Chinglish is slang for spoken or written English language that is influenced by the Chinese language. In Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong and Guangxi, the term "Chinglish" refers mainly to Cantonese-influenced English. This term is commonly applied to ungrammatical or nonsensical English in Chinese contexts, and may have pejorative or deprecating connotations. Other terms used to describe the phenomenon include "Chinese English", "China English", and "Sinicized English". The degree to which a Chinese variety of English exists or can be considered legitimate is disputed.
Chinglish can be compared with other interlanguage varieties of English, such as Britalian (from Italian), Czenglish (from Czech), Denglisch (German), Dunglish (Dutch), Franglais (French), Greeklish (Greek), Manglish (Malaysia), Runglish (Russian), Spanglish (Spanish), Swenglish (Swedish), Hunglish (Hungarian), Hebglish (Hebrew), Engrish (Japanese), Hinglish (Hindi), Konglish (Korean), Taglish (Tagalog), Bislish (Visayan), Singlish (in Singapore), Ponglish (Polish) and Tinglish (Thai).
Chinglish, n. and a. colloq. (freq. depreciative). Brit. /ˈtʃɪŋglɪʃ/, U.S. /ˈtʃɪŋ(g)lɪʃ/. Forms: 19– Chinglish, 19– Chenglish [rare]. [Blend of Chinese n. and English n. Compare earlier Japlish n., Spanglish n. Compare also Hinglish n.2, Singlish n.2]
A. n. A mixture of Chinese and English; esp. a variety of English used by speakers of Chinese or in a bilingual Chinese and English context, typically incorporating some Chinese vocabulary or constructions, or English terms specific to a Chinese context. Also: the vocabulary of, or an individual word from, such a variety. Cf. Singlish n.2
B adj. Of or relating to Chinglish; expressed in Chinglish.
This dictionary cites the earliest recorded usage of Chinglish (noted as a jocular term) in 1957 and of Chinese English in 1857. However, Chinglish has been found to date from as early as 1936, making it one of the earliest portmanteau words for a hybrid variety of English. Other colloquial portmanteau words for Chinese English include: Chenglish (recorded from 1979), Chinlish (1996), Chinenglish (1997), Changlish (2000) and Chinelish (2006).
Chinglish contrasts with some related terms. Chinese Pidgin English was a lingua franca that originated in the 17th century. Zhonglish, a term for Chinese influenced by English, is a portmanteau of Zhōngwén (中文; 'Chinese language') and "English".
Some peculiar Chinese English cannot be labeled Chinglish because it is grammatically correct, and Victor Mair calls this emerging dialect "Xinhua English or New China News English", based on the Xinhua News Agency. Take for instance, this headline: "China lodges solemn representation over Japan's permission for Rebiya Kadeer's visit". This unusual English phrase literally translates the original Chinese tíchū yánzhèng jiāoshè (提出嚴正交涉; 'lodge solemn representation'), combining tíchū "put forward; raise; pose bring up", yánzhèng "serious; stern; unyielding; solemn", and jiāoshè "mutual relations; negotiation; representation". "Pure Chinese" is an odd English locution in a Web advertisement: "孔子學院/ CONFUCIUS INSTITUTE/ Teach you pure Chinese." This Kǒngzǐ Xuéyuàn (孔子學院) is Chinese for the Confucius Institute, but Mair notes that "pure Chinese" curiously implies "impure Chinese".
One author divides Chinglish into "instrumental" and "ornamental" categories. "Instrumental Chinglish is actually intended to convey information to English speakers. Ornamental Chinglish is born of the fact that English is the lingua franca of coolness. Meaning aside, any combination of roman letters elevates a commodity – khaki pants, toilet paper, potato chips – to a higher plane of chic by suggesting that the product is geared toward an international audience."
English first arrived in China in 1637, when British traders reached Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou (Canton). In the 17th century, Chinese Pidgin English originated as a lingua franca for trade between British people and mostly Cantonese-speaking Chinese people. This proto-Chinglish term "pidgin" originated as a Chinese mispronunciation of the English word "business". Following the First and Second Opium War between 1839–1842, Pidgin English spread north to Shanghai and other treaty ports. Pidgin usage began to decline in the late 19th century when Chinese and missionary schools began teaching Standard English. In 1982, the People's Republic of China made English the main foreign language in education. Current estimates for the number of English learners in China range from 300 to 500 million.
