WHY SO FEW CHINESE LOANS?

R.L.G. at The Economist‘s “Johnson” blog has a post on an interesting subject that hadn’t occurred to me:

On Twitter, a friend asked “Twenty years from now, how many Chinese words will be common parlance in English?” I replied that we’ve already had 35 years since Deng Xiaoping began opening China’s economy, resulting in its stratospheric rise—but almost no recent Chinese borrowings in English.
Many purported experts are willing to explain China to curious (and anxious) westerners. And yet I can’t think of even one Chinese word or phrase that has become “common parlance in English” recently.

He mentions guanxi, “the personal connections and relationships critical to getting things done in China,” as “the only word that comes close,” but I agree with him that it doesn’t come very close at all. He tosses out the idea that “perhaps China’s rise is simply too new, and we just need another 20 years or so,” and that’s certainly a possibility; it’s hard to argue with his conclusion: “Whether future Chinese borrowings will be new edibles, cultural items or even philosophical terms will depend on China’s development and how the West responds.” At any rate, something to think about. (The “Featured comment” by tacitus secundus points out that “The disinclination to borrow is reciprocal: By comparison with the many thousands of English words found in Japanese, Chinese has relatively few English loan-words.”)

Comments

  1. Are there some in the US from the Chinese railroad laborers? No doubt mangled, but surely a few?

  2. Treesong says:

    He said ‘recent Chinese borrowings’, so, e.g., even ‘kung pao’ (1976) wouldn’t qualify. What about calques like ‘pot sticker’ (1975)? Obviously these owe more to US dietary preferences than to Chinese openness, anyway.

  3. Curious amateur says:

    Was there a similar disinclination for borrowing between Russian and English during the Cold War? Just wondering if maybe a sense of national competitiveness has something to do with this.

  4. I suspect that the reason lies in phonological and morphological (or morphophonological), literary, and cultural factors.
    First, the fact that Chinese to most English speakers sounds like the low-class joke about ‘Who Flung Dung’. There are not only phonemes that people find hard to differentiate (‘zh’ and ‘j’, ‘ch’ and ‘q’, etc.), there are a whole heap of monosyllables that sound similar in a bewildering way to a non-speaker.
    Secondly, much of what makes Chinese make sense lies in the writing system. Only when you have the written word do all those monosyllables start to fall into a pattern. The Japanese, having borrowed the writing system, are more likely to borrow Chinese lexical material because they can make sense of it (although I’m actually doubtful that the Japanese have borrowed that much, either).
    Thirdly, I’m not sure what China has to offer the world that is of interest to people outside the Chinese cultural experience. Borrowing of words must come through cultural contact and an interest in the target culture. Only when people start borrowing Chinese things (including abstract things) will they start to borrow words for the related concepts. China is still in many ways a closed shop to outsiders. How many Westerners can freely navigate the Chinese Internet ecosystem, and how much are they going to find there that appeals to them?

  5. Some food words like ‘siu mai’, ‘cha siu bao’ and ‘har gau’ seem to have been adopted more recently. On packages of frozen dim sum these terms are now the dominant label, with perhaps some explanation beneath in smaller type. But I don’t remember seeing that 15 years ago.

  6. Treesong:
    The OED’s first citation for pot stickers is to the 1963 revised edition of How To Cook And Eat In Chinese by Buwei Yang Chao 楊步偉, who was the wife of the great linguist Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任. It reads “Pot Stickers, a favourite Northern food, are simply Chiao-tzu grilled on a griller. The skins and the stuffing are made in the same way.” However, the first edition of the book was published in 1945, and I suspect (though I can’t find the text) that contains pot stickers too; several places on the Web say so.
    Wikipedia says that Y. R. Chao was responsible not only for pot sticker but also for stir fry, though the OED’s first citation for the latter is Calvin Bow Tong Lee’s Chinese Cooking for American Kitchens (1959): “Add all ingredients except egg roll skin and beaten egg. Stir-fry for 3 minutes.” The title of Yang’s book also suggests her husband was making a “low philological jest” (Tolkien); we do not normally speak of “cooking and eating in English”, for example.
    For what it’s worth, the first reference to the relevant sense of potstickers in Google Books is to a Datamation article, of all places, published in 1968: “One specialty [of American Chinese restaurants in San Francisco] is an oriental delicacy known as chiao tzu, but if you call them by their common name of pot-stickers you’ll be just as happy.” So the term was already common, or thought to be so, in 1968. (It is also, apparently, an Australian occupational term connected with wool scouring, and a term for chunks of slag that stick to the pot in which iron is being smelted.)

