Pick a Darn Language and Stick To It, Okay?

Lately I’ve been extremely annoyed with several Chinese speakers (who are otherwise perfectly nice people, BTW). I’m preparing for the professional exams for my MA program, which require me to interpret in both directions between Chinese and English about pretty much any topic they decide to throw at us. So obviously it is of great interest to me to expand my Chinese vocabulary, and the best way to expand your vocabulary is (no surprise here) to learn new words, right?

The thing is, lately when I have been speaking Chinese about somewhat “deeper” topics (I mean meatier than “so whadja do last weekend?” and stuff like that – more like semiconductors, Taiwan’s economic development, human rights, cellular technology, whatever) I’m getting too much English. I don’t mean they speak English to me – I can deal with that. I mean that whenever the speaker gets to the key word – the word I’m waiting to pick up – it comes out in English amid the otherwise Chinese sentence.

And this is happening even in sentences where there is absolutely no need to use English. I can see people replacing some technical terms with the English term because people tend to read textbooks in English when studying some of these things. But what if you heard:

“Nei ge ‘school’ bu yiyang, bu shi ‘mainstream’ de ‘school’, shi hen tebie de.”

I mean, come on, I’m pretty certain at this point that there are perfectly good, commonly-used Chinese words for “school” and “mainstream” (in fact I use 'em myself all the time, so I’m not sure what this is all about.)

I say we start a movement in Taiwan where we, as native English speakers, drop in some Zhongwen words every ji ge words in our juzi, just to kan kan how the people will fanying.

I know this is called “code-switching” and it’s a normal linguistic phenomenon, but usually code-switching is related to the situation or the subject or the person you’re talking to. This kind of code-switching doesn’t fit any of the linguistic research I’ve ever seen to have people doing it on common topics. And yes, the people involved were perfectly aware that I do in fact speack Chinese and am capable of understanding more than Shita AVC-1 level. And the culprits include a teacher who is supposedly briefing us (3 Chinese students and me) in Chinese on the content of an English speech that we will have to interpret simultaneously into Chinese three minutes later. Grrrrrr.

:smiling_imp: :smiling_imp: :imp:

Doubt they were codeswitching for your benefit. Probably just used to it, especially since they’re all involved in the field of English-Chinese translation and likely codeswitch in their minds. Lots of Taiwanese do it. And I’ve seen lots of westerners here when speaking English toss in a few Mandarin words. Also, it’s so very very common for codeswitching in Chinese-Taiwanese, that it may be part of their nature more than anything else.

I suppose you could write a dissertation on the matter, but it’s essentially a pretty boring topic. :wink:

The point is they were supposedly introducing a topic IN CHINESE for our benefit in translating INTO CHINESE. And at least one of them was a teacher in an instructional setting.

People who are in interpreting and translation do NOT codeswitch all that much, or more than others. In fact, that’s precisely what we have to avoid doing. The whole point of interpreting is to get away from teh source language text. If you keep parts of it, you’re hardly doing your job competently.

And, BTW, codeswitching is only a boring topic if you study something far more scintillating like TEFL… :wink: actually sociolinguistics is quite an interesting field and certainly held my attention more than “how to promote pair work in mixed-ability classrooms.”

My wife does it all the time. Drives me nuts. “Fang zai table na bian” (Put it on the table over there.) Argghhh! I know what table is in Chinese for chrissakes.

Complaining doesn’t help. It’s just a habit for her. She does it a lot with her English-speaking Chinese friends too. I feel awkward when they are doing it out in public - it’s as if they’re showing off their English, but actually they’re not. It’s just a weird thing they do. Habit.

Your situation aside Ironlady, it’s an interesting topic. Me and my wife do it all the time, switching back and forth mid sentence.

I’ve also noticed a lot of Taiwanese throwing in English words when talking to each opther and seemigly it is not to impress. There seem to be a lot fo words that often get substituted. Hard to think of examples, but but my wife always throws in ‘delayed’ when talking to customers. I hear a lot on talk shows.