Chinglish may have influenced some English expressions that are "calques" or "loan translations" from Chinese Pidgin English, for instance, "lose face" derives from diūliǎn 丟脸; 'lose face; be humiliated' Some sources claim "long time no see" is a Chinglish calque from hǎojiǔbújiàn 好久不见; 'long time no see'. More reliable references note this jocular American English phrase "used as a greeting after prolonged separation" was first recorded in 1900 for a Native American's speech, and thus more likely derives from American Indian Pidgin English.
Soon after Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics in 2001, the Beijing Tourism Bureau established a tipster hotline for Chinglish errors on signs, such as emergency exits at the Beijing Capital International Airport reading "No entry on peacetime". In 2007, the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program (BSFLP) reported they had, "worked out 4,624 pieces of standard English translations to substitute the Chinglish ones on signs around the city", for instance, "Be careful, road slippery" instead of "To take notice of safe: The slippery are very crafty." BSFLP chairperson Chen Lin said, "We want everything to be correct. Grammar, words, culture, everything. Beijing will have thousands of visitors coming. We don't want anyone laughing at us." Reporting from Beijing, Ben Macintyre lamented the loss of signs like "Show Mercy to the Slender Grass" because, "many of the best examples of Chinglish are delightful, reflecting the inventiveness that results when two such different languages collide". The Global Language Monitor doubted that Beijing's attempt to eradicate Chinglish could succeed, noting that "attempting to map a precise ideogram to any particular word in the million-word English lexicon is a nearly impossible task", and pointing out that the Games' official website contained the phrase "we share the charm and joy of the Olympic Games" (using "charm" as a transitive verb).
In Shanghai, for Expo 2010, a similar effort was made to replace Chinglish signage. A The New York Times article by Andrew Jacobs reported on accomplishments by the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use. "Fortified by an army of 600 volunteers and a politburo of adroit English speakers, the commission has fixed more than 10,000 public signs (farewell "Teliot" and "urine district"), rewritten English-language historical placards and helped hundreds of restaurants recast offerings." James Fallows attributed many Shanghai Chinglish errors to "rote reliance on dictionaries or translation software", citing a bilingual sign reading "餐厅 Translate server error" (cāntīng 餐厅 means "dining room; restaurant"). While conceding that "there's something undeniably Colonel Blimp-ish in making fun of the locals for their flawed command of your own mother tongue", Fallows observed a Shanghai museum with "Three Georges Exhibit" banners advertising a Three Gorges Dam exhibit, and wrote, "it truly is bizarre that so many organizations in China are willing to chisel English translations into stone, paint them on signs, print them on business cards, and expose them permanently to the world without making any effort to check whether they are right." On a Chinese airplane, Fallows was given a wet wipe labeled "Wet turban needless wash", translating miǎn xǐ shī jīn (免洗湿巾; 'wash-free moist towel'). Shanghai's Luwan District published a controversial "Bilingual Instruction of Luwan District for Expo" phrasebook with English terms and Chinese characters approximating pronunciation: "Good morning! (古得猫宁)" [pronounced gǔ dé māo níng] (which could be literally translated as "ancient cat tranquility") and "I'm sorry (爱么搔瑞)" [ài me saō ruì] (which is nonsensical).
Chinglish is pervasive in present-day China "on public notices in parks and at tourist sites, on shop names and in their slogans, in product advertisements and on packages, in hotel names and literature, in restaurant names and on menus, at airports, railway stations and in taxis, on street and highway signs – even in official tourist literature."
The Global Language Monitor predicts Chinglish will thrive, and estimates that roughly 20 percent of new English words derive from Chinglish, for instance, shanzhai (山寨; 'mountain stronghold; mountain village') meaning "counterfeit consumer goods; things done in parody" — Huang Youyi, president of the China Internet Information Center, predicts that linguistic purism could be damaged by popular Chinese words of English origin (such as OK and LOL). "If we do not pay attention and we do not take measures to stop Chinese mingling with English, Chinese will no longer be a pure language in a couple of years."