  7. dearieme says:
  8. I see references to “feng shui” in my casual perusal of news (“http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/world/asia/feng-shui-grows-in-china-as-officials-seek-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). It no longer jumps out to me as odd, although I doubt I could pronouce it properly.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    I had just independently thought of “feng shui” and google n gram viewer confirms that it started to get into wider circulation starting circa the emergence of Deng at the end of the ’70′s but didn’t really spike up until the ’90′s. I have heard AmEng speakers use “feng shui” in extended/metaphorical senses, which is a good sign as far as domestication.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    English discourse about Chinese political/social affairs has of course added new idioms that may be calqued from Mandarin, e.g. “little emperor” and “bare branch(es),” to describe certain consequences of the “one-child policy.”
    It seems like a non-trivial number of Americans of my generational cohort and social class have spent a few years along the way for career reasons living/working not so much in the PRC but in Hong Kong or Singapore. You would think that there would be various loanwords prevalent among Anglophone expat communities in those cities, and that some of those could be brought back to the U.S., but I’m not sure I can point to an actual example

  11. dearieme says:

    “feng shui” always reminds me of a term I heard in a Midlothian mining village to dismiss undergraduates who were too full of themselves: fung stewnce.
    It still makes me laugh.

  12. The large rounded-bottom pan called a wok has been known to me by that name since 1959, the year a pair of them were installed in my father’s restaurant. The word must have by then been current in the hospitality trades. According to Google Ngram, wok was almost unknown at the time but just a few years later its usage leaped.

  13. “Are there some in the US from the Chinese railroad laborers? No doubt mangled, but surely a few?”
    That’s probably how “chow” came into the language. Maybe “Long time no see.”
    But then there are loans like “kowtow”, “goon”, “typhoon” and “tycoon” that date from the British presence in China.
    “Pidgin” isn’t a loan from Chinese, but it is a Chinese pronunciation of “business”.
    “Gungho” is the only one I can think of that dates frorm the American presence in China.
    There is a truckload of tea terms, most of which are of Fujian origin. The word “tea” is one of them.
    Translation loans are perhapes more common – paper tiger, speak bitterness (white feminists hilariously appropriated this one), losing face etc. Of course there terms that apply to Chinese culture like mooncakes, lion dance, Mid-Autumn festival and dragon boat, but those are probably regional to the West Coast.

  14. Etienne says:

    It seems to me that it would be premature to expect Chinese to have a significant impact on English, assuming it ever does of course. China’s economic rise is spectacular, but is also very recent. Because of this the number of native speakers of English who have acquired a solid command of Chinese remains statistically insignificant. And, considering the growing number of English L2 speakers in China, I suspect it will remain insignificant in the near future.
    In fact, I would venture to guess that if any national language is being influenced by Chinese today it would be the national language of some East Asian country where a sufficiently prestigious group of people have an active command of Mandarin Chinese. Can anyone out there confirm or deny this?

  15. Have you all seen Mark Rosenfelder’s English words from Chinese? It’s a pretty good list. Not focused on recent borrowings, though.

  16. The OED’s first citation for wok is from 1952 with the spelling wock, and with zero plural, as in Chinese:
    D[oreen] Y[en] H[ung] Feng, Joy of Chinese Cooking i. 37 “A well-stocked Chinese kitchen usually has … several convex-bottomed circular pans hammered out of thin iron or copper called wock.”