And yeah, foreigners do it too, even on this forum with certain words like buxiban, xiaojie, laoban etc.

I guess there’s a difference between this situation where a few words are substituted by people who might nto be fluent in the other language, and the switching back and forth between two fluent people.


I hear sentences like “Wo jiu shi yao confirm yi xia nide schedule.” or Wo dui zheige ren meiyou feeling." I think that is natural with some people, but with other people it is just pretentious. I have heard chinese conversations become peppered with English only after the person talking noticed the presence of a foreigner nearby.

My wife and I, however do mix our languages together all the time when we talk to each other. It makes our communication more personal somehow…

If you people find code switching annoying, then you should NEVER visit Hong Kong. It really annoys the hell out of my wife and me. I think it is ok for a Cantonese speaker to use a fairly specialized word from English when they are speaking Cantonese. Unlike Putonghua in both the mainland and Taiwan, there is no authority that decides how to translate foreign words into Cantonese, so there is tons of borrowing. What really annoys me is when I hear people using English words where there is absolutely no need to do so. For example (I’ll write in Hanyu Pinyin):
wo yao fan office.
wo jinri dei zuo kexue project.
Ni mind um mind wo kai chuang?
There are jillions of examples like these. It really gets up my wife’s nose when she hears people litter their speech with unnecessary English. She says that most people start doing it in their school days. Even though many HK schools are supposed to teach in English, the reality is that most lessons are a load of code switching dribble. Some people stop doing it as they get older. My wife says that after she lived in the states for a while, she pretty much stopped code switching all together. After she lived there, she really noticed how obnoxious it was to use unnecessary English. In her opinion, most code switching here is completely unnecessary and that people who do it are pretentious wankers. In my experience, it is usually people whose English is not so good who do it a lot. I sometimes catch her using English phrases like “double confirm,” “check check,” and “schedule.” She usually tells me that she only resorted to using these words because the pric she was talking to pretended not to understand the Cantonese.

I think the code switching that happens between two native speakers of different languages and two people who have the same mother tongue are two different things. In my opinion, most HK or Taiwan people who speak like this with another Chinese person are just being pretentious. In most cases, they are code switching the most simple of words and there is no functional or communicative benefit.

My wife speaks English and Cantonese. Her Putonghua is not so great. I only speak Putonghua and English. Yes, we do code switch. However, it is usually only when there is a good reason for doing it. When I am in HK or Guangdong, I use a lot of Cantonese words when I speak Putonghua because it is just more efficient. Many Cantonese words have fewer syllables than their Putonghua equivalents, so it is much faster to just say it in Cantonese. This is pretty typical across the border. Other than when speaking to my wife or her sisters, I don’t mix languages much. If I get to a word or phrase that I don’t know how to say in Chinese, I’ll either talk my way around it in Chinese or completely switch over to English. I deal with a lot of mainlanders who can do their work in English. In my experience, if I drop just a couple of English words into a long Chinese rant, it just causes confusion for them. It’s better to just switch completely over for a few sentences.

Although I get really annoyed with code switching, I have noticed that every bilingual couple I’ve known speaks their own little language. This is obviously acceptable since my wife and I do it. :smiley:

I lived in HK for a while, and yes, there is a lot of code switching, but it never bothered me. Some of it might be pretentious, but I think it’s more that English is so pervasive in Hong Kong - it’s much more “bilingual” than Taiwan, and words just get mixed around. Especially with that odd “high school English” system. Also, some of it might well be a efficiency thing - ‘office’ has two syllables, ‘sair tze lau’ has three. So I’d say a mix of showing off and efficiency. Not quite as bad as, say, a white guy attempting “ghetto-speak” - now, that drives me nuts :slight_smile:

The mainland chinese teachers on my course here in the UK also do this. It is extremely annoying, and a number of us have complained about it. It seems to start with words or phrases that have no obvious chinese counterpart, like ‘give a presentation’, but very quickly takes over the way they speak to the point that you think that if an English word comes into their mind mid-sentence, they’ll just throw it in for the sake of it.

