Chapter 2:Chinese Syllable, meaning, and word (3)


Chinese Grammar  Updated: Sat, Oct 20, 2012 23:33 PM   By HugChina


This section presents the strategies that Chinese incorporates foreign words and naming foreign objects.

5. Incorporating foreign words and naming foreign objects

Chinese has not borrowed freely from other languages. However, when it incorporates foreign words into the language, it typically uses the following strategies:

• Adapting the foreign pronunciation to conform to the syllable structure of Chinese.


罗斯福 Luósīfú Roosevelt

加缪 Jiāmóu Camus

丘吉尔 Qiūjíěr Churchill

拿破仑 Nápòlún Napoleon

莎士比亚 Shāshìbǐyà Shakespeare


比萨 bǐsà pizza

汉堡包 hànbǎobāo hamburger

• Forming new words based on meaning or function.

When new items enter China, they often lose their foreign pronunciation and get new Chinese names that reflect their meaning or function. Here are some examples:

电视 diànshì television (electric vision)
电脑 diànnǎo computer (electric brain)
电传 diànchuán fax (electric transmission)
手机 shǒujī cell phone/mobile phone (hand machine)
热狗 règǒu (lit.) hot dog
卫星 wèixīng satellite (protection star)

• Forming new words based on meaning while preserving the foreign pronunciation.

万维网 wàn  wéi  wǎng the world wide web (a net of10,000 connections)
可乐 kělè cola (it can make you happy)
拖拉机 tuōlājī tractor (drag pull machine)
摩托车 mótuōchē motorcycle (a vehicle you touch and support with your hands)
信用卡 xìnyòng  kǎ credit card (trust card)
吉普车 jípǔchē jeep (lucky widely used vehicle)

Foreign companies often follow this principle when translating the names of their companies and their products into Chinese.

可口可乐 Kěkǒukělè Coca Cola [soft drink] (pleasant to drink and it can make you happy)
福特 Fútè Ford [automobiles] (happiness – exceptional)
汰渍 Tàizì Tide [laundry detergent] (eliminate stains and sludge)

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