I am not interested in modern words like telephone, aeroplane, but words that were incorporated into the more frequent used part of the vocabulary from languages different than sinitic.

4 Answers 4


You have the entire stock of Sanskrit buddhist terms that have been incorporated to Chinese, like 菩萨, 佛, 涅盘 and similar terms. 苹果 is also Sankrit in origin, while 葡萄 and other fruits have been picked up along the Silk road.

Mongolian words such as 达赖 (as in 达赖喇嘛, where 喇嘛 is Tibetan), have also crept into the langauge through religion.

Cantonese and Vietnamese have had a lot of exchange throughout the years, but are mostly local.

Although Japan has greatly been influenced by Chinese from Tang and onwards, there has also been a large import from Japan to China. Words like 经济 and 社会 do not really make sense in Chinese (component-wise), but are Japanese in origin. A more modern example would be the redefinition of 萌 as a cute young person, like in 萌妹纸.

Refer to Marc's answer for Manchu and Russian influences; there are quite many loanwords from northern tribes, like 哥哥.

  • 3
    "Words like 经济 and 社会 do not really make sense in Chinese (component-wise), but are Japanese in origin."—i believe this is not quite right. both words appear in the Chinese classics, and they were later sourced by the Japanese and re-applied to modern contexts. their characters / morphemes make little sense in modern Chinese, but that is true as well for a large number of words and expressions that have survived from the classics without the detour to Japan and back. please correct me if i'm wrong.
    – flow
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 15:03

I'm not sure how you are defining "Sinitic languages", but I believe that the Manchu and Sibe languages certainly are not Sinitic in any sense of the word. Given that the Manchu people recently ruled over China for a few hundred years during the Qing dynasty, they've definitely left a mark on the vocabulary of Chinese words, especially in the north-eastern dialects but also in the standard language. So that's where I would start looking.

Here's an article discussing a few Manchu loanwords in north-eastern Mandarin: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=7502

(Edit: From the same author, an article on Russian loanwords in the same dialects: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2921)


In addition, there are a few loanwords from Tocharian such as 蜜. (PS On that theory 蜜 is cognate to the English 'mead').


  • For posterity's sake, can you give a source? Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 8:50

洋人- foreigners

洋火- match

洋教士/神父- priest

倭寇- Japanese pirate

波斯-Persia (the old name of Iran)

西域-the Western Regions (a Han Dynasty term for the area west of Yumenguan

伊斯兰教-Islam .etc

  • 1
    Almost all of these are native Sinitic words. Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 17:55

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