Measuring the Success of English Borrowings in Chinese

Keywords: success, English borrowings, multiple regression model, onomasiological approach, cultural borrowings, core borrowings


  • Yunhan Jia
    School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, The University of Manchester, Oxford Rd., Manchester M13 9PL, The United Kingdom
November 23, 2022


After entering the recipient language, many borrowings are in competition with their native equivalents, serving as an alternative lexical choice to express the designated concept. Concerning this phenomenon, questions arise as to whether some borrowings are used more frequently than others and what factors contribute to their success if we consider borrowings with a higher frequency more successful. To address these issues, this study takes an onomasiological approach, considers both borrowings and their native equivalents, and measures the relative frequency of borrowings in comparison with their native equivalents to assess their success. Raw frequencies are avoided in the study because they are subject to the popularity of topics in which a concept might be mentioned, meaning that some borrowings are frequently used possibly just because the relevant topics are popular, which thus cannot effectively reflect how the linguistic features of the borrowings affect their usage and success. Based on a dataset with data collected from Weibo, this study conducts a multiple regression analysis in Rbrul to investigate how the factors affect the success of English borrowings in Chinese, including concept frequency, concept novelty, lexical field, age of borrowing, number of competitors, and relative length of borrowings. The results of the statistical model indicate that borrowings are significantly more successful than others if they denote a new or low-frequency concept and if they fall into the rapidly-evolving fields rich in new inventions. In contrast, age of borrowing and relative length cannot significantly determine the success of borrowings. By measuring the success of English borrowings in Chinese, this study not only fills the gap caused by the rarity of studies taking an onomasiological approach on the contact-induced outcome in Chinese but also sheds light on the major motivations for using borrowings in Chinese.