  17. ‘goon’ and ‘typhoon’ don’t seem to be Chinese, even if they sound like they could be. ‘daifeng’ maybe, but also Greek Typhon.
    That list page left out ‘mandarin’.
    ‘Secondly, much of what makes Chinese make sense lies in the writing system. Only when you have the written word do all those monosyllables start to fall into a pattern.’
    This suggests non-literate Chinese can’t make sense of their spoken language. I find that absurd.
    But phonology might be a factor, especially when we remember *tones*. Chinese looks like a bunch of rhyming monosyllables to us partly because we’re conditioned to ignore much of the information, collapsing 4 or 5 different words into a single ‘ma’. Conversely English probably uses a lot of sounds not in Chinese… though that’s true of Japanese too, and they just hack the sounds to fit.
    ‘The Japanese, having borrowed the writing system, are more likely to borrow Chinese lexical material because they can make sense of it (although I’m actually doubtful that the Japanese have borrowed that much, either).’
    The Japanese borrowed tons. Just about every kanji has a Japanese ‘reading’ and a Chinese one, and often multiple such readings perhaps from borrowing from China at multiple time. E.g. the character for water can be read as mizu, the Japanese word for water, or as sui in compounds, using the Chinese word for water (sans tone).
    Huh, I just realized. To learn Japanese writing you need to learn like three vocabularies: the Japanese one, the visual one of the characters, and then a mangled Chinese one (with tone collapse). They basically imported the whole Chinese vocabulary with the writing system.

  18. ‘Mandarin’ comes from Portuguese, not Chinese.

  19. Etienne – I don’t think your point about the L2 speakers is really relevant, though. A ready command of the language isn’t necessary, although basic familiarity helps. I wasn’t around then, but it seems like Russian political phrases (e.g. glasnost and perestroika, which my spell-check recognizes) were readily taken over during the cold war. And you can’t forget to count Chinese immigrants and their children, who do make up a significant percent of the population on the West Coast. There are plenty of Yidishisms in everyday use, but a much smaller and more tightly confined percent of the population ever spoke Yiddish.

  20. Borrowing at a distance (not face-to-face) is generally through writing (as in the case of glasnost, perestroika, etc.), and that is one likely reason there are relatively few Chinese loans into spoken English. Nowadays, the largest body of written Chinese loanwords among English speakers is on their bodies in the form of tattoos, which can be borrowed directly as written forms (although many are via Japanese).
    The Hawaiian language during the 19th-century was subject to considerable (oral) Chinese influence at a time when immigrant plantation workers and shopkeepers were mostly males speaking Cantonese or Hokkien Chinese, many of whom married Hawaiian women. Many family names that we now think of as Hawaiian came from the terms people used to address those Chinese males and their family members: Ahana, Ahina, Akana, Ako, Apaka, Apo, Awana.
    Other early loans from Chinese into Hawaiian include Konohī ‘Chinese New Year’ (from Cantonese kong hee ‘congratulations’), mikilana/misilana ‘Chinese rice flower’ (from something like mei-sui-lan?), and one of the most durable words meaning ‘Chinese’, Pākē (from pake ye ‘uncle, father’s elder brother’). The last was recorded in official documents from as early as 1854, and occurs in such compounds as ma’i Pākē ‘leprosy’ (‘Chinese disease’) and mai’a Pākē ‘Chinese banana’ (a variety introduced from Tahiti in 1855). These examples are from the 1986 Pukui and Elbert Hawaiian Dictionary.

  21. Another widely borrowed Chinese food item is lychee Litchi chinensis (Cantonese lai = Mandarin li).

  22. This suggests non-literate Chinese can’t make sense of their spoken language. I find that absurd.
    We’re talking about modern borrowings from modern Mandarin as a prestige language, not the old borrowings that everyone is talking about here, which are from contact between people through trade or emigration, and many of which are not from Mandarin.
    If Chinese in modern times is going to have an impact on Western languages, it would have to be as a prestige language, not a trade language. French has had a large influence on many languages, not because French speakers went out and rubbed shoulders with the rest of the world, but because French was learnt as a prestige language.
    if any national language is being influenced by Chinese today it would be the national language of some East Asian country where a sufficiently prestigious group of people have an active command of Mandarin Chinese.

  23. Sometimes these sensitive trackpads have results that are not the desired ones. Preceding comment sent out without editing — indeed, before I had even decided whether to send it or not. Please feel free to ignore.

  24. Mongolian also has a very large number of loanwords from Chinese. The only examples I can think of at the moment are tsonkh ‘window’ from chuānghù, guanz ‘eatery’ from guǎnzi, and baitsaa ‘cabbage’ from báicài, but there are many more. These are obviously through direct contact with native speakers and not through ‘book language’.

  25. Of course there terms that apply to Chinese culture like mooncakes, lion dance, Mid-Autumn festival and dragon boat, but those are probably regional to the West Coast.
    I’ve heard (and use) all of them. I think you would have to say that they are used and known only by people who’ve had contact with these aspects of Chinese culture, which is not necessarily confined to the West Coast of the United States.

  26. I wonder if there wouldn’t be rather more English loans from modern Mandarin if pinyin romanization of Mandarin (like feng shui) had entirely displaced the venerable Sinographs.

  27. There is fenqing, but I don’t know how many English speakers know that one.

  28. I wonder if there wouldn’t be rather more English loans from modern Mandarin if pinyin romanization of Mandarin (like feng shui) had entirely displaced the venerable Sinographs.
    That is the point I was trying to make.

  29. Bathrobe, why would Mandarin need to be a prestige language? The earlier borrowings are, as you say, from direct contact between people, but no form of Chinese enjoyed prestige status at the times those borrowings occurred. No Polynesian language has had a prestige status at any time from European contact, yet tattoo (Samoan tatou) and taboo (tabu, tapu common across Polynesia) are known throughout the Anglophone world, and there are many more used in NZ and presumably other Polynesian Englishes. India seems to have been a rather rich source of English vocabulary, but I’d be surprised if any of the Indian languages enjoyed any prestige during the Raj. So why does Mandarin need to acquire prestige status now?

  30. Oh, and I found R.L.G’s comment on French rather weak – somehow the Norman conquest didn’t happen and French was never the language of the English court?

  31. marie-lucie says:

    CW, I don’t think that’s what the commenter meant, but the spread of French as a prestige second language in several countries (eg 18C Prussia, 19C Russia, etc). The reason French was the language of the English court for a couple of centuries was that the royalty and nobility consisted mostly of native French speakers in the period after the conquest, not that an English-speaking royal court had decided to use French instead of English.

  32. Etienne says:

    Chris Waugh, Marie-Lucie: actually, the Norman conquest had much less of a direct linguistic impact after 1066 than people think. A majority of English loanwords from French derive from Central (Parisian) French, not from Norman French. Indeed, William the Conqueror had found that French was widely spoken in English courts before his conquest of England.
    s/o: I will grant that some words of Chinese origin may enter English as a result of the assimilation of Chinese speakers, but the discussion involved why, in the light of China’s meteoric economic growth, so few Chinese loanwords have made their way into English. And in this context I cannot see how large-scale borrowing of Chinese words can take place unless a majority or an influential minority of native English speakers acquires a good command of the language, something I cannot see happening soon.

  33. mollymooly says:

    I think calques like “splittism” and “running dog” are in an uncanny valley that emphasises, perhaps intentionally, the otherness of China.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, from what I understand, the original Normans would not have been enough by themselves to maintain the French language for very long, but they were soon joined by many other French people eager to take advantage of the new opportunities in England, hence the creation of a French upper crust (not just nobility) and the influx of Central/Parisian French words into English. As for a French presence already in English courts before the conquest, I have never heard of that. Can you cite references?