Specifying Chinglish to mean "Chinese words literally translated into English", an experiment in linguistic clarity conducted by Han and Ginsberg (2001) found that mathematical terms are more readily understandable in Chinglish than English. English words for mathematics typically have Greek and Latin roots, while corresponding Chinese words are usually translations of neologisms from Western languages; thus quadrilateral (from Latin quadri- "four" and latus "sided") is generally less informative than Chinese sìbiānxíng 四边形; 'four-side-shape'). For example, compare the semantic clarity of English axiom, Chinese gōnglǐ 公理, and Chinglish (literal translation) "universal-principle"; median, zhōngshù 中数, and "centre-number"; or trapezoid, tīxíng 梯形, and "ladder-figure". The study involved three groups of mathematics teachers who rated the clarity of 71 common mathematical terms. Group 1 with native speakers of Chinese judged 61% of the Chinese terms as clear; Group 2 with native speakers of English judged 45% of the English terms as clear. Group 3 with English-speaking teachers (both native and nonnative speakers) judged the comparative clarity of English and Chinglish word pairs: more clear for 42.3% of the Chinglish and 5.6% of the English, equally clear for 25.4% of the Chinglish-English pairs, and neither clear for 19.7%.
Chinglish is the combination of the Chinese culture and the English language. China English has linguistic characteristics that are different from the normative English in all linguistic levels, including phonology, lexicon, syntax, and discourse.
At the phonological level, Chinglish does not differentiate between various vowel qualities because they don't exist in Chinese. As a result, there is no contrast between the two sounds for Chinglish speakers. For example, ‘cheap’ and ‘chip’ would be the same pronunciation. Another phonological feature is that speakers are unaware of the “graduation” of words which are said in different tones depending on the context. The word ‘for’ is stressed and said differently in the phrases “what is it for?” and “this is for you.” To a Chinglish speaker, the two are the same. Chinglish speakers use Chinese phonological units to speak English, and retain the syllable timing of Chinese in place of the stress timing of English which together gives them a notable accent.
At the lexical level, China English manifests itself through many ways such as transliteration and loan translations. Transliteration has brought many interesting words and expressions from the Chinese language into English. Speakers are able to merge the two because of pinyin, a Latin alphabet used to write Chinese. In loan translations, Chinese words have been translated directly into English. This phenomenon can be found in a lot of compound words like red bean, bean curd, and teacup. The other way that loan translations are made is when speakers translate Chinese terms into English. These words come from the Chinese culture and are ideas, thoughts, or expressions that do not exist in English. For example, ‘spring rolls’ would otherwise not have meaning in English if not for Chinglish speakers making it a loan translation to describe the food. In addition, speakers use subordinate conjunctions differently and also exhibit copula absence in their speech. Examples include "Because I am ill, so I can't go to school" and "The dress beautiful."
As Chinese grammar does not distinguish between definite and indefinite articles, Chinese speakers struggle with when to use or not use the English definite article "the".
At the syntactic level, Chinese thinking has influenced Chinglish speakers to utilize a different sequence and structure to make sentences. For English speakers, a common sequence is subject → predicate → object → adverbial. On the other hand, the Chinese sequence is subject → adverbial → predicate → object. Chinese speakers tend to leave the most important information at the back of the sentence, while English speakers present it at the front.
- Cultural meanings. The English idiom "work like a horse" means "work hard", but in China horses are rarely used as draft animals and the equivalent Chinese expression uses niú 牛 "Cattle".
- Problems of direct translation. Some Chinglish menus translate dòufu 豆腐 as "bean curd", which "sounds very unappetizing" to English speakers, instead of "tofu".
- Wordiness. Unnecessary words and convoluted sentences are hallmarks of Chinglish translation. For example, the Civil Aviation Administration of China announced, "CAAC has decided to start the business of advance booking and ticketing", which could simply say "CAAC now accepts advance booking and ticketing."
- Wrong word order. A host in Shenyang toasted a group of foreign investors with "Up your bottoms!" instead of "Bottoms up!"
Chinglish reflects the influence of Chinese syntax and grammar. For instance, Chinese verbs are not necessarily conjugated and there is no equivalent article for English "the", both of which can create awkward translations.
