Echoes of Toubon in China

464px-Seurat_L'EchoHaving been in France during the furore surrounding the “loi Toubon“, enacted in 1994¹ and prohibiting the use of foreign language terms where French equivalents existed , I was fascinated to see a recent BBC News article about controversy in China.

It seems that foreign terms, particularly English abbreviations and acronyms, are being used directly – the phenomenon being referred to as “zero translation”. As with Toubon, there are claims that this damages the “integrity and harmony” of the (in this case Chinese) language.

Previously, foreign terms have been rendered using Chinese characters, making them “blend in”. Examples given in the BBC article are “radar”, “tank”, “chocolate” and “Coca-Cola”.

Now, the issues that came to the fore in France all those years ago are coming up again in China: the banning of terms (e.g. “NBA” for the US basketball league); disputes about dictionary content; those that find there is a lack of “pride and confidence in one’s own culture and language”; and on the other hand those that criticize unwieldy translations of foreign terms; links to foreign language learning; and access to foreign culture.

The above is just a very brief summary – I do encourage you to read the whole BBC article – you can find it here.


¹ of which, with hilarious irony I think, an English translation is available here on the website of the French Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication

² The illustration is L’Echo by Georges Seurat.

One thought on “Echoes of Toubon in China

  1. Pingback: Toubon continued…Advertising language in France | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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