Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I always do.

I'd probably use flush instead of wash ...

This is another good example of the right-in-your-face-character of Chinglish. Western toilet signs usually carefully circumvent issues related to certain body functions (althought that's what they are mainly for), resulting in requests such as "Please flush after use" or even just "Please flush afterwards" not mentioning those sometimes heavenly relieving actions after all ...

Taken in 西安 Xi'an, thanks to Hugh.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The might and magic of online translation tools.

As stated in my previous post The most asked question - why? I hereby present some examples of free online translation software that might help to further support my theory of many Chinglish signs actually being produced by using online services.

I randomly selected some of this collection's catchier phrases and ran translation quests on five different websites (their adresses are found below).

As you can see, the outcome is not only pure Chinglish (as is the case with almost any other language), but sometimes quite similar to what I have found on public signs around the country (the original translations are shown in brackets). Enjoy.

(After first under on, do riding with civility, see original entry)
(1) After first under on, the civilization rides in a carriage.
(2) Go down upper, civilized riding of queen first.
(3) After descending first up, the civilization goes by car.
(4) After the jump, civilized ride.
(5) Under on, the civilization rides in a carriage after first.

青青的草 怕你的脚
(Green grass dreading your feet, see original entry)
(1) The blue grass fears your foot.
(2) Green grass is afraid of your foot.
(3) The very green grass fears your feet.
(4) Green grass afraid your legs.
(5) The blue grass fears your foot.

小草有情 你当有意
(Love the litter grass, see original entry)
(1) The grass feels emotion you when intends.
(2) Small grass has feeling you should have a mind to.
(3) The small grass has feeling you to be to have intention to.
(4) When you intend to large and enthusiastic. (!)
(5) The grass feels emotion you when intends.

注意安全 请勿戏水
(Noticing Security, Don't play water, see original entry)
(1) Pays attention safely please do not play with water.
(2) Pay attention to safety not play with water please.
(3) Noticing the safety pleases not drama water.
(4) Do not playing in the water safety.
(5) Pays attention safely please do not play with water.

(Salute to the tourists who keep the public hygience, see original entry)
(1) Salutes to the aware maintenance public health tourist.
(2) Salute to the visitor who defends public health conscientiously.
(3) Pay respects toward the visitor who aware of self to support public hygiene.
(4) Tourists pay tribute to consciously safeguard public health.
(5) Salutes to the aware maintenance public health tourist.

文明参观 讲究卫生
(Visit in civilization, pay attention to hygiene!, see original entry)
(1) Civilized visit Is fastidious the health.
(2) Civilization is paid a visit to Pay attention to hygiene.
(3) Civilization visit Pay attention to hygiene.
(4) Civilization tour Stress health.
(5) The civilization visits Is fastidious hygienic.

(Don't forget to carry your thing, see original entry)
(1) Please do not forget along with the goods.
(2) Do not forget please with self article.
(3) Please don't forget personal luggage.
(4) Do not forget belongings.
(5) Please do not forget along with goods.

And last, but not least:
(Deformed man toilet, see blog header)
(1) Disabled person restroom
(2) Deformed man toilet (!)
(3) Disable and sick person's toilet
(4) Disabled toilet
(5) Disabled person restroom

Used online services
(1) http://fanyi.cn.yahoo.com/ (same as Altavista's Babelfish?)
(2) http://trans.godict.com/
(3) http://www.iciba.com/
(4) http://translate.google.com/
(5) http://www.onlinetranslation.cn/

I was just informed that tool (2) trans.godict.com has changed its engine to Altavista's translation service some time after this entry.
I tried to post several of the slogans on display above and godict.com didn't show any translations at all (using bits and pieces works fine). It seems they removed all problematic utterances that I've put on here. Interesting, indeed. I keep you updated.

Update 2:
A week later trans.godict.com properly uses it's own translations again, resulting in the very special "deformed man toilet". Back to normal, it seems.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The most asked question - why?

This is going to be a bit longer than my usual postings, but the matter is worth every inch ...

I've been lately investing some spare time in trying to figure out what the thought processes of sign makers in China are. As non-relevant or nerdish that might sound at first glance, it is - in my eyes - nevertheless a question that, at least slightly, touches general concepts that China and her citizens and signmakers have about themselves and the world.

I think it is valid to ask why nobody actually proof-reads many of the bilingual signs in China. Signs that are not only displayed publicly but brightly illuminated by night, enlarged to giant proportions as billboard ads or huge commercials on street-long construction site fences.

Most of what I say now is influenced by discussions I recently had with Chinese friends and colleagues. Keep this in mind if I may sound arrogant. I can recall many instances where my Chinese friends look down on their tongbaomen and -women much more than I would ever dare to do (including classic utterances like She has no culture at all 这个人太没文化了。).

Here we go.

Possible approaches to China's bilingual sign-makers

Approach number 1: Nobody speaks English in China.

I think, we can exclude that right away. There are not only enough foreigners in China who could do the job, but - more importantly - enough Chinese university graduates with excellent language skills, even more so when they return from abroad. That many Chinese students struggle with the English language, hence the abundant literature on classroom Chinglish, is well-known, but not relevant here.

Approach number 2: We don't care.

No matter if it is right or wrong, as long as it looks foreign, cool and different (see entry on this Shanghai hairdresser) we are fine with it.
This, of course, wouldn't have much to do with trying to come up with a real translation.

Approach number 3: We don't know better.

Everyone familiar with certain company structures in China knows what I am referring to. Dongfeng Gongsi needs a new company sign, bilingual, international-looking, who is taking charge of that? Of course, Xiao Wang! Why? 因为他的英文是最好的 Because his English is the best!
What does that sentence really mean? Poor Xiao Wang has to deal with something he might not be familiar with at all, but his superiors regard his English to be the best. In the company. So it is naturally him who gets picked for the task. Luckily no one notices the problems afterwards, because his boss's English is nearly non-existent, so he won't bother.

Approach number 4: We want to do it ourselves.

This would be a discussion about "losing face". How come we've built the Forbidden City and now have to rely on red-haired barbarians helping us with their language! An unlikely scenario, but I wouldn't want to exclude anything too early.

Approach number 5: The might of online translation tools

In my next posting I'd like to feature some of them trying to show that it is quite likely that many sign makers are actually frequently using free online software to generate their rather characteristic word-by-word translations.
Using these tools for any Chinese sentence is real fun, by the way.

What do you think? What is the most likely approach in your eyes? Did I miss something completely?
I am very much looking forward to any comment!

Monday, March 12, 2007

I salute back.

This is another wonderful example of why Chinglish fascinates me. The signs aren't really wrong here, just that nowhere else in the world would a tourist be addressed like that. So I stand amazed and salute back.

Since many visitors of this site ask me to provide correct translations, I try to do so from now on. I will also be very happy to post your suggestions!

The first one in today's post, though, is already nearly untransferable in its genuine Chinese approach to the masses.

could be turned into:
"We greet all environmentally conscious travellers."

(this, of course, takes out all the fun but tries to leave in a bit of its Chineseness)


might be:
"Everybody loves a litter-free environment."

(文明 "civilisation, culture" again is very Chinese, why should one need to promote that on a public sign? I know why that promotion happens in China, so no need to explain it, i still omitted the word in my suggestion.)

Again, my fascination for Chinglish obviously also comes from the official educational approach to the public which is quite different from many Western societies' sign language where much of it contains commands and orders not to do this or that.
So when it comes to "Don't litter!" or "A clean environment is a kind of enjoyment" you choose for yourself ...

Found in the Forbidden City (Gugong) 故宫 in Beijing 北京.

Thanks, Hugh.

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