liv­ing with Chinglish

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE - Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN english@thes­tar.com.my

Many for­eign­ers would be fa­mil­iar with con­fus­ing trans­la­tions from Chi­nese.

WHAT if you were in a ho­tel bath­room and you saw a no­tice that said, “take care of the land­slide”? Wouldn’t you im­me­di­ately check out and move to an­other ho­tel?

This is Chinglish, and many for­eign­ers would be fa­mil­iar with such con­fus­ing trans­la­tions from Chi­nese.

In Chongqing, a trans­la­tion cen­tre was set up un­der the for­eign af­fairs of­fice of this mu­nic­i­pal­ity in south-west China. It has re­leased stan­dard trans­la­tions to some widely used words.

The stan­dard trans­la­tions in­cluded “liv­able Chongqing”, “traf­fic-smooth Chongqing”, “for­est Chongqing”, “safe Chongqing”, “healthy Chongqing”, and “crime crack­down”, which re­fer to the ef­forts of the city, no­to­ri­ous for its mafia, in clamp­ing down on gang crimes.

“Dif­fer­ent or even wrong trans­la­tions can trou­ble for­eign­ers,” an of­fi­cial said as the rea­son for the move.

“The phrases we trans­lated are all widely used,” he said. “For in­stance, there have been 152,597 searches for ‘ gang crime crack­down’ on Baidu.com in the past seven months.”

How­ever, these stan­dard trans­la­tions were still not “stan­dard” enough in the eyes of for­eign­ers.

Daniel Cot­ter­all, who had been an edi­tor at a Bei­jing-based news or­gan­i­sa­tion and has spent years learn­ing Chi­nese, pointed out that “for­est Chongqing” could be “green Chongqing” and na­tive English speak­ers wouldn’t say “traf­fic-smooth Chongqing”.

But Cot­ter­all said the trans­la­tions were still bet­ter than oth­ers he had seen.

“The fun­ni­est one I saw was in the bath­room of a ho­tel in Heze (a city in east China’s Shan­dong prov­ince),” he said. “Take care of the land­slide,” it said, when what it meant was “be care­ful of the slip­pery floor”.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port on China’s por­tal web­site Netease. com, jour­nal­ists from the New York Times and the Mir­ror Weekly col­lected many amus­ing mis­trans­la­tions in Shang­hai dur­ing the World Expo this year.

One ex­am­ple was at a shut­tle bus stop out­side an air­port. A sign read: “Please be well seated and al­ways make your­self safe. Thank you.”

An­other one was at a con­struc­tion site: “Ex­e­cu­tion in progress” said the sign, re­fer­ring to the on­go­ing con­struc­tion.

A res­tau­rant menu listed a soup cooked with mush­rooms and black-bone chicken as “bac­te­ria wu chicken soup”. “Wu” trans­lates as black in Chi­nese.

More than 600 vol­un­teers from the Guang­dong Uni­ver­sity of For­eign Stud­ies col­lected over 4,800 mis­trans­la­tions on sign­boards, menu cards and shop fronts in the city be­fore the 16th Asian Games. The “most shock­ing slo­gan” as rated by In­ter­net users was “Ying-Asian Games”. The Chi­nese char­ac­ter for “wel­come” is “ying”.

The govern­ment of Guangzhou made ef­forts to im­prove trans­la­tions in pub­lic places be­fore the event.

“Dur­ing the Asian Games, there will be many for­eign­ers in Guangzhou. Wrong trans­la­tions could dam­age the im­age of our city,” said Li Wen­hui, a vol­un­teer.

A for­eign na­tional, who called him­self a lin­guist and worked at an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness school in China, said on Guardian.co.uk that he “whole­heart­edly backed the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties’ plan to re­duce mis­trans­la­tions”, and that they could be the re­sult of “poorly writ­ten and poorly used pocket trans­la­tors”.

“The Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have ev­ery right and re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­vent the Chi­nese peo­ple as a whole from be­com­ing a laugh­ing stock in the West,” he said.

Chen Dezhang, a renowned lin­guist from the Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Uni­ver­sity, be­lieved the ef­forts by the au­thor­i­ties were nec­es­sary, al­though he agreed that the stan­dard trans­la­tions in Chongqing could be im­proved.

“In of­fi­cial in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Chinglish and mis­trans­la­tions must be elim­i­nated,” said the pro­fes­sor, who had worked in the For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry.

“There is no such thing as ‘English with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics’,” he said. “Lan­guage is se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

Yet for­eign­ers seem to ap­pear tol­er­ant to wrong trans­la­tions or Chinglish.

“I think a lot of Western­ers en­joy Chinglish. It is charm­ing,” Cot­ter­all said.

“Af­ter all, the Chi­nese are not na­tive speak­ers,” he said. “If I make a mis­take when speak­ing in Chi­nese, you can un­der­stand it as well.”

He said that stan­dard English was like a me­trop­o­lis while Chinglish was akin to small cities with a cer­tain flavour.

“I like the ‘small cities’ more,” he said. Chinglish re­flected the Chi­nese way of think­ing, which he be­lieved was very in­ter­est­ing.

In fact, some Chinglish phrases have even be­come ac­cepted English phrases, said Zhao Jian­hui, an English teacher with the School of For­eign Lan­guages in the Shanxi Uni­ver­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nom­ics.

“For ex­am­ple, ‘long time no see’ is a word-for-word transla- tion of a Chi­nese greet­ing, but for­eign­ers use it too now,” she said.

The teacher be­lieved that the change was a re­sult of China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in the world.

She hoped that more Chi­nese words could be ac­cepted in the English lan­guage.

On Face­book, there is a group call­ing for “sav­ing Chinglish”, which has at­tracted thou­sands of mem­bers. – Ber­nama

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