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‘Signs’ of Change: Chinese English, Hybridity, and Public Media

Keywords: China English , Chinese English , Chinglish , Pidgin , Hybridity , Inner Circle English , Expanding Circle English , Basic English , Signage

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This essay examines the issues surrounding hybridity, language and identity in twenty-first century China. This nation has had centuries-long contact with the English language through trade and commerce, producing a commonly used pidgin known as “Chinese English,” or more colloquially, “Chinglish.” However, the last three decades have seen a change in both national tongue and national identity with China’s rise from ‘developing country’ to ‘super-power,’ rivalling European and North American nations in terms of economic and political status. In the effort of fulfilling China’s new role as a globalized and modernized state, the Chinese government has launched a series of initiatives to standardize English and eradicate Chinese English from public media––a move that has drawn concern for many Chinese residents about the nation’s investment in a foreign language and the concomitant potential for a “hybrid” national identity. Using the language debates surrounding the Beijing Summer Olympics (2008) and the Shanghai World Expo (2010), this essay examines the rising division between those that are for the assimilation of English into Chinese culture and those that are against it, a division that I argue exemplifies the implications and impacts of globalization on the linguistic identity of a rapidly changing nation.


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