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'Taikonauts' a sign of China's growing global influence
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As China made another giant leap into space with the Shenzhou-7 craft launch on Thursday carrying a crew that is scheduled to make the nation's first space walk, the word "taikonaut" cropped up in media reports around the world.

It's appearing in dictionaries, too.

The word is a hybrid of the Chinese term "taikong" (space) and the Greek "naut" (traveler), or astronaut, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Another variation on the term is "cosmonaut", coined during the Soviet space era.

"The fact that taikonaut has been listed in popular dictionaries like Oxford and Longman shows that the word has been recognized by quite a number of English speakers. It can be seen as another sign of China's growing global influence," said Chen Lin, a linguistics professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

"It is not the first time that a Chinese word was 'adopted' by users of a foreign language," Chen said, citing such terms as kungfu, hutong (the small alleys seen in Beijing) and names of Chinese dishes seen in restaurants around the world.

But all the other words that were borrowed by foreign languages users refer to things of China's past, Chen said. This new word "shows that China has more to export to the world than just kungfu and Chinese food," he said.

Taikonaut was coined in 1988 when China started to train astronauts. It became well known in 2003 when China sent its first spaceman Yang Liwei to space in the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft.

Two years later, the Shenzhou-6 took off from China's Jiuquan Launch Center for a five-day mission carrying taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng.

During the Shenzhou-7 mission, one of the three taikonauts on board will make China's first space walk, in a China-made space suit. That walk will make China the third nation after Russia and the United States to stroll in space.

"China is not only recognized as a nation with a long and fascinating history, but also a leading technological power," Chen said.

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2008)

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