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.”)