List of loanwords in Chinese

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Loanwords have entered written and spoken Chinese from many sources, including ancient peoples whose descendants now speak Chinese. In addition to phonetic differences, varieties of Chinese such as Cantonese and Shanghainese often have distinct words and phrases left from their original languages which they continue to use in daily life and sometimes even in Mandarin. As a result of long-term direct relationships with northern peoples, starting from the pre-Christ period, there are many exchanges of words. In addition, there were times when northern tribes dominated China. Similarly, northern dialects include relatively greater numbers of loanwords from nearby languages such as Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu(Tungusic).

Throughout China, Buddhism has also introduced words from Sanskrit and Pali. More recently, foreign invasion and trade since the First and Second Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century has led to prolonged contact with English, French, and Japanese. Although politically-minded language reform under the Republic and People's Republic of China have generally preferred to use calques and neologisms in place of loanwords, a growing number – particularly from American English – have become current in modern Chinese. On the mainland, transcription into Chinese characters in official media and publications is directed by the Proper Names and Translation Service of the Xinhua News Agency and its reference work Names of the World's Peoples.[1]

Since Hong Kong was under British control until 1997, Hong Kong Cantonese borrowed many words from English such as 巴士 (from the word "bus", Mandarin: bāshì, Cantonese: baa1 si2), 的士 (from "taxi", Man.: dīshì, Can.: dik1 si2), 芝士 (from "cheese", Man.: zhīshì, Can.: zi1 si6), and 麥當勞/麦当劳 (from "McDonald's", Man.: Màidāngláo, Can.: Mak6 dong1 lou4), and such loanwords have been adopted into Mandarin, despite them sounding much less similar to the English words in the Cantonese versions.[2]

Foreign businesses and products are usually free to choose their own transliterations and typically select ones with positive connotations and phonetic similarity to their products: for example, 宜家 (IKEA) is "proper home". Owing to antonomasia and genericization, these can then enter general Chinese usage: for example Coca-Cola's 可口可乐 ("delicious fun") has led to 可乐 becoming the common Chinese noun for all colas.

Since the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, relations between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China had been hostile, thus communication between Taiwan and mainland China became limited. For that reason, many loanwords and proper names became quite different from each other. For example, "cheese" in mainland China is 芝士 zhīshì, while cheese in Taiwan is 起司 qĭsī.


Chinese Word Pronunciation Meaning Original Word Pronunciation Original Meaning
剎那 chànà moment क्षण kṣaṇa moment
蘋果 píngguǒ apple बिम्बा bimbā apple
涅槃 nièpán nirvana निर्वाण nirvāna nirvana
舍利子 shèlìzi relic शरीर śarīra body
曇花 tánhuā epiphyllum उदुम्बर udumbara cluster fig tree
須彌山 xūmíshān Mt. Sumeru सुमेरु sumeru Mt. Sumeru
波羅蜜多 bōluómìduō Pāramitā पारमिता pāramitā perfection


Chinese Word Pronunciation Meaning Original Word Pronunciation Original Meaning
巴扎 bāzhā bazar (market) بازار bāzār bazar (market)
巴旦木 bādànmù almond بادام bādām almond
葡萄 pútáo grape باده or Bactrian *bādāwa bāde wine
獅子 shīzi lion شیر šīr lion
百里香 Bǎilǐxiāng Thyme آویشن Avišan Thyme


Chinese words of English origin have become more common in mainland China during its reform and opening and resultant increased contact with the West. Note that some of the words below originated in other languages but may have arrived in Chinese via English (for example "pizza/披萨" from Italian). English acronyms are sometimes borrowed into Chinese without any transcription into Chinese characters; for example "IT" (information technology), "PPT" (PowerPoint), "GDP" (Gross domestic product), "APP" (mobile app), "KTV" (karaoke), or "DVD". A rarer occurrence is the blending of the Latin alphabet with Chinese characters, as in "卡拉OK" ("karaoke"), “T恤” ("T-shirt"), "IP卡" ("internet phone card").[3] In some instances, the loanwords exists side by side with neologisms that translate the meaning of the concept into existing Chinese morphemes. For instance, while the loanword for 'penicillin' is 盘尼西林 (pánníxīlín), a neologism that 'translates' the word was later coined, 青霉素 (qīngméisù), which means 'blue/green mold extract/essence'. In contemporary Chinese, neologisms using native Chinese morphemes tend to be favored over loanwords that are transliterations. In the case of penicillin, the term 青霉素 is used almost exclusively, while 盘尼西林 is viewed as an early 20th century relic. Similarly, 'science' is now known as 科学 (kēxué) 'subject/specialty study' rather than 赛因斯 (sàiyīnsī), though it should be pointed out that the characters 科学 were actually coined in the late 19th century by the Japanese as a kanji compound.

