Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dear China: Banish Chinglish with free online corrections by native-English speakers

The BBC, among others, are reporting that Shanghai is looking to get rid of its Chinglish (crappy English composed by native-Chinese speakers) that can be found on signs all over Shanghai (it incidentally can be found everywhere else in China too, but it seems that no one else in China has done enough lately to get the media in the U.K. to write about them).

The persistence of Chinglish has been a puzzle to me for years (and Japanglish, perhaps better known as Engrish, as well, but let's leave that for a later post). There are all sorts of native-English speakers floating around China (take a look at just about any college, and you'll probably find a bunch). Many of them would probably be happy to correct the English for free. Slap "internship" on this correcting role and they'll come in droves.

And, yet, Chinglish persists.

Now, however, you don't need to bother to seek out an in-situs native speaker because there's an even easier way to get native-level English on all the signs in China: the Chinese speakers tasked with making these signs can make use of websites where you can get your foreign-language writing corrected for free.

So, Shanghai (and the rest of China), if you're listening, save yourself a few bucks—and perhaps some embarrassment—and throw the text into one of these sites the next time you need a sign in English.

If Chinglish truly goes the way of the dodo (I have my doubts), we native-English speakers will of course miss its unintentional hilarity. So, in honor of the Chinglish we have grown to love, I give you even more Chinglish, after the jump, including photos of a masterpiece of a Chinglish sign that I took myself, plus links to much more (warning: involves an obscenity or two).

Let's kick it off with the Chinglish gems from articles mentioned above:

Please do not spilt everywhere ant litter up. The violators will be amerced with in range of 20 to 50 yuan.
Haven't you always wanted to be amerced?
Keep valuables snugly.
Hold them close to your heart and love them because—before you know it—they'll be gone.
Beware the people press close to you designedly.
Beware indeed... they might be looking to find a mate.
Please leave your values at the front desk.
I'm not so sure that this is a mistranslation at all, given those sketchy calls you can get at some hotels in China for "massage services".
Please bump your head carefully.
That's generally good advice that I wish my one-year-old son would follow.
If you are stolen, call the police at once.
Again, generally good advice. You wouldn't want to wait a week or two after you're stolen, would you?

Now let's move on to one of my favorites, this "Notice to Tourists" that was at Simatai, one of the common Great Wall destinations near Beijing, back in 2002. I took the below photo myself:

Notice to Tourists

Here's the English-challenged text (the all-caps formatting is from the original):

NOTICE TO TOURISTS
  1. PLEASE OBSERVE LANDSCAPE ORDER DON'T BLOCK THE ROAD AND EXIT BUY TICKET8 IN TURN AND ENTER THE LANDSCAPE AFTER THEY BE CHECKED PAY ATTENTION TO KEEP YOUR COUNTERFOLLS SO AS TO BE CHECKED AGAIN BY THE STAFF MEMBERS.
So, in other words, if you don't be holding counterfolls (wha...?), the staff gonna be up on your @$$.
  1. PLEASE OBSERVE DISCIPLINE AND OBEY THE LAW DON'T SCUFFLE CREATE A DISTURBANCE DO SUPERSTITION AND OTHER UNLAWFUL ACTIVITIES.
It would seem that as long as you don't scuffle, create a disturbance, and do superstition and other unlawful activities, you're good to go. No need to check your voodoo doll at the gate.
  1. PLEASE OBSERVE SOCIAL MORALITY RESPECT THE OLDERS TAKE GOOD CARE OF CHILDREN AND BE SELF POSSESSED PLEASE GO SIGHT SEEING AOLOROMA TO THE LANDSCAPE RULES.
I hope all you self-possessed men are ready to do some sight-seeing aoloroma (what what?!)! Just make sure that, if you feel the need to mow the lawn, you follow the landscape rules.
  1. KEEP YOUR OWN THINGS WELL IN ORDER TO AVOID LOSING THE-

    M DON'T SPIT AND LITTER.

Of course, you may spit or litter; it's the combination they frown upon. This loophole probably explains why China has been struggling with stamping out both of those bad habits.
  1. PLEASE TAKE CARE OF CULTURAL RELICS PLAND WILD ANIMALS.
Because, you know, cultural relics will just fall right into your hands while you're walking around the Great Wall. Make sure you take care of planned wild animals as well, although with unplanned ones you can do as you will. I just don't want to be there when a panda pops up unplanned on tourists at Simatai...
  1. DON'T ENTER NON-LANDSCAPE AREAS CARRY INFLAMMABLES AND O-

    THER DANGE ROUS ARTICLES THE LANDSCAPE IS FIRE PREVEN TION TO THE SAFE SIGNS AND FOLLOW THE STAFFS ARRANGE O-

    THER WISE YOU WILL ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES YOURSELF.

I'm glad they've got their priorities straight and made the landscape part of the fire prevention for the safe signs. Without those safe signs (which are presumably in Chinglish as well), I'm not sure what would come of Simatai.
SIMATAI GREAT WALL LANDSCAPE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE
And at least we know who to blame for this mess: the landscapers.

Sadly, this sign is likely long gone thanks to the 2008 Olympics. We'll miss it dearly.

If you're in for something a little less wordy (but a lot more vulgar), try this one on for size:

Fuck the fruit area

In lieu of "Fuck the fruit area", a much better translation of this would simply be "Dried fruit". The character 干 gān has the unfortunate distinction of meaning both "dry" and "to do" and, euphemistically, "to fuck". I didn't take this pic myself, and—given the incredibly convenient placement of "the"—I'm skeptical as to the reliability of this pic (Photoshopped, perhaps?). But, even if this is fake, it certainly could happen. Update: The New York Times appears to have confirmed that this is indeed a real picture.

Finally, below I've added a bunch of Chinglish links for you, and please drop a line with you favorite Chinglish in the comments below!

Links:

Chinglish: Found in Translation [Amazon]More Chinglish: Speaking in Tongues [Amazon]The Chinglish Files

The Chinglish Collection

The Chinglish Pool [Flickr]

Chinglish [Wikipedia]

Save Chinglish [Facebook]

Shanghai seeks to end 'Chinglish' [BBC]

Could it be the end of Chinglish? [Guardian]

Shanghai to purge itself of 'Chinglish' [Telegraph]

2 comments:

  1. One reason for the persistance is as follows:

    When I worked as a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) for the Japanese government, a chief part of my job was translating documents from Japanese to English and doing "native checks" (correcting English translations completed by native Japanese speakers). I noticed that on numerous occasions, corrections I had made were overturned by superiors. Apparently authority and 12 years of English study trump being a native speaker!

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  2. Yeah, I hear you. That's happened to me as well when the final word was a non-native speaker. A common reason was to cover up previous mistakes in documents that were already finalized, i.e., if they fixed it in this one, they'd have to admit it was wrong in the last one.

    Sigh...

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