Qinglish is a fun, interactive tool that takes an algorithmic approach to the established practice of transcribing English words into Chinese characters.
Is it possible to communicate basic English phrases by reading a series of Chinese characters? Which English words and names are easiest to pronounce using Chinese? Does this influence the popularity of English names, brands and marketing slogans in China?
These are just some of the questions that Qinglish is designed to answer.
Chinese has long had the concept of English 'loan words'
- i.e., Chinese words derived from English and designed to sound like the original English word or
phrase. A prime example is Coca-Cola’s official Chinese name, 可口可乐, which not only sounds like the English “Coca-Cola”, but uses characters that convey the drink’s marketing message (the characters 可口可乐 mean ‘Delicious Fun’ in Chinese).
Every foreign dignitary who appears in a Chinese newspaper has had their name rendered in Chinese characters selected to sound like their foreign language (e.g. English) name. In mainland China, this process is standardized by the Proper Names and Translation Service of the Xinhua News Agency, which publishes the reference work Names of the World’s Peoples.
Some names are easier to recognize in Chinese than others:
The ‘best’ loan words are aguably those that ‘sound the same’ and whose Chinese characters have a connection to the original foreign word (Coca-Cola’s chinese name 可口可乐 is again a prime example).
Obviously not every English word can be rendered in Chinese equally well. Certain combinations of English sounds (especially adjacent consonant sounds found in words like “tricks”) have no obvious corollary in Chinese. Qinglish does its best to provide an impressionistic rendering of the key sounds in the word, but the result is sometimes difficult to understand.
Qinglish calculates the “compatibility” of English words to let you know how similar the Qinglish version of the word should sound to the standard English pronounciation. Compatibility is broken down into “Very High!”, “High”, “Average”, “Low” and “Very low”.
Qinglish words with higher compatibility are more easily understood in English. For example, the word “EQUALITY” has a “Very High!” compatibility score, indicating that the Qinglish version should be readily recognisable as English. Let us know if you agree!
By contrast, the word “PRANK” gets a “Low” compatibility score, suggesting that you might need a few more guesses to figure out what the Qinglish means…
Qinglish is a work in progress. Qinglish currently focuses on phonetic optimization (i.e. maximising the ‘sounds the same’ component) in its Chinese transcriptions of English words. The next step is to optimize the relationship between the meaning of the Chinese characters used and that of the underlying English word (without compromising the similarity in sound!).