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Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A tourist experience that has given the English-speaking traveller a lot of innocent fun is to end.

Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times reports that Shanghai is trying to untangle the mangled English of Chinglish

Expo 2010 is to blame.  No longer will we read "The Little Grass is Sleeping, Don't hurt Me I am Afraid of Pain" on little posts stuck into lawns. Instead, we will be admonished to "Keep Off the Grass."  No longer will there be machines at banks for "Cash Recycling."  Instead, they will lurk under the letters "ATM."  No longer will labels on outsize clothing say "Fatso" or "Lard Bucket."  Instead we will get the tactful XXL.

"The purpose of signage is to be useful, not to be amusing," admonished Zhao Huimin, former Chinese Ambassador in Washington, DC, and now the leader in the fight for sobriety in signs.

A team of experts, led by Jeffrey Yao, an English translator and teacher at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University, is carrying out the exorcism.  "Some Chinglish expressions are nice, but we are not translating literature here," said he sternly.  "I want to see people nodding that they understand the message on these signs.  I don't want to see them laughing."

Oliver Lutz Radtke, former German radio reporter and perhaps the world authority on Chinglish, declares it is a shame.  Chinglish, he reckons, should be allowed to grow into an Official Language. It is an endangered species, and he is lobbying for its preservation.  It is a window, he says, into the Chinese mind.

The fact that he is the author of a couple of amusing picture books featuring Chinglish signs could well be a factor.  Mr Radtke is also working toward a PhD in Chinglish at the University of Heidelberg.

3 comments: said...

What a shame - Chinglish is such a treat. "Water pressure is low - put nothing in the toilet - please use the dustbin instead." is a sign I recall that made me laugh out loud.

John Townley said...

Headed the way of Platt Deutch, with its many nauticalisms...

World of the Written Word said...

It has been pointed out to me that it is probably impossible to translate Chinese into English (and vice versa) with exactly the same nuances. My son, when doing Oriental languages at a distant stage in his education, pointed out in a Chinese eatery that though we were dining in "The Ruby Restaurant," the Chinese characters heading the menu actually read "Red Treasure House." So maybe Chinglish is here to stay.