Chinglish has various causes, most commonly erroneous Chinese dictionaries, translation software, and incorrect English as a foreign language textbooks. Other causes include misspelling, mediocre English-language teaching, sloppy translation, and reliance on outdated translation technology. Liu, Feather and Qian warn that
today's English-language publishers and teachers in China are passing on obsolete translations and incorrect rules of language to students. In turn, Chinglish gets duplicated across society, particularly now during today's period of rapid opening to the outside world and the widespread use of English. The resultant flood of Chinglish will perpetuate unless it is corrected now.
Common causes include:
- Lack of inclusion of native English speakers in the translation or editing process
- Word-for-word dictionary translation: rigidly substituting Chinese words with English ones from dictionaries, without considering the impact of polysemy
- Use of machine translation without post-editing
- Competently translated text which has been subsequently edited by non-native speakers
- Linguistic differences and mother tongue interference
- Different thinking patterns and culture
- Outdated Chinese-English dictionaries and textbook-style English
- Mediocre English-language teaching and lack of English-language environment
Some words are generally confused by most Chinglish speakers, for example "emergent" instead of "emergency" or "urgent", because of incorrect entries in dictionaries.
In Chinglish, "I know" is generally used instead of the term "I see", when used to tell others that you understand what they said.
"See", "watch", "read", "look", all refer to "看" in Chinese. For example, "看電影" means "to see a film" or "to watch movie", "看書" means "to read a book", "看著我" means "to look at me". Because of that, Chinglish speakers use "look" instead of "see", "watch", or "read". The same phenomena can be found in the use of "speak", "say", and "talk" - 說. For Chinglish speakers, the expression "Can you say Chinese?" means "Do you speak Chinese?" This is likely taken from the Chinese phrase, “你會說中文嗎？”.
Another misuse of vocabulary is "to turn on/off" and "open/close". Chinese speakers use "關" to refer to turning off things like electrical appliances or to close a door or window. Accordingly, a Chinglish speaker would say "close the light" instead of "turn off the light". In the same way, they would say "open the TV" instead of "turn on the TV". (In spite of this, Chinglish speakers seldom or never use "turn off the window" to mean "close the window".)
Collections of Chinglish are found on numerous websites (see below) and books. Owing to the ubiquity of Chinglish mistakes throughout the Sinophone world, the following examples will exclude common misspellings (e.g., "energetically Englsih-friendly environment") and typographical errors (a bilingual bus sign reading "往 不知道 To unknow"; wǎng 往 means "to; toward" and bùzhīdào 不知道 "don't know") that can occur anywhere in the English-speaking world.
- Add oil. A commonly used Chinglish expression for 加油, an encouragement and supporting expression.
- Slip carefully (sometimes Carefully slip and fall down). A common mistranslation of 小心地滑 "Caution. Wet floor." 地, means "floor" or as a suffix to an adverb when pronounced as dì or de, respectively. The phrase 小心地滑 can be transliterated as "caution, the floor (is) wet" or "(to) carefully slip".
- To take notice of safe: The slippery are very crafty. A comparable sign in a Beijing garage reads zhùyì ānquán pōdào lù huá (注意安全 坡道路滑; 'Exercise caution. The slope is slippery').
- Workshop for concrete agitation appears on a sign in a Sichuan factory. jiǎobàn fáng (攪拌房), which combines jiǎobàn meaning "stir; mix; agitate" and fáng "house; room", translates as "mixing room".