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    Google n gram shows a quite significant spike up in English usage of “laogai” since the mid/late ’80′s, although it’s still way behind the quasi-synonym “gulag.”
    India is a rather populous country of increasing economic significance, and pundits sometimes like to write speculative thumbsucking pieces about the likely relative growth in importance of India v. China over the next half-century. Does English (in non-Hinglish varieties) have any measurable recent influx of loanwords from any of the languages of India? Or is it still the old Raj-era stratum of punch/khaki/juggernaut? Of course, for reasons I do not entirely understand Mandarin currently has a bit of cultural prestige in the U.S. (in terms of trendy/social-climbing school districts saying “hey, let’s teach the white kids a little Mandarin to prepare them for the future”), whereas there is apparently no comparable vogue for Hindi (or Punjabi or Bengali or Tamil or anything).

  36. dearieme says:

    “As for a French presence already in English courts”: I hadn’t known that – do you mean court of law, or Royal courts?
    It is, however, famous/notorious that Edward the Confessor surrounded himself with Norman (or French?) courtiers.

  37. dearieme says:

    Oh dear, WKPD explains that what I said above has become unfashionable.
    “Modern historians reject the traditional view that Edward mainly employed Norman favourites, but he did have foreigners in his household, including a few Normans, who became unpopular.”

  38. Bathrobe, why would Mandarin need to be a prestige language?
    Other people have also touched on this, but I was responding to the point of the post: “I replied that we’ve already had 35 years since Deng Xiaoping began opening China’s economy, resulting in its stratospheric rise—but almost no recent Chinese borrowings in English.”
    If Chinese in this context is to make an impact on English, it would either have to be as a prestige or widely known language, presumably a result of its stratospheric rise, or the large number of Chinese studying and working overseas post-reform and opening up would have to have made a significant impact on the language of foreign countries. (Perhaps a third one is the spread of Chinese-language movies, etc. overseas.) If there is any other conduit of influence, it wouldn’t seem to have an obvious connection with the question.
    Хужаа khujaa is indeed a loanword from Chinese. It appears to be from 华侨/華僑 huáqiáo, a term for Chinese living abroad. (In Japanese kakyō refers simply to Overseas Chinese, but in modern Mandarin huáqiáo means Chinese citizens living abroad.) In Mongolia it’s a discriminatory term against the Chinese.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, dearieme. There seems to be a long leap from “a few Normans” at court (who presumably spoke French among themselves) to “French was widely spoken in English courts”, a phrase that can suggest it was the main language there. Of course, if Guillaume was visiting English courts, any Normans living there would have encountered him and perhaps served as guides and interpreters for him.
    One reason for the presence of foreigners at court was a custom that prevailed for centuries, of exchanging young princes and nobles between courts, so they would learn the local languages and customs and later be able to serve as mediators, but also as de facto hostages guaranteeing peace between the courts in question. Foreign princesses who became wives of the royal males also brought along at least their own female servants and sometimes a whole retinue, as did Catherine de Médicis with her large entourage of Italians. Courts therefore could be much more cosmopolitan than cities.

  40. befuggled says:

    Of course there terms that apply to Chinese culture like mooncakes, lion dance, Mid-Autumn festival and dragon boat, but those are probably regional to the West Coast.
    These are all well understood in Toronto, which has a large Chinese population.

  41. After two years in Hong Kong, I can confirm there really aren’t many Chinese loan words in regular use in HK expat English. One that hasn’t been mentiomned yet, I think, is “lai see” – the name in Cantonese for the traditional “red envelope” money given as gifts/gratuities at Chinese New Year (known as “hong bao” in Mandarin, I believe). Another derived from the food term, but restricted to the financial world, is “dim sum bond” – a bond denominated in Chinese yuan and issued in Hong Kong.