In the chart below, loanwords in Taiwan will be written in traditional characters and loanwords in mainland China will be written in simplified characters.

English Pinyin Chinese Category Notes
Amen āmen 阿们 Religion
ammonia āmóníyà 阿摩尼亚 Science
amoeba āmǐbā 阿米巴 Science
amoxicillin āmòxīlín 阿莫西林 Science
ampere ānpéi 安培 Science
amphetamine ānfēitāmìng 安非他命 Science
ampoule ānbù 安瓿 Science
antitrust fǎntuōlāsī 反托拉斯 Business and law
aspartame āsībātián 阿斯巴甜 Food and drink
Aspirin āsīpílín 阿斯匹林 Science
Baccarat Bǎijiālè 百家乐 Arts and entertainment
bacon péigēn 培根 Food and drink
bagel bèiguǒ 贝果 Food and drink
ballet bālěi 芭蕾 Arts and entertainment
bandage bēngdài 绷带 Health
banjo bānzhuóqín 班卓琴 Arts and entertainment
bar 吧 / 酒吧
Baroque bāluókè 巴罗克 Arts and entertainment
basketball lánqiú 篮球 Arts and entertainment
bass bèisī 贝司 Arts and entertainment
bassoon bāsōng 巴松 Arts and entertainment
bazooka bāzǔkǎ 巴祖卡 Weapons
beer píjiǔ 啤酒 Food and drink
bikini bǐjīní 比基尼 Clothing
bingo bīnguǒ 宾果 Arts and entertainment
bit (unit of information) bǐtè 比特 Science
blog bókè 博客 Computing
blues bùlǔsī 布鲁斯 Arts and entertainment
bolero bōláiluó 波莱罗 Arts and entertainment
bourgeois bù'ěrqiáoyà 布尔乔亚 Politics
brandy báilándì 白兰地 Food and drink
brownie bùlǎngní 布朗尼 Food and drink
bullying bàlíng 霸凌
bungee jumping bèngjí 蹦极 Arts and entertainment
bus bāshì 巴士 Transportation
bye-bye bàibài 拜拜
caffeine kāfēiyīn 咖啡因 Food and drink
calorie kǎlùlǐ 卡路里 Science
cancan kāngkāngwǔ 康康舞 Arts and entertainment
cannon jiānóngpào 加农炮 Weapons
carat kèlā 克拉 Science
carbine kǎbīnqiāng 卡宾枪 Weapons
card kăpiàn 卡片
carnival jiāniánhuá 嘉年华 Arts and entertainment
cartel kǎtè'ěr 卡特尔
cartoon kǎtōng 卡通 Arts and entertainment rarely used in mainland China
cashmere kāishìmǐ 开士米
celluloid sàilùluò 赛璐珞 Science
cha-cha qiàqiàwǔ 恰恰舞 Arts and entertainment
Champagne xiāngbīn 香槟 Food and drink
cheese qǐsī/qishì/zhīshì 起司 / 奇士 / 芝士 Food and drink First two loanwords used in Taiwan, last used in mainland China
cherry chēlízi 车厘子 Food and drink rarely used in mainland China
chiffon xuěfǎng 雪纺 Food and drink
chocolate qiǎokèlì 巧克力 Food and drink
cider xīdá 西打 Food and drink
cigar xuějiā 雪茄
clone kèlóng 克隆 Science
coca kějiā 可加 Food and drink
cocaine kěkǎyīn 可卡因 Science
cocktail jīwěijiǔ 鸡尾酒 Food and drink
cocoa kěkě 可可 Food and drink
codeine kědàiyīn 可待因 Science
coffee or café kāfēi 咖啡 Food and drink
cookie qǔqí 曲奇 Food and drink
copy kǎobèi 拷贝/复制
couch or sofa shāfā 沙发 Housing
coup d'état kǔdiédǎ 苦迭打 Politics
craton kèlātōng 克拉通
cream jìlián, qílín 忌廉/淇淋 Food and drink
crêpe kělìbǐng 可丽饼 Food and drink
croissant kěsòng 可颂 Food and drink
cumin kūmíng 枯茗 Food and drink
curry gālí 咖喱 Food and drink
cyanide shān'āi 山埃 Science
Dacron díquèliáng 的确良 Science
daddy diēdì 爹地
didgeridoo díjílǐdùguǎn 迪吉里杜管 Arts and entertainment
disco dísīkě 迪斯科 Arts and entertainment
domino duōmǐnuò 多米诺 Arts and entertainment
drive-thru déláisù 得来速 Food and drink
einsteinium ài/āi 鑀 / 锿 Science first loanword used in Taiwan, second used in mainland China
Eucalyptus yóujiālì 尤加利 Botany
eureka yóulǐkǎ 尤里卡
fantasy fàntèxī 范特西 Arts and entertainment
fascism fǎxīsī 法西斯 Politics
fillet fēilì 菲力 Food and drink
geek jíkè 极客 Computing
ghetto gédōu 隔都
go-kart gāokǎchē 高卡车 Arts and entertainment
golf gāoěrfū 高尔夫 Arts and entertainment
guitar jítā 吉他 Arts and entertainment
Gypsy Jípǔsài 吉普赛 Culture and society
hacker hēikè 黑客 Computing
hallelujah hālìlùyà 哈利路亚 Religion
hamburger hànbǎobāo 汉堡包 Food and drink
hello hālóu 哈喽
heroin hǎiluòyīn 海洛因 Narcotics
hippie xīpí 嘻皮 Culture and society
honey (the term) hāní 哈尼 Slang
hot dog règǒu 热狗 Food and drink translation
hysteria xiēsīdǐlǐ 歇斯底里 Science
ice cream bīngqílín 冰淇淋 Food and drink
jacket jiākè 夹克 Clothing
jazz juéshìwǔ 爵士舞 Arts and entertainment
Jeep jípǔchē 吉普车 Transportation / organizations
jitterbug jítèbā 吉特巴
ketamine kètāmìng 克他命 Science
khaki kǎqí 卡其 Clothing
koala kǎolā 考拉 Animals
lace lěisī 蕾丝 Clothing
lacquer làkè 腊克
laser léishè 镭射 Science
latte nátiě 拿铁 Food and drink
lemon níngméng 柠檬 Food and drink
limbo língbōwǔ 凌波舞 Arts and entertainment
liquor lìkǒujiǔ 利口酒 Food and drink
logic luóji 逻辑 Science
lottery lètòu 乐透 Arts and entertainment
mankini nánjīní 男基尼 Clothing
marathon mǎlāsōng 马拉松 Arts and entertainment
margarine màiqílín 麦淇淋 Food and drink
marker mǎkèbǐ 马克笔
massage mǎshājī 马杀鸡 rarely used in mainland China
meme míyīn 迷因 Arts and entertainment
microphone màikèfēng 麦克风 Science
milkshake nǎixī 奶昔 Food and drink
model mótèr 模特儿 Arts and entertainment
modern módēng 摩登
mohair mǎhǎimáo 马海毛
mommy māmi 妈咪
montage (film) méngtàiqí 蒙太奇 Arts and entertainment
mosaic mǎsàikè 马赛克
motif mǔtǐ, mú 母体,模 Arts and entertainment
motor mótuō 摩托 Transportation
mousse mùsī 慕斯 Food and drink
mozzarella mòzālǐlā, mǎsūlǐlā 莫扎里拉,马苏里拉 Food and drink
muffin mǎfēn 玛芬 Food and drink
mug mǎkèbēi 马克杯
mummy mùnǎiyī 木乃伊
Nazi Nàcuì 纳粹 Organizations / politics
neon níhóng 霓虹
nicotine nígǔdīng 尼古丁
Nylon nílóng 尼龙
ohm ōumǔ 欧姆 Science
Olympics Àolínpǐkè 奥林匹克 Organizations
opium yāpiàn 鸦片 Narcotics
parfait bāfēi 芭菲 Food and drink
parka pàikè dàyī 派克大衣 Clothing
party pàiduì 派对
penicillin pánníxīlín 盘尼西林 Science rarely used in mainland China
Pharaoh fǎlǎo 法老
pickup truck píkǎ 皮卡(车) Transportation
pizza pīsà/bǐsà 披萨/比萨 Food and drink
plutonium bù/bù 鈽 / 钚 Science
poker pūkè 扑克 Arts and entertainment
polka bō'ěrkǎ 波尔卡 Arts and entertainment
pudding bùdīng 布丁 Food and drink
pump bèng
punk péngkè 朋克 Arts and entertainment
rabbi lābǐ 拉比 Religion
radar léidá 雷达 Science
roller luólā 罗拉
romance luómànshǐ, làngmàn 罗曼史,浪漫
rum lǎngmǔjiu 朗姆酒 Food and drink
rumba lúnbā 伦巴 Arts and entertainment
salad shālà, shalǜ 沙拉,沙律 Food and drink
salmon sānwényú 三文鱼 Food and drink
salon shālóng 沙龙 Health
sandwich sānmíngzhì 三明治 Food and drink
sardine shādīngyú 沙丁鱼 Food and drink
sauna sāngná 桑拿 Health
saxophone sàkèsī(fēng) 萨克斯,萨克斯风 Arts and entertainment
scooter sùkèdá 速克达 Transportation
shampoo xiāngbō 香波 Health
sherry xuělìjiǔ 雪利酒 Food and drink
shirt T-xù T恤 Clothing
sirloin shālǎng 沙朗 Food and drink
snooker sīnuòkè 斯诺克
soda sūdá 苏打 Food and drink
strawberry shìduōpílí 士多啤梨 Food and drink
sundae shèngdài, xīndì 圣代,新地 Food and drink
ping-pong pīngpāng 乒乓 Arts and entertainment
talk show tuōkǒuxiù 脱口秀
tango tàngē 探戈 Arts and entertainment
tank tǎnkè 坦克 Transportation
tannic acid dānníngsuān 单宁酸
tarot tǎluó 塔罗
Teflon tèfùlóng 特富龙
telephone délǜfēng 德律风 rarely used in mainland China
ten-pin bowling (or the ball) bǎolíngqiú 保龄球 Arts and entertainment
TOEFL tuōfú 托福
toffee tàifēitáng 太妃糖 Food and drink
tuna tūnnáyú 吞拿鱼 Food and drink
turquoise tǔ'ěrqíshí 土耳其石 Color
valve Mechanics
Vaseline fánshìlín 凡士林 Health
vitamin wéitāmìng 维他命 Food and drink
vodka fútéjiā 伏特加 Food and drink
waltz huá'ěrzī 华尔兹 Arts and entertainment
watt wǎtè 瓦特 Science
whisky wēishìjì 威士忌 Food and drink
yoga yújiā 瑜钾 Arts and entertainment
yogurt yōugé 优格 Food and drink
yo-yo yōuyōuqiú 悠悠球 Arts and entertainment
yuppie yǎpíshì 雅皮士 Culture and society