- Diarellia is common phrase uttered upon encountering a rampant case of diarrhea
- Spread to fuck the fruit is a Chinese supermarket sign mistranslation of sǎn gānguǒ (simplified Chinese: 散干果; traditional Chinese: 散乾果; lit.: 'loose dried fruits'). Victor Mair noted the fuck translation of gān (干) was "fairly ubiquitous in China", and discovered this complicated Chinglish error resulted from machine translation software misinterpreting gānguǒ (干果; 乾果; 'dried fruits/nuts') as gàn guǒ (干果; 幹果; 'do/fuck fruits'). In written Chinese, sometimes a single simplified Chinese character is used for multiple traditional Chinese characters: gān (simplified Chinese: 干; traditional Chinese: 干; lit.: 'trunk; stem') is the simplified form of two words gān (乾; 'dry; dried up; in vain') and gàn (幹; 'trunk; main body; do; work; (vulgar) fuck'). Mair's research revealed that the popular Chinese-English Jinshan Ciba dictionary (2002 edition) and Jinshan Kuaiyi translation software systematically rendered every occurrence of 干 as "fuck" (later editions corrected this error). Two comparable Chinglish mistranslations of gān "dry" as gàn "do; fuck" are: The shrimp fucks the cabbage for Xiāgān chǎo báicài (虾干炒白菜; 蝦乾炒白菜; 'stir-fried dried shrimp with Chinese cabbage'), and fuck the empress mistakes gàn hòu (干后; 幹后; 'do the empress') for gānhòu (干后; 乾後; 'after drying'), with hòu (simplified Chinese: 后; traditional Chinese: 后; lit.: 'queen; empress') as the Simplified form of hòu (後; 'after').
- Please steek gently appears on a Taipei government building door. This form of Chinglish uses obscure English terms, namely, Scottish English steek "enclose; close; shut" instead of the common word.
- Bumf Box for shǒuzhǐ xiāng (手紙箱; 'toilet paper box/case'), employs the British English word bumf, originally a shortened form of bumfodder meaning "toilet paper", now used to mean "useless documents".
- Braised enterovirus in Clay Pot appears on a Chinese menu for gānguō féicháng (干鍋肥腸; 'dry pot fatty intestine'), which is a stuffed sausage popular in Sichuanese-Hunanese cuisine. This example occurred following the Enterovirus 71 epidemic in China, and mistranslates féicháng (肥腸; 'pig's large intestines [used as food]') as cháng[dào] bìngdú (腸[道]病毒; 'intestinal virus').
- Fried enema on a menu mistranslates zhá guàn cháng (炸灌腸; 'fried sausage [with flour stuffed into hog casings]'). The Jinshan Ciba dictionary confused the cooking and medical meanings of guanchang "(make) a sausage; (give) an enema".
- A weak 'pyridaben carbazole' sound is found on translated instructions for a photographic light, "Install the battery into the battery jar, when heard a weak 'pyridaben carbazole' sound the installation is completed." The original Chinese has an onomatopoetic term dādā kǎzuò (噠噠咔唑; 'click or tick') rendered into dāmǎnlíng (噠蟎靈; 'pyridaben') and kǎzuò (咔唑; 'carbazole').
- 4 Uygur theater is printed on the bilingual instructions for a Chinese 4-D film about dinosaurs. The Chinese term sìwéi (四維; '4 dimensions') uses wéi "tie up; maintain, uphold; estimate" that commonly transcribes foreign names such as wéiwú'ěr (維吾爾; 'Uyghur').
- Exterminate Capitalism Lobster Package was the Chinglish rendering of tāotiè lóngxiā cān (饕餮龍蝦餐; 'gourmand lobster meal') on a menu mentioned by The New York Times. Victor Mair analyzed the linguistic impossibility of rendering Taotie (饕餮) "a mythical beast; glutton; greedy person" as "exterminate capitalism" and concluded somebody "mischievously provided an absurd translation, perhaps with the intention of poking fun at the Chinese Communist system which has given rise to such luxurious and fancy dining practices as reflected in pretentious menus of this sort."
- Do not want is a mistranslation, albeit a substantially intelligible one (e.g., "[I] do not want [what is happening to happen]") of "Nooooo-!" exclaimed by Darth Vader in a bootleg version of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, a phrase which has since become an internet meme. A bootleg copy of the film entitled "Star War – The third gathers: Backstroke of the West" was bought in China, and featured erroneous English subtitles that were machine translated back from a Chinese translation of the original English, i.e. a re-translation, which was posted online due to its humorous use of poor English. Having gone viral, the phrase has spread as a meme used on messageboards online. The mistranslation is an example of translation decay following an English translation to Chinese, which is then re-translated back into English; the exclamation "no" would be correctly translated as 不要 buyao in Chinese, however since 要 yao can also mean "want", and 不 bu is used as a negation particle, 不要 can also be translated as "don't want" or "do not want". As an example, the phrase 我不要去 correctly translates to "I (don't/do not) want to go", however the discussion 「你要不要吃飯？」／「不要。」 translates to "Do you want to eat?"/"No." as well.