  42. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: I *think* it was in William Elcock’s THE ROMANCE LANGUAGES that reference was made to the fact that William, on a visit to England before 1066, found that French was widely sopken at the English court. And (to repeat myself) the very fact that a majority of the French loanwords in English today do not derive from Norman but from Central (Parisian) French does seem to show that the Norman conquest was not the sole, and perhaps not even the chief, reason why French loanwords made thie way into English.

  43. I recently wondered whether 餐厅 Cāntīng is the origin of “canteen” in the sense of a military dining hall. If that were the case, it would probably have been picked up during some British military operation in China, like the Opium Wars. AHD says it comes from French though.

  44. Oh, I thought comments were closed.
    marie-lucie, that’s what I was getting at re: the Norman conquest. I should’ve made it clearer.
    Bathrobe, thanks, I see what you mean.
    Zythophile, my impression from a few trips there over the years is that Hong Kong remains a very segregated, colonial-style society and HK expats don’t tend to have much time for Chinese things. Several HK expats have expressed surprise to see my reading Chinese, whereas Beijing expats tend to be impressed, but not surprised, just as one example. Chinese words aren’t going to make their way into HK expat English if HK expats have no interest in Chinese language or culture.

  45. petemck says:

    Perhaps Singaporean English is a signpost to the future?

  46. >maidhc
    Actually the French “cantine” and Spanish “cantina” came from Italian “cantina”.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    Normans, etc: Perhaps there were French speakers in England before the conquest, including at the court, for a variety of reasons (including trade across the Channel), but the Norman conquest installing French speakers at the top of society must have had an influence on the arrival of many more of them in England. Indeed, the conquerors may have encouraged an influx of such people (including skilled and educated ones) in order to provide support for the new regime. For instance, the vocabulary of law would hardly had adopted so many French words if English law had remained what it was before the conquest. Guillaume’s invading army was relatively small, and most of the Normans who had remained at home in Normandy were quite happy living on their lands in that rich and fertile province. More people were needed to administer and transform the new country, and those French people willing to emigrate to England and bring their skills would encounter more opportunities than they had at home.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    canteen ‘military dining hall’
    In French, la cantine is a dining hall or cafeteria which could be in a school, a factory, a hospital, a military site, etc where a large group of people need to be fed on site every day: (What do you do for lunch?) – Je mange à la cantine. It is usually not very fancy in terms of appearance, amenities and food, but it is usually low-cost or even free for the people entitled to use it.
    The word (from Italian cantina) has gone through a number of meanings in French, starting in the military world where it still means also ‘metal trunk where a soldier carries or stores his personal possessions’.
    I was surprised when I learned the English canteen ‘unbreakable water bottle carried by soldiers, hikers, etc.’, in French la gourde. But la cantine seems to have meant originally a case for transporting bottles, so canteen is closer to the original meaning.

  49. “a dining hall or cafeteria which could be in a school, a factory, a hospital, a military site, etc” is the meaning I associate with the word “canteen” in English. A canteen sounds less sophisticated and more ‘industrial’ than a cafeteria, which is a more friendly, upmarket sort of canteen, the kind of place you can take guests. Unlike a dining hall (which refers to a hall with tables where you eat), a canteen strongly suggests a counter for collecting food.

  50. >Marie-lucie
    The Spanish word for “gourde” is “cantimplora”. However, it seems to have a curious etymology: it comes from Catalan “canta i plora” ( [it] sings and cries), a metaphor.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: I mentioned cafeteria because I think some of the cantines must be a cut above the old ones, more similar to cafeterias, as conditions improve generally.
    Jesús: There is the word une chantepleure in French, which is a kind of faucet or valve, especially on barrels. The common meaning with cantimplora has to do with water or other liquid flowing in a controlled manner from this object.
    I looked up cantimplora which exists in Spanish, Catalan, Occitan and Italian (all on the same WP page) and it seems that the word arose from a reinterpretation of a Latin phrase, with metathesis (interchange of sounds) in order to make it sound meaningful.
    In French there are at least two types of gourde, the modern one in metal or plastic, not round in diameter but somewhat flattened (though not as much as a flask), the other one, a much older type, made of leather, with a spout that lets out only a thin flow of water or wine. I think this type originated in the Pyrenees, or at least survived there.
    For those of you who are not acquainted with the area: wine drinkers who are experts in the technique start with the spout in their mouths but when the flow starts they move the gourde away from them with their hands, keeping it at some distance from their mouths, almost above their heads, letting the wine flow across the distance into their open mouths, reversing those steps when they have enough. In French this technique is called boire à la régalade, the last word being probably from Occitan or Catalan. Nonexperts should practice it with water first!

