INFOGRAPHIC: The unexpected overlaps between English and Chinese

By Ryan Kilpatrick, June 8, 2015

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For English-speakers learning Mandarin, easy words are few and far between – and should be appreciated when they crop up. “Sofa” is shāfā, “mango” is mángguǒ. The Venn diagram between English and Chinese always feels like the middle, shared section is preciously small – but, in fact, the two languages have more in common than you might think.

Many of these overlaps aren’t easy to spot. The Mandarin word for tea, 茶 (chá), doesn’t sound much like its English equivalent – but it does in the Minnan dialect of Xiamen, from where it was first exported to England. And many common English phrases stemmed from the era of the Canton treaty ports – where foreigners were legally barred from learning Chinese and conducted business in “Pidgin English,” a simplified, sometimes more direct form of the language.

We’ve tracked down some of the lesser-known loanwords and phrases between English and Chinese – some are incredibly obvious when you give them a moment’s consideration, while others would trick all but the seasoned linguist. Take a look-see.


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