Loanwords in Chinese

Like any other language, the history of Chinese language is not an isolated case. During the ancient time, along with the migration and the commerce with other mid-east countries, a lot of words were already introduced to China, such as 石榴shíliú(pomegranate) and 狮子shīzi(lion). Some words were borrowed from Buddhist scriptures, including 佛fó (Buddha) and 菩萨púsà (bodhisattva)

A rather small number of direct phonetic borrowings have survived as common words, including 沙发shāfā (sofa),马达 mǎdá(engine).The bulk of these words started originally in the Shanghainese dialect during the early 20th century and were later loaned into Mandarin.

Today, it is much more common to use existing Chinese morphemes to form new words in order to represent imported concepts, such as technical expressions, such as 电话diànhuà (“electric speech” for telephone) built out of native Chinese morphemes. Other examples include 电视diànshì (“electric vision” for television), 电脑 diànnǎo ( “electric brain” for computer), and 蓝牙lányá (blue tooth), which use half-phonetic, half-translation combination , word such as 汉堡包hànbǎo bāo(Hamburg bun for hamburger) is also the same case.

Another important source came from a related writing system, kanji, which are Chinese characters used in the Japanese language. The Japanese used kanji to translate many European words in the late 19th century and early 20th century, which we don’t focus in this article.

Below we have put together a list of the loanwords that we borrow from English. Do both really sound similar to you? What do you think?

Science

Chinese word Pronunciation Meaning
来福枪láifúqiāngrifle
镭射léishèlaser
雷达léidáradar
基因jīyīngene
凡士林fánshìlínvaseline
安非他命ānfēitāmìngamphetamine
阿司匹林āsīpílínaspirin
阿莫西林āmòxīlínamoxicillin
盘尼西林pánníxīlínpenicillin
贝塔bèitǎbeta
克拉kèlākaret
克隆kèlóngclone
dozen
dūnton
品脱pǐntuōpint
加仑jiālúngallon
tīngtin
盎司àngsiounce
bàngpound

Culture and history

Chinese wordPronunciation Meaning
安吉尔ānjí’ěrangel
阿波罗ĀbōluóApolo
吧/酒吧bā/jiǔbābar
巴洛克bāluókèbaroque
比基尼bǐjīníbikini
博客bókèblog
比特bǐtèbit
加农炮jiānóngpàocannon
嘉年华jiāniánhuácarnival
卡通kǎtōngcartoon
cool
拷贝kǎobèicopy
沙发shāfāsofa
可丽饼kělìbǐngcrepe
多米诺duōmǐnuòdomino
伊妹儿/电子邮件yīmèier /diànzǐ yóujiàn email
法西斯fǎxīsīfascism
极客jíkègeek
谷歌GǔgēGoogle
吉普赛Jípǔsàigypsy
黑客hēikèhacker
哈里路亚hālìlùyàhallelujah
嬉皮xīpíhippie
夹克jiákèjakect
哈尼hāníhoney
考拉kǎolākoala
蕾丝léisīlace
蕾丝边léisībiānlesbian
逻辑luójilogic
马克笔mǎkèbǐmaker
马杀鸡mǎshājīmassage
麦克风màikèfēngmicrophone
模特mótèmodel
摩登módēngmodern
马赛克mǎsàikèmosaic
蒙太奇méngtàiqímontage
纳粹NàcuìNazi
奥林匹克àolínpǐkèolimpic
扑克pūkèpoker
沙龙shālóngsalon
桑拿sāngnásauna
坦克tǎnkètank
瑜伽yújiāyoga
乐透lètòulottery

Food and drinks

Chinese wordPronunciationMeaning
伏特加fútèjiāvodka
啤酒píjiǔbeer
白兰地báilándìbrandy
威士忌wēishìjìwhisky
三明治sānmíngzhìsandwich
咖喱gālícurry
汉堡包hànbǎobāohambuger
芒果mángguǒmango
太妃糖tàifēitángnoffee
雪茄xuějiācigar
雪莉酒xuělìjiǔsherry
鸡尾酒jīwěijiǔcocktail
吐司tǔsītoast
尼古丁nígǔdīngnicotine
巧克力qiǎokèlìchocolate
布丁bùdīngpudding
色拉sèlāsalad
香槟xiāngbīnchampagne
玛奇朵mǎqíduǒmacchiato
拿铁nátiělatte
卡布其诺kǎbùqínuòcappuccino
牛轧糖niúyàtángnougat
马卡龙mǎkǎlóngmacaron
起司/奶酪qǐsī/nǎilàocheese
可乐kělècoke
批萨pīsàpizza
冰激凌/冰淇bīngjīlín/bīngqílínice-cream
圣代shèngdàisundae
苏打sūdásuda
星巴克Xīngbakèstarbucks
吞拿鱼tūnnáyútuna
沙丁鱼shādīngyúsardine
三文鱼sānwényúsalmon
利口酒
lìkǒujiǔliquor
培根péigēnbacon
布朗尼bùlǎngníbrownie
卡路里kǎlùlǐcalory
可卡因kěkǎyīncocaine
曲奇qǔqícookie
海洛因hǎiluòyīnheroin
热狗règǒuhotdog
肯德基KěndéjīKFC
麦当劳MàidāngláoMcDonald’s

Transportation

Chinese wordPronunciationMeaning
引擎yǐnqíngengine
卡丁车kǎdīngchēkarting
吉普车jípǔchējeep
摩托车mótuōchēmotorbike
的士dīshìtaxi
巴士bāshìbus

Arts and entertainment

Chinese wordPronunciationMeaning
脱口秀tuōkǒuxiùtalkshow
披头士pītóushìBeatles
霹雳舞pīlìwǔbreakdance
踢踏舞tītàwǔtap dance
爵士juéshìjazz
芭蕾bāléiballet
伦巴lūnba rumba
探戈tāngetango
恰恰舞qiàqiàwǔcha-cha
华尔兹huáěrzīwaltz
吉他jítāguitar
萨克斯风sàkèsīfēngsaxophone
贝司bèisibass
布鲁斯bùlǔsīblues
朋克péngkèpunk

Sports

Chinese wordPronunciationMeaning
保龄球bǎolíng qiú bowling
高尔夫球gāoěrfū qiúgolf
马拉松mǎlāsōngmarathon
乒乓球pīngpāng qiúpingpong
蹦极bèngjíbungee jump

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