I’m not sure what’s going on there. Surely they don’t feel the need to take their English for a drive during a Chinese class? They are paid to teach us Chinese after all.

I’ve been thinking of carrying around a bag of those little stars they gave out in kindergarten to award people who manage to insert English words into their conversations at the first sight of a foreigner. Then I’d give a little speech, e.g., “Congratulations, you spoke an English word within earshot of a foreigner, and all the people in this (insert public place here ) are all so impressed, I’d like to give you a little gold star as a token of everyone’s admiration and envy at your glamourous, international style!”

And I friggin’ hate that. That is my No. 1 Pet Peeve in Taiwan. :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: And I love it when they notice you are with a Taiwanese person they freeze and/or immediately stop. Forgot the stars, Poagao, I just watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I sort of wish I had one of those chainsaws handy just in case.

If you work for computer/network related companies, you will find that everyone is doing so and has to do it, because too many new terms are quickly invented and there is no Chinese words for them.

Sometimes it’s shorter and easier to say it in English. For example: TCP/IP, ADSL, WIFI, etc.

Sometimes the audience would appreciate English terms rather than Chinese translation. If you check out some translation of college textbooks, English professional terms are preferable than any awkward Chinese translation.

fascinating topic. i ain’t no linguist, but can’t what we are hearing be termed the growth of a patois/creole/pidgin? language is an evolving thing. isn’t the next step, instead of “english is the global language” honestly to be english bleeding into other languages? i read somewhere that japanese is fully one-quarter borrowings to such an extent that grandmas have problems understanding the speech of kids.

what is the authority in taiwan that determines how a western terms is sinicized?

If it were the growth of a pidgin, it’s the extremely, very early stages, and anyway usually a pidgin grows because there are two populations who speak different languages and so develop a third “interlanguage” using both. An example would be the trader’s pidgin used between English and Chinese when Westerners first came to China.

I still think we should just declare “Foreigner Codeswitching Month” and just keep on using the Zhongwen in the middle of the yingwen juzi. Seriously, though, apart from a set, usually limited number of words that English speakers use Chinese for while speaking English (as mentioned: laoban, xiaojie, and so on), English speakers don’t tend to do this – even the ones that are fully fluent in Chinese and have been here for a dog’s age (you know who you are!! :smiley: )

I think that the English speakers’ occasional use of a limited subset is more because they are “borrowing” a word into English to express a concept that doesn’t exist in English – I mean, “psycho xiaojie” is really a pretty uniquely Taiwanese or Asian concept, right? as is “laoban” – it’s not just a “boss”, it carries other implications. The Chinese who indiscriminately toss in English words, however, are not using words for which there is no exact Chinese equivalent (in many cases). Therefore it seems like it is more likely to be for social reasons – desire to belong to the English-using group, desire to show identity as someone who has studied abroad/member of the educated class --???

Interestingly, on the Mainland interpreting market, you can hardly use a word of English. EVERYTHING has to be translated into Chinese. In Taiwan if you get a nice technical conference, the delegates are likely to prefer their technical terms in English and even tell you so if you go to the trouble of using the (existing and standard) Chinese equivalents.

As for who is policing these things – well, nobody. I have never heard of a Taiwanese equivalent to the French what-do-you-call-it – Academie Francaise?? – that tries unsuccessfully to keep the French from saying things like “le weekend” instead of “fin de semaine”. Or the Academia Real Espanola, which sets a lot of grammar rules that people look up on the Internet to solve drunken arguments about them, but which wields little power otherwise.

The greatest amount of code switching that takes place in Taiwan doesn’t involve English; it’s between Taiwanese and Mandarin. And as for English, after a certain point it’s no longer English but a borrowing and thus part of Mandarin, though it’s interesting to see the various ways people try to write the new words.