  52. >Marie-lucie
    A kind of “cantimploras” was used to cool water. I refer to objects cited in “Don Quixote” (II, 45): “meneo dulce de las cantimploras” (sweet stimulator of the water-coolers).
    Your “gourde” made of leather through an interesting process is our “bota”. We also have “botijos” made of fired clay. Both “botijo” (with water) and “bota” are used with the technique called “beber a gollete”, from French “goulet”.
    As a curiosity, there are some differential equations to explain how the “botijo” cools.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Muchas gracias Jess! I wonder if some of your “water-coolers” are similar to the alcarazas used in Southern France, at least before the advent of refrigerators (that word has to be Spanish, from Arabic). It is a very graceful pot with a long thin spout, made of an unglazed white clay, and (I was told) the lack of glaze causes some of the water to evaporate through minute holes in the clay, with a cooling effect. I have not heard of it being used to drink à la régalade, but with a different shape than the one I know I suppose it could be done.

  54. I stand corrected on ‘mandarin’ (though the Portuguese seem to have gotten it from Sanskrit via Malay; wikipedia)
    We got a bunch of words from Japanese when it wasn’t high prestige in terms of geopolitics; Japanese was/is ‘cool’, though, as is the culture. Anime fans often try to learn Japanese. I don’t hear of Hong Kong action flick fans trying to learn Chinese. Why?
    But in general, cultural coolness and exposure seems likely to be more relevant than geopolitical dominance.
    ‘Of course, for reasons I do not entirely understand Mandarin currently has a bit of cultural prestige in the U.S. (in terms of trendy/social-climbing school districts saying “hey, let’s teach the white kids a little Mandarin to prepare them for the future”), whereas there is apparently no comparable vogue for Hindi (or Punjabi or Bengali or Tamil or anything).’
    There’s tons of articles about how the 21st century will be the Chinese century. There’s far fewer mentioning India. And to be fair, China has a fairly higher GDP/capita.
    I’ve seen it noted that despite being cheek by jowl for 800 years or more, English picked up maybe a dozen words, mostly geographical, from Welsh.

  55. @ marie-lucie
    The Norman conquest so completely wiped out the existing Anglo-Saxon nobility at all levels that today there is only one family in England which can prove an unbroken pre-conquest lineage (the Berkeley family, which still lives in Berkeley castle in Gloucestershire). Those who weren’t killed were dispossesed and disappeared into history. Certainly many of their children, especially the more attractive daughters, would have been quickly assimilated into the new regime, but there can be little doubt that the language of Court changed, almost overnight, from Anglo-Saxon English to Norman French.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Alex: there can be little doubt that the language of Court changed, almost overnight, from Anglo-Saxon English to Norman French.
    I don’t doubt it at all. Etienne was the one who said (if I understand him rightly) that a) French was already spoken earlier at courts and b) most French influence on English at the time was “Parisian” rather than Norman, so the conquest had little influence on the fortunes of the French language in England and its influence on English at the time. My own understanding is that a) any French speakers in pre-conquest England could have been there for a variety of reasons, without having much influence, and b) most “Parisian” speakers among the immigrants must have followed, rather than preceded, the conquest which brought Norman French speakers, in numbers which cannot have been sufficient to transform the linguistic situation in the country.

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