What is Chinese English?

A sign in both Chinese and Chinglish near the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei province, China

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Speech or writing in English that shows the influence of Chinese language and culture.

The terms Chinese English and China English are often used interchangeably, though some scholars draw distinctions between them.

The related term Chinglish, a blend of the words Chinese and English, tends to be used in a humorous or derogatory fashion to characterize English texts such as road signs and menus that have been translated literally and often imprecisely from the Chinese. Chinglish may also refer to the use of Chinese words in an English conversation or vice versa. Chinglish is sometimes characterized as an interlanguage.

In Global English (2015), Jennifer Jenkins concludes that "there are probably more Chinese speakers of English in the world than speakers of any other kind of English."

Chinese English and China English

  • "With some 250 million Chinese people currently learning to speak English or already fluent, there will soon be more English speakers in China than in the entire British Commonwealth. . . .
    "Since each Chinese ideogram can have many meanings and interpretations, translating Chinese ideas into English is, indeed, extremely difficult. Because of this, Chinese-English hybrid words [such as "No noising" for "Quiet, please," and "slippercrafty" for "treacherously icy road"] are often viewed with amusement by the rest of the English-speaking world. Nevertheless, this abundance of new words and phrases, unlikely as it may seem, is one of the prime drivers of the globalization of the English language."
    (Paul J. J. Payack, A Million Words and Counting: How Global English Is Rewriting the World. Citadel, 2008)
  • "On a theoretical level, China English is distinguished systematically from Chinese English, Chinglish, Pidgin English, etc. China English is understood as a standardizing or standardized variety in use in China, which reflects Chinese cultural norms and concepts. Chinese English refers to varieties of English used by Chinese learners (see Kirkpatrick and Xu 2002). Hu (2004: 27) puts China English at one end of a continuum where lowly Pidgin English or Chinglish is at the other. China English is 'a language which is as good a communicative tool as standard English,' but one which has important Chinese characteristics."
    (Hans-Georg Wolf, Focus on English. Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2008)

Examples of Chinglish

  • Speaking both English and Chinese in one's sentences.
    Example of a sentence in chinglish: "At K-mart, I buy hen duo clothes."
    (A. Peckham, Mo' Urban Dictionary. Andrews McMeel, 2007)
  • "Fortified by an army of 600 volunteers and a politburo of adroit English speakers, the [Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use] has fixed more than 10,000 public signs (farewell 'Teliot' and 'urine district'), rewritten English-language historical placards and helped hundreds of restaurants recast offerings. . . .
    "But while the war on mangled English may be considered a signature achievement of government officials, aficionados of what is known as Chinglish are wringing their hands in despair. . . .
    "Oliver Lutz Radtke, a former German radio reporter who may well be the world’s foremost authority on Chinglish, said he believed that China should embrace the fanciful melding of English and Chinese as the hallmark of a dynamic, living language. As he sees it, Chinglish is an endangered species that deserves preservation."
    (Andrew Jacobs, "Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish." The New York Times, May 2, 2010)
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Nordquist, Richard. "What is Chinese English?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-chinese-english-1689748. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What is Chinese English? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-chinese-english-1689748 Nordquist, Richard. "What is Chinese English?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-chinese-english-1689748 (accessed June 1, 2023).