As for Ironlady’s complaint, she’s right: Language pros should be more careful. Y.R. Chao used to collect small fines from his collegues every time they fell into code switching.

The code-switching between Mandarin and Taiwanese is certainly rampant; I even catch myself doing it, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the sprinkling of English words for the obvious social status attached to such an action (witness the rise in volume associated with the English words in such cases). With Taiwanese, it may be convenience, ease of use, a greater sense of familiarity, and depends on the person being spoken to. Also, the two are much closer to each other than either is to English.

It’s mainly the reasons for doing it that bother me. If a person deliberately tries to insert Taiwanese words into his or her Mandarin (or vice-versa) to show off, then it’s equally grating as someone sticking English words in their Mandarin or Taiwanese to show off. To me, that’s not true ‘code switching’, it’s just showing off. (and after hearing the horrible quality of most of the pronunciation and usage involved, I wonder exactly what they’re trying to show off, but I suppose it’s the opinion of those Taiwanese in the vicinity that matter more than the foreigner who is supposed to be impressed).

I speak according to my audience. If I’m speaking to a foreigner I’ll stick with English (I even went and looked up “xiaojie” and to my great surprise I found out it meant “girl” in English. I even believe there are such things as “psycho women” outside of Taiwan, and saying “boss” in Taiwan has all the connotations of “laoban” as far as I know), and when I’m speaking with a Taiwanese person I use mostly Mandarin and perhaps some Taiwanese, depending on who I’m talking to. But that may also be because when I shift languages it’s like shifting gears in my head, it’s hard to go back and forth.

Code-switching, so that’s what it is called. Such a benign name.

When I was living in the cloistered ShiDa world in my circle of friends it showed weakness/stupidity/laziness to fall back upon your native language in any conversation at any time. If you were ever forced back into your native language by the direction of the conversation you felt ashamed and embarrased. As a result code-switching was rare and anyone who needed to throw in a non-Chinese word did so reluctantly and apologetically. I had a teacher who in 3 months used a total of one English word and she was reluctant even to say that one (Africa). For us showing how smart you are involved as much Chinese and as little of anything else as possible.

Coming from this environment boy was I in for a shock when I started talking to Taiwanese who seemed to have the EXACT opposite image of code-switching. Apparently it was cool (kEWl?) to use English in Chinese sentences. I was mortified. For them showing off how smart they are meant using as much English as possible.

So even though it pains me to hear “table” half-way through a Chinese sentence I can understand why they do it.

But nonetheless I have some suggestions for how to put a stop to their “KeWl” ways. Warning: do not attempt unless your Chinese is extremely good (mine isn’t good enough yet).

If you ever hear anyone code switch then ask that they translate the entire sentence into English to prove that they really understand the language and are not just faking it.

Start throwing in words of random languages into to the middle of sentences. Mix in some Russian, Arabic and Latin into your otherwise Chinese sentences. Don’t worry about grammar too much and don’t learn too many words. Just one word of each arbitrarily chosen language will do. Use these core words in every possible instance. Show by example how “KeWl” it is.

Aside: I don’t object to the use of bushiban in English sentences, nor to the use of ADSL in Chinese … unless it happens to be in a professionally translated document or in a classroom.


what a nefarious sounding phrase.


I came across this which many of you would be interested in:
To -Er Is to Err: A Case of Code-switching in Standard Mandarin

indiana.edu/~easc/resources/ … ame_3b.htm

From the second article, which reads more like a blog entry than a scholarly paper: “Hearing that -erized word, which is characteristic of Beijing speech, I immediately felt a gulf between us. Our potential friendship instantly ended in perplexity and silence, because there was no way, given my background, that I could achieve friendship with a man who talked in this fashion.”

What a closed-minded woman. I wonder if she has rules for the clothing her friends wear as well.

This is all off-topic, however, since the phenomenon Ironlady is talking about has little to do with bilingualism and code-switching. Rather, it’s about throwing a few English words into a Chinese dialogue.