- Go straight on public is a mistranslation of "Public washroom outside on the second floor."
- Note that the level of gap, which is a sentence fragment[clarification needed], is how signs on Shanghai's ferry docks render "Mind the gap", the phrase that spread from the London Underground to worldwide use.
- No painting / no whoopla. When trying to translate “请勿涂画／喧哗” someone came up with “No painting / no whoopla.” When run through several translating websites, “涂画” becomes “paint a painting” or “scribble, draw, daub.” 喧哗’s definitions come up as varied as “confused noise,” “clamor; hubbub,” “uproar; to make a racket,” and, the most outdated suggestion: “brouhaha; hullabaloo.” Jinshan Ciba, a very popular Chinese/English online translation site comes up with “a hue and cry,” “blatancy,” “hullabaloo,” “shindy” (cf. American English “shindig”), and, at last, “whoopla.” Google Translate provides “do not paint/noise” while Pleco, an iPhone App, helpfully adds that when placed after “请勿” (please don’t) “喧哗” means “Please keep quiet (a sign in a public place).” Therefore, a more fitting but much less amusing translation would be “No Graffiti / Quiet Please.” Although “whoopla” (defined according to Merriam-Webster as “boisterous merrymaking” and often spelled hoopla in American English) is not technically an incorrect translation, using such an old-fashioned, incongruous-sounding word might fail to produce the desired effect of solemnity, especially given that these signs commonly appear in museums, temples, and cemeteries.
- Deformed man toilet or cripple toilet is the mistranslation of toilets for disabled people.
- Don’t stampede is featured on signs in lavatories to inform users that using a sitting toilet like a squatting toilet is prohibited.
- Mustard Silk is a mistranslation of "shredded pickled vegetables", (literally, "pickled mustard shred.") The product was employed by China Eastern Airlines.
- Civilization tour is found on signs on boats on the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang as a mistranslation for “文明旅游” (wénmíng lǚyóu, tour civilizedly).
- Hong Kong English
- Code-switching in Hong Kong
- Non-native pronunciations of English
- Mute English
- English as she is spoke
- Westernised Chinese language
- All your base are belong to us
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- Scenes from Habitat for Humanity in Sichuan
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- Victor Mair, THE SHRIMP DID WHAT TO THE CABBAGE?, Language Log, 11 September 2006.
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- Victor Mair, "Fried enema", Language Log, 5 April 2010.
- Victor Mair, "Wait Till You Hear a Weak Pyridaben Carbazole Sound", Language Log, 30 June 2010.
- Victor Mair, "4 Uygur Theater", Language Log, 12 June 2009.
- Allison Busacca and Marcia Allert, Strange Signs from Abroad, The New York Times, 11 May 2010
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- Chinglish by Kira Simon–Kenned SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS Number 224 May 2012 Developments in Chinese Language and Script During the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries edited and with an introduction by Victor H. Mair http://sinoplatonic.org/complete/spp224_chinese_scripts.pdf
- Chinglish by Kira Simon–Kenned SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS Number 224 May 2012 Developments in Chinese Language and Script During the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries edited and with an introduction by Victor H. Mair http://sinoplatonic.org/complete/spp224_chinese_scripts.pdf
- Chinglish by Kira Simon–Kenned SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS Number 224 May 2012Developments in Chinese Language and Script During the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries edited and with an introduction by Victor H. Mair http://sino-platonic.org/complete/spp224_chinese_scripts.pdf
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|Look up Chinglish in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chinglish.|
- AsiaObscura.com's collection of Chinglish
- The Chinese-English, Chinglish Archives ChineseEnglish.com
- Chinglish.com Chinese-English dictionary at Archive.today (archived 6 December 2012)
- The Chinglish Files
- Engrish.com Chinglish Collection
- Chinglish Collection and more[permanent dead link]
- LanguageMonitor.com Top Chinglish of the Year
- A Sampling of Chinglish The New York Times 2010/05/03
- Strange Signs From Abroad The New York Times 2010/05/11
- Chinglish: an illustrated lecture, William Griffin at the Wayback Machine (archived 16 July 2011)