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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: May 11, 2010 NO 19 MAY 13, 2010
Will Banning Foreign Abbreviations Help?
Many opponents to the ban say it is difficult to deliberately exclude foreign abbreviations from Chinese people's daily life


From early April, China's national broadcaster CCTV banned the use of borrowed English abbreviations such as NBA, GDP, WTO and CPI in all its programs. The move was launched in line with a government directive after several national legislators and political advisors called for the preservation of the Chinese language's purity.

However, many opponents to the ban say it is difficult to deliberately exclude foreign abbreviations from Chinese people's daily life. They believe these words have already become part of the Chinese language and to accept them reflects the Chinese language's strong tolerance. A partial or blanket ban on foreign abbreviations would limit the source of new words and the vitality of the Chinese language and, at the same time, would also have an effect on the expression of ideas.

Li Yuming, a senior official with the State Language Commission, which is an agency to formulate standards for the Chinese language and is responsible for their implementation, holds a cautious attitude to the use of words made up of foreign letters. He said he hopes to satisfy people's desire to be able to express themselves, and also that the abbreviations and acronyms could be soon made into actual Chinese words.

Ma Qingzhu, a professor at Tianjin-based Nankai University, said there was a need for the moderate use of English abbreviations but now too many of these words were being used.


Qin Ning (Beijing Times): If the media shy away from foreign abbreviations, in my opinion, there are two major reasons—preserving the purity of the Chinese language and exempting their audiences from strange foreign expressions.

Neither of these two reasons is persuasive. If they want to do so in order to protect the Chinese language, then it implies a lack of confidence. Today, cultural communication around the world frequently makes use of foreign abbreviations. Language is a flowing river. As long as people can accept them, we do not need to ban foreign abbreviations.

Nan Qiao (Oriental Morning Post): Languages' integration is a very complicated process and it's irrational to impose a simple ban on certain words.

If foreign words are forbidden, the IT industry is likely to take the hardest blows. Technology is moving forward every passing day and new words emerge one after another. Most languages, like German, use English words directly. This makes international communication easier.

The ban on foreign abbreviations has gone too far. How to use imported abbreviations is the media's business, which does not need administrative interference. It's better for media organizations to decide their own preferences. For example, The New York Times has its own stylebook, detailing how to use abbreviations and so on. It's better for linguists and scholars in media, publishing and translation sectors to push forward the process, instead of the government's rigid ban.

If government departments are strong-minded about defending Chinese from foreign languages' incursion, they will win. Nonetheless, is this fight worthwhile? Countries may enter wars because of interest conflicts, but languages should not be set up against each other.

He Renyong (www.tianjinwe.com): Modern life is going on at a fast pace and the media have to impart information in limited formats and time. As a result, popular foreign abbreviations such as NBA, CPI, GDP and WTO are used frequently. Although these words are made up of only three letters, they are able to deliver meaning that several Chinese characters are unable to. I think, this is the main reason TV broadcasters either in China or abroad prefer such abbreviations.

For a foreign abbreviation to survive and spread, it must first be accepted by media organizations and their audiences. If not, it will only be used in limited areas. Whether these abbreviations should stay or go does not depend on our will, but operates in accordance with the rules of communication.

Linghu Buchong (Nanfang Weekend): A language is great, not because of its purity, but because of its tolerance to other languages. Chinese is so rich and beautiful because it constantly absorbs words, abbreviations and phrases from other languages. In ancient times, imported words were thoroughly changed into Chinese but today foreign words coexist with Chinese. Either way, we find it acceptable.

It's totally unnecessary to fear about the disappearance of Chinese if we allow English to mix with Chinese.

Languages need to be standardized, but unlike characters, standardization should not be carried out through administrative orders.

Wei Yaochuan (Global Times): To some extent, the ability to absorb foreign words implies a language's vitality. Some ideas are difficult to express explicitly in Chinese, while foreign words fully display the linguistic and cultural features of these ideas, making talk and communication easier.

Then, does preventing incursions of foreign words surely preserve our own language and culture? Probably not. English is now a global language. It is a strong means of English-speaking countries to spread their culture. Even English, the language itself, has become a lucrative business. Behind all of this, is this language's strong tolerance. English seems never to refuse imported words, from French to Latin, Chinese and Japanese. These foreign words, instead of affecting English's independent development, are helping this language to spread more widely.

The impact of borrowed words on our mother tongue is not simply positive nor negative. It is a matter of how convenient the language is and how popular it will become. Many Chinese are learning English and, actually, good command of English will make it easier for us to spread Chinese culture and boost our communication with the rest of the world. In the conflicts of languages and cultures, the primary task is to take advantage of the parts that are useful to us.

China is stepping up efforts to encourage foreigners to learn Chinese, and more Chinese words will enter other languages. Nearly 1,000 words that come directly from the Chinese language have been collected into authoritative English dictionaries. If we build up barriers on our side, it's obviously harmful to mutual communication.

Like anything else, "the fittest survive" also applies to languages and they manage to survive and develop thanks to man's efforts and their functions.

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