English Loan Words from Chinese


We tend to think of languages as static, but in fact they are changing all the time and borrowing words from one another. There are many reasons one language might adopt a word from another. Here we will look at some of those reasons and give examples of Chinese words that have been adopted into the English language for each one.



One reason a language might borrow a word from another is that a culture may not have a word for a new food introduced by that other culture. For example, English speakers didn’t have a word for Chinese style fried noodles, so they called this dish chow mein, which comes from Cantonese and also sounds similar to fried noodles in Mandarin. There are many other food-related examples of English words that come from Chinese, including dim sum (廣式點心), lychee (荔枝), oolong (烏龍), tofu (豆腐), and wonton (雲吞).
借字的一個原因是在地文化中並沒有另一個文化所引進的新食物。舉例來說,中式炒麵當初沒有英文字,因此以英語人士就叫這道菜chow mein,這是廣東話,聽起來像普通話的炒麵。還有其他許多與食物相關的英文字也來自於中文,包括dim sum (廣式點心), lychee (荔枝), oolong (烏龍), tofu (豆腐), and wonton (雲吞)。

As you know, foods aren’t the only thing introduced by other cultures. Cultures can also introduce activities or abstract concepts. A good example of a Mandarin word that all English speakers are now familiar with is chi (氣), which means energy, as well as the popular activity tai chi (太極). Other English words from Chinese related to concepts or activities include yin yang (陰陽), feng shui (風水), mahjong (麻將), and kung fu (功夫).

如你所知,食物並不是唯一被引進到其他文化的物件。各國文化間也會引進活動或抽象的概念。有一個好例子是這個所有的現代英語人士都很孰悉的中國字,那就是chi(氣)意為能量,以及受人歡迎的活動tai chi(太極)。英文中與概念或活動相關的字包括yin yang (陰陽), feng shui (風水), mahjong (麻將), and kung fu (功夫),也都是從中文借來的。


In some cases, languages don’t import a new word or expression directly, but rather a literal translation of it simply because they find it to be an interesting or useful thing to say. For example, the Chinese expression 洗腦 literally means “wash brain” in English, so English speakers created a new English word, brainwash, which means to force somebody to change their beliefs.

在一些例子中,語言不會直接輸入一個新字詞表達用語,而是直接照字面翻譯過來,因為他們覺得那比較有趣、或比較有用。舉例來說,中文字「洗腦」在英文的字面意思就叫“wash brain”,因此英語人士創造一個新的英文字brainwash,意為強迫某人改變他們的信念。

Vocabulary 好字精選

1. static (adj) not changing or moving  靜態的,靜止的,停滯的
Science has shown us that nothing in the world is totally static.

2. Cantonese (n) the language of Canton (Guangdong) and Hong Kong   廣東話
Cantonese is the main language of Hong Kong.

3. Mandarin (adj) the standard dialect of Chinese  普通話
Mandarin is an official language in Taiwan, China, and Singapore.     

4. abstract (adj) related to ideas, not objects or physical things  抽象的
Philosophy is the study of abstract ideas. 

5. concept (n) an abstract idea  概念,觀念,思想
Several new psychological concepts were introduced during the lecture.        

6. literal (adj) taking words in their actual meaning  照字面上的,原義的
In the literal sense of the word, ‘awesome’ describes something that inspires awe, but many people just use the word to mean ‘cool.’

7.translation (n) a written or spoken version of something from another language 翻譯,譯本;轉化,轉變
Do you have the English translation of this book?

Phrases and Sentence Patterns 句型解析

1. one another (phr) like ‘each other’, but among more than two people/things  彼此(用於總數為三或三以上)
The students walked around and introduced themselves to one another.
** each other 意同於one another,但用於總數為二。

2. as you know (phr) to introduce something the speaker already (probably) knows  如你所知
As you know, Amy is not the easiest person to get along with.

Exercise 課後練習題

1. The market has remained ______________ for years; it really hasn’t changed much.
2. Simone can’t speak ____________, but luckily she can communicate with people in Hong Kong using English.
3. _______________ is the world’s most widely spoken language.
4. ______________ art is a kind of art that conveys ideas, not everyday images.
5. The ______________ of marriage goes back thousands of years.
6. The movie title doesn’t sound good in Chinese because it’s just a ______________ translation of the English title.
7. This _______________ software can scan any words or characters and tell you what they mean in your own language.
8. The kids were reminded not to get in fights with _____________.
9. _____________, the report is due on Monday, so I don’t understand why you haven’t started it yet.

1. static
2. Cantonese
3. Mandarin
4. Abstract
5. concept
6. literal
7. translation
8. one another
9. As you know

Comprehension Questions 閱讀理解

1. What would be another expression that means the same as ‘loan word’ as used in the title of the article?
a. Static word.
b. Literal word.
c. Original word.
d. Borrowed word.

2. Which of the following is an abstract concept?
a. kung fu
b. water
c. fried noodles
d. freedom

1. 以下選項何者意同於文章中使用的字詞「loan word」?
a. 靜止不動的文字
b. 照字面解釋的文字
c. 原有的文字
d. 借來的文字

2. 以下選項何者是抽象的概念?
a. 功夫
b. 水
c. 炒麵
d. 自由



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