Snapshot punishment

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Photograph of highway sign from Jinghong (Thai Chiang Rung) in Sibsongbanna / Sipsong Panna / Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, PRC:

We needn't worry overmuch about the first two directions (with the blue background), because they are basically rendered correctly (except for the typo of "Whithe" for "White"); note the use of "t" for dūn 吨 ("ton").

However, the direction with the yellow background needs some unpacking and explanation:

quánchéng jiānkòng zhuāpāi chǔfá 全城监控抓拍处罚
("[closed circuit television] monitoring throughout the city; [violators] will be recorded and ticketed")

There was considerable disagreement among those who offered their interpretation of the Chinese sentence.  Most of the problems centered around how to understand zhuāpāi 抓拍.  It does mean "take a snapshot", but in this context it would be better to think of it as "capture an image of".

More literally, chǔfá 处罚 means "punish".

As for the lettering that is neither Chinese nor English, Pattira Thaithosaeng writes:

Unfortunately, I cannot find anyone who can read it. However, one of my friends who is a native of Northern Thai told me that it was the new Tai Lue script. The old Tai Lue is very similar to Lanna script (a script used in Lanna Kingdom before it was annexed, and still in use today in the northern part of Thailand). In the new Tai Lue script, the tone marks are put in the same line with the letters.

Perhaps one of our Language Log readers knows how to transliterate and translate the Tai Lue writing or can find someone to do so.


After I had finished writing the above, I received the following from Trent Walker, who kindly transliterated and translated all of the New Tai Lue writing on the sign:

The sign in written in New Tai Lue script, which is used today by the government to write the Tai Lü language (傣仂语) in the PRC. I can read the script, but I am not competent in Tai Lü itself. However, it is similar enough to Lao and Northern Thai that I can hazard a transliteration and translation. I have given these below:

Roman-script transliteration [EFEO system]: lot lāk gho phat pai bāy khvā

Thai-script transliteration: โลด ลาก โฆ ผด ไป พาย ขฺวา

In Central Thai orthography: รถลากคอ ผลัดไปภายขวา

English translation:  Pulling-vehicles [i.e. trucks?] turn to the right side


Roman-script transliteration: goṅ pai bāy kho ḷoṅ dhāt pheīk1

Thai-script transliteration: โคง ไป พาย ขอ โฬง ธาด เผื่อ ก

In Central Thai orthography: โค้งไป ภายขัวล่วงธาตุเผือก

English translation: Detour to go to the [other?] side [:] White Stupa Bridge


Roman-script transliteration: dāṅ sīn2 nīa mī ho cak ṅàt1 Hop fā2 phai

Thai-script transliteration: ทาง สี้น นีะ มี โห จัก ง่อด โฮบ ฝ้า ไผ

In Central Thai orthography: ทาง เส้นนี้มีหอชักงวดรูปฝ้าใผ OR ทั้งสี้นนี้มีหอชักงวดรูปฝ้าใผ

English translation: This road has towers taking timed photographs to penalize anyone OR There are towers everywhere taking timed photographs to penalize anyone

The first two parts of the sign are straightforward and I am confident in my interpretation, with the exception of the word for "truck" in Tai Lü and the exact meaning of "side" [bāy] in this context (presumably 境?).

The third part is more difficult. dāṅ sīn2 nīa mī ho could mean "This road has towers" or "There are towers everywhere." Neither lines up exactly with 全城监控, though the perhaps the second interpretation is preferable.

fā2 phai  is also problematic. The word "fā2" in Tai languages can mean foggy, vague, blemish, or scum, which are not the right meanings for this context. I am wondering whether it is loanword from Chinese, namely 罚 (fá) [i.e. if ฝ้า (fā2) = 罚 and ใผ (phai) = ผู้ใด = who] . I think this is the more likely interpretation. Another possible interpretation is that fā2 phai is related to Bai Bā2 (pronounced fai fā2 in Thai and Lao), meaning "electric" [i.e. if ฝ้าไผ = ฟ้าไฟ = ไฟฟ้า = electric], but this strikes me as unlikely.

[h.t. Michael Rank; thanks to Jing Wen, Maiheng Dietrich, Bob Bauer, Fangyi Cheng, Yixue Yang, Susanne Ryuyin Kerekes, