living with Chinglish
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