Mandarin borrow-ing English grammatical forms

click for image of complete campaign poster; the slogan, shown in this image, reads '台灣維新ing'Putting English words in Mandarin sentences is of course extremely common in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, generally because this is thought to look cool and modern. But last month I was surprised to see Mandarin sentences with just English’s -ing added — and not one but two examples of this.

The image here is from a poster for the DPP’s presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, that came out in March but which I didn’t see until a few days ago. It reads 台灣維新ing (“Táiwān wéixīn-ing“): “Taiwan is modernizing.” (Click the image to see the whole poster.)

The other example I noticed was in a newspaper headline about the Hong Kong pop diva Faye Wong: 明年拚老三 天后暫不復出 李亞鵬王菲 積極做人ING (Míngnián pīn lǎosān — tiān hòu zàn bù fùchū — Lǐ Yàpéng, Wáng Fěi jījí zuòrén-ing. “Next year work hard to produce third child — superstar temporarily not appearing — Li Yapeng and Faye Wong are energetically working on making a baby.”)

There are several other interesting things about the Faye Wong headline, such as the way in most other contexts zuòrén (lit. “be/make a person”) means something like “be a mensch.” But I don’t want to digress too much lest I never finish this post.

In both of these examples, -ing is used to emphasize the currentness of the actions. But it is of course possible in Mandarin to stress that something is going on now — and to do so without borrowing forms from English. For example, with zài:

  • Lǐ Yàpéng, Wáng Fěi jījí zài zuòrén
  • Táiwān zài wéixīn

Has anyone seen or heard other examples of this -ing grafting?


For lagniappe: lyrics to the Faye Wong song “Bù liú” in Pinyin, which has lots of examples of Mandarin’s .

17 thoughts on “Mandarin borrow-ing English grammatical forms

  1. It’s certainly not uncommon. For example, the Mystery and Thrillers magazine cover here has a cover line reading “???????????ing ” (and I think they’ve used the same wording ever since the magazine launched mid-year). My guess is that it started online (or close to it, like in cutesy IM language), similar to other grammatical borrowings (?? being another prominent example).

  2. Personally, I do it all the time – I’m from Singapore, English is my native language and I learned Mandarin Chinese in school. Occasionally I will find that a Mandarin expression is much more apt than anything in English I can think of, and then I’ll add whatever tense/aspect/plural endings needed to make it grammatical in English. But this grafting is to a Chinese word in a majority-English sentence, not a majority-Chinese one, so my case is quite different.

    I haven’t paid attention to it much, but I expect others with similar linguistic backgrounds to mine are like that. My sister does it too, for example. It’s NOT common to do this in regular Singaporean English (Singlish), though – inflectional suffixes are routinely omitted, almost as if people are using Chinese syntax with English/Mandarin/Hokkien/Malay lexical items.

  3. Students are doing it on-line all the time, I’m only surprised that this is somehow “official” use now.

    Thinking about it, I’m not THAT surprised…

  4. Just playing around on Google, I find it showing up significantly in blogs by at least somewhat bilingual young people. Here are a few that seem to be real examples within Chinese (looks like it might be happening in Japanese too?! I don’t have any ability there)


    The last one is my favorite for the –ing construction. It’s from a bulletin board and the context that the post provides makes it clear that she’s using -ing in “????ing” to extend the time in the present.

    Has anyone ever heard it in speech? All my time is spent in Beijing — never heard it here yet but will keep my ears tuned now.

    Thanks for the great post.

  5. I’ve seen it too. A long while back a Chinese friend of mine sent me an SMS about an event coming up: “??ing”, or “looking forward to it”. I’ve never heard it spoken, though, either, but after seeing that message, I’ve said it a few times, and my Chinese friends take it in stride.

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  7. There was a paper at NWAV 34 on online -ing. Here’s the reference from the presenter’s (my colleague Jackie Lou) website:

    Lou, Jia. 2005. From English morpheme to symbol of Chinese netizenship: Exploring -ing in Chinese blogs. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 34, New York City.

  8. That looks like an interesting study. Apparently this -ing code switching goes back to at least 2002. One of the examples in the abstract is “??ing” (gaoxing-ing), a search for which yields 81,400 results in Google. Wow.

    Interestingly, the song Kerim mentions uses the related “Happy-ING.”

  9. Being able to speak English fluently, my first instinct was to pronounce it “ing” rather than spell it out. But I can see how it would be confusing as “ing” could be confused with the Mandarin syllable of “ying”.

  10. Interesting post! “??ing” is an interesting construction, because it can be analysed as verb+noun (so grammatically it should have been *?ing?) but it doesn’t.

  11. Pushing this back a few decades, I just ran across an example in the first chapter of the novel ????? by ???. While in Japan, one of the characters runs across a store sign reading “??ing” staring at it for a moment before suddenly realizing that it’s for a beauty salon. The book was published back in 1987; Zhang wrote it based on earlier experiences in Japan and Inner Mongolia, so the form has been around for a while.

  12. Just saw this in Jusco supermarkets in China, in ads for mosquito killing. Can’t recall exact usage, anyway, mainland marketing employing the usage means critical mass has been reaching !~

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