I'm always curious to know, as the world develops and new words come into existence, how are they adopted by the Chinese language?

Is there some sort of government body that decides these sort of things, or is it just based on popular usage?

One example would be 'internet' - did someone just decide that 网 would just be related to anything connected by a network, or is there someone somewhere who makes decisions about this?

What happens when more new terms/ideas are developed, and they need a name in Chinese?

I hope this question isn't too open ended, I'm just really curious to know how new words are added.

  • 1
    I don't think it's too open-ended... I guess the process here is different since there isn't an alphabetical system, it's also interesting from a linguistics point of view.
    – Alenanno
    Jan 11, 2012 at 0:52
  • 2
    Most countries in Europe have a central agency (usually the national academy) that regulates that language (of course people will not always follow :) English is more like the exception that there's no regulation whatsoever, and there's no official authority that will say what is correct and what isn't. I'm also wondering how this works in China, and how much the language is officially regulated, especially since there are several countries which have Mandarin as an official language.
    – Szabolcs
    Jan 11, 2012 at 8:48
  • @Ciaocibai - Do you mind if I hijack your question by editing rather than starting a new question. I would like to include that things such as band names (Portishead, Gorillaz etc.) and president Obama all have Chinese equivalents. Who decides on what their name should be in Chinese?
    – going
    Jan 12, 2012 at 4:00
  • @xiaohouzi79 Sure, go ahead - I'd be interested to hear more different examples as well.
    – Ciaocibai
    Jan 12, 2012 at 7:43

3 Answers 3


For English technical term that does not yet have a translation in Chinese, maybe the first translation that got popular would be accepted.

The translation is done by the person who need to use the translation. Sometimes the original English term or explanation with be also noted before the term is generally accepted. Terms are usually translated by the meaning of the word if possible.

For Internet, in the translation process, the "net" part is translated into "网", and the "inter" part into "因特" (by sound). There is also another translation "互联网" in which no part is translated by sound.

There may be various translations for one term. So there is an official department (China National Committee for Terms in Sciences and Technologies) that will pick one (or make up one) as the official translation. But even the official translation may vary depending on the research area. Take "Internet" as an example, the committee gives the following translation in different areas:

术语        中/英文名     学科            子学科
Internet    因特网      计算机科学技术   网络与数据通信
internet    互联网      通信科技       通信网络
Internet    因特网      通信科技       通信网络
Internet    因特网      资源科技       资源信息学
internet    互联网[络]  计算机科学技术  计算机总论 

And I think this kind of official translation is only recommended, but not mandatory.


I think this question is about linguistic in general.

In English the same is seen in phones:

  • Smartphone
  • Mobile phone
  • Cell phone
  • Mobile
  • Cell
  • Hand phone

If you are familiar with cameras, following are all a bunch of new names, and many of them can refer to the same thing:

  • EVIL camera
  • Mirroless camera
  • Interchangable lens camera
  • Micro 4/3
  • point and shoot
  • compact camera
  • digital camera
  • digital compact etc

Whichever you choose to call your phone/camera can, of course, never be controlled by government ;)

So its generally adopted by how popular is the usage of the new noun is.

  • 1
    But many (not claiming all of them) of the new words in Chinese for technology, such as the internet, originate in English. Who decides what the right word for these is in Chinese?
    – going
    Jan 12, 2012 at 3:58
  • I'd argue that in the end it's the people who decide. Governments can try to regulate languages but it's almost impossible to tell people what words to use. At best, people may use official government-sanctioned words in official/business communication and the words that are actually popular in their daily lives. Regulation would seem especially difficult for new terms as people will pick their favourites and would find it a bother to use a dry, government-issued new word for the same concept.
    – Bjorn
    Jan 14, 2012 at 12:57
  • @xiaohouzi79 The origin of the word is irrelevant since you can have multiple translations for one word/object. I can think of 3 different ways to say "chopsticks" in Chinese as easily as I can have 3 different translations to "internet".
    – Gapton
    Jan 14, 2012 at 14:51

Chinese language/dialect can easily come up with words for new things, events, phenomenon, etc. because the words are actually definitions of those new things or events that are taking place. A cellphone for example is called "shou3 ji1" (手机), which means hand (shou3手) machine (ji1机); email is "dian4 you2" (电邮), which means electricity (dian4电) mail/post (you2邮), etc.

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