Malay Pinyin Chinese Meaning Notes
tolong duōlóng 多隆 help
kampung gānbǎng 甘榜 village
sagu xīgǔmǐ 西谷米 sago (starch) sagu+米 (, 'grain')
tumpang lóngbāng 隆帮 to stay with somebody
tanjung dānróng 丹戎 cape

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Daniel Kane (15 September 2006). The Chinese Language: Its History and Current Usage. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 162–166. ISBN 978-0-8048-3853-5. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • Robert S. Bauer; Paul K. Benedict (1997). Modern Cantonese Phonology. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 347–405. ISBN 978-3-11-014893-0. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • Wendy Yeun-wen Pao (1983). A Study of English Loanwords in Chinese Through Chinese Newswriting. South Dakota State University. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • Janet Zhiqun Xing (30 March 2006). Teaching And Learning Chinese As a Foreign Language: A Pedagogical Grammar. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 120–124. ISBN 978-962-209-763-6. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • 胡兆云 (2001). Language contact and lexical borrowing of English and Chinese: A comprehensive study. Shandong University Press. ISBN 978-7-5607-2382-2. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • Kate Parry; Xiaojun Su (3 April 1998). Culture, literacy, and learning English: voices from the Chinese classroom. Boynton/Cook Publishers. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-86709-448-0. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  • Martin Haspelmath; Uri Tadmor (22 December 2009). Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook. De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 576–580. ISBN 9783110218442. Retrieved 28 May 2020.


  1. ^ Xinhua News Agency. Names of the World's Peoples: a Comprehensive Dictionary of Names in Roman-Chinese [世界人名翻译大辞典, Shìjiè Rénmíng Fānyì Dà Cídiǎn].
  2. ^ "8 Chinese Words Borrowed From English That Will Finally Make Sense to You". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  3. ^ Zuo, X. (2005). Language planning with respect to English into China. Terminology, 11(2), 283-292.