to be no policy on behalf of Chinese that actively promotes the use of Chinese terms abroad, certainly not in the sciences.

France for instance has a very proactive policy for policing the French language at home as well as promoting it abroad. French language schools are oversubscribed in London with more opening soon to meet demand. Perhaps China does need to invest more money in ensuring Chinese concepts stay Chinese. Pattberg explains that many other Eastern cultures do not seem to have the same problem as China.

The Islamic world with its ayatollahs and imams, its bazaars and kebabs; and the Hindu world with its dharma and karma, its yoga and avatars and so on, are far ahead of the Chinese world when it comes to enriching English as the international language.

There are however moments in the article where I believe Pattberg is misguided in wishing Chinese words stayed Chinese.

I am often perplexed by the readiness of many Chinese colleagues who give away literally all Chinese originality to foreign translators: What is this, a qilin? Well, let’s call it a unicorn shall we? And what is that, a long? Well, let’s just call it a dragon then! The xiongmao only breeds in China, yet for people in the West it’s a panda.

Dragons for instance are not unique to Chinese or even East Asian culture. There is a long history of dragons in European folklore. I grew up in Wales. The Welsh flag features a red dragon, one of the most important symbols of Welsh culture. Why should Welsh people call dragons ‘long’ when they call them ‘draig’ and have done for centuries. Similarly every language coins it’s own words for other counties animals. Every language even coins it’s own word for other languages. Languages need to create their own words, but Pattberg does raise the interesting point that Chinese does feature minimally in the English language. With China’s rising economy and therefore rising power on the global stage, will Chinese become a more prominent contributor to the English language?

via: China Daily