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Loanwords in Chinese and cultural exchanges(1)

The nations of the world do not live in isolation from one another. Through constant contact and exchange, different cultures have influenced each other throughout human history. A significant aspect of these influences is seen in the cross-pollination of languages through the appearance of loanwords. It does not matter if the language is spoken or written; it will absorb words from other language in the course of cross cultural exchange and adapt them to original features. For example, English has absorbed numerous words from Latin and French, a process that has both altered the language and made it richer.

Over thousands of years Chinese has absorbed words from numerous languages and many disparate ethnic groups. Cultures that have made a linguistic impression on Chinese have been from Central Asia, India, and more recently Europe, America and Japan. These words have become an intrinsic part of the Chinese language, both linguistically and psychologically.

In the second century BC, the Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty twice sent his envoy Zhang Qian on diplomatic missions to the west. Historical date shows that Zhang Qian went as far as Central Asia and Eastern Europe. His missions had far-reaching consequences, including opening up trade and cultural exchange between China and western lands. He took silk and cloth with him and returned with unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. As a result of his mission, diplomats and business people from western lands visited China with increasing frequency, and friendly cross-cultural exchange developed.

People thus had to find names for all the novel and unfamiliar goods pouring into the country. In the beginning, they used many awkward Chinese characters that imitated the pronunciations that the western people used for these strange goods. However, due to the way Chinese is structured, this method of incorporating new words was quite problematic.

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