Are there any German loanwords in Chinese?

When it comes to Chinese, you do not find many loanwords. The structure of the language allows it to stay unique and many international words sound completely different. Take a word ‘bank’ as an example.

English: Bank

German: die Bank

Spanish: Banco

Russian: Банк

Mongolian: Банк

Finnish: Pankki

Norwegian: Bank

Chinese: 银行

(yín háng)

Nevertheless, there are (few) German loanwords in Chinese. Those are not everyday words, but units of measurement, realia or personal names.

Here is the humble list of German loanwords in Chinese language I have found:

Marxismus (English: Marxism)

马克思主义(Mǎkèsī zhǔyì)

According to the information I have found online, the Marxism theory was introduced and imported into China in 1900-1930. The theory was translated from German, Russian, and Japanese.

Das Hertz (Hz) (English: hertz)

赫兹 (Hèzī)

This unit is named after a German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. That’s one of those words we learn at school without thinking of its origin. Once we find out the word has a German origin, we can tell we find out something very new about something that looks so trivial.

Ohm (English: ohm)

欧姆 (Ōumǔ)

Another unit named after German physicist Georg Simon Ohm. As you can see, Chinese language ‘takes’ new foreign words only when it is really necessary. German words like Hertz and Ohm are specific words that came into many other languages as they are (take English as an example).

Die Deutsche Mark (English: Deutsche Mark) and Schilling (English: shilling)

德国马克 (Déguó mǎkè)

先令 (Xiān lìng)

units of currency used in the past. Again, it is crystal clear why Chinese loaned those words.

Next word has an interesting twist in its history:

Caesar in Chinese is 凯撒 (Kǎisǎ) and surprisingly 凯撒 comes from German der Kaiser. Well, that’s understandable; Caesar was a sort of a Kaiser (emperor). To be precise, he was statesman, general, and an author.

Last, but not least, German word das Gas (English: gas) first came into Japanese language as 瓦斯 . The first character is pronounced in Japanese as ‘ga’, but when this word came into Chinese from Japanese, it changed its pronunciation into 瓦斯 wǎsī, because the first character is pronounced ‘wǎ’ in Chinese. That’s why Chinese pronunciation of a German word Gas does not sound similar to the original one at all.

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4 thoughts on “Are there any German loanwords in Chinese?

  1. I find it fascinating that the Chinese mentality seems to say that, if you’re going to loan it, you have to be able to write it out with Chinese characters. I think the problem lies in the consonant clusters and CVC-blocks that populate Western languages. One of my Chinese friends hates the word “reluctantly.” Just imagine trying to use Chinese characters to write words like “double-check,” “best friend,” and “incredible.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this article, it was very interesting.
    It was also about the only article I could find about German loanwords in Chinese.


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