Friday, October 16, 2009


Rise of Chinglish

An example of written chinglish on a signpost....Image via Wikipedia

Chinglish is basically "odd English" esp. when used as part of Chinese sign. It is a funny curiosity to English speakers, but it's actually even funnier to bilingual speakers, who can actually understand where did the "lost in translation" happen.

There are several reasons why Chinglish occur.

* over-reliance on machine translation
* lack of true mastery of both English and Chinese
* lack of importance on accurate translation (not enough foreigners to see them!)
* lack of English spell-check
* lack of understanding the English connotations of the words
* trying to translate Chinese transliterations of European / English terms back to English
* the pride of Chinese people, and inability to admit failure/ignorance
* some rhymes and expressions that do not survive translation

On the other hand, Chinglish has that feel of true direct wording that is often lost on the more politically correct English, and has a feel of that... "innocence" to it. It's almost like a child learning English, and manage to put words together that DOES manage to convey the meaning, yet you'd never expect that combination before.

In fact, here's a couple questions for you... Can you guess what are the following actually says?

Q: "Cripple's Lane"
A: Handicapped Person's Ramp

Q: "Be careful Don't be crowded!"
A: Be safe, don't push

Q: "Inhibition astraddle transgress"
A: Do not trespass.

Q: "Resist Bacteria Hotel"
A: [Certified] Sanitary Hotel

Q: "Exportation"
A: Exit

Q: "Exit of Importance"
A: Emergency Exit

Q: "Coffee with Iron" (tough one!)
A: Cafe Latte

This one requires a little explanation. Chinese often insists on transliterating European/English terms in Chinese, and "latte", in this case, was written as "na-tieh", or literally, "take iron". Thus, "coffee with iron".

Q: "Genitl Emen" (tough one too)
A: Restroom

It's actually supposed to say "Gentlemen and Ladie's Rooms", but they seem to have left out a few words, and can't spell check.

Q: "if you are stolen, call the police at once."
A: Call the police if you were pick-pocketed.

Actually, the Chinese side says "If you were pickpocketed, call police. Don't embolden the criminal with inaction!"

Q: "This plot declines the interview photograph."
A: "Cameras prohibited [at this location]."

Q: "Please take the initiative for bringing invalidity pregnant parks"
A: Please volunteer to give up your seats for seniors, young children, handicapped, or pregnant women.

Q: "No entry on Peacetime" (tough!)
A: "Emergency exit only"

Actually, the Chinese says "if not emergency situation, stop step [do not enter]"

Q: Russian type afraid of someone with a whistle gravy (VERY tough!)
A: Russian style steak with pannini and gravy

Another case of transliteration gone wrong. Pannini was transliterated as "pah-ni-ni", or "afraid ni-ni", and somehow "ni-ni" was translated as "someone with a whistle".

Q: "Male do not" (tough!)
A: Ladies' room

This one is a bit of Chinese culture. The full expression is actually "[Ladies Territory] Gentlemen stop [step]."

A: Restroom

Someone forgot that English only goes left to right (and Chinese can go either way). STELIOT is TOILETS spelled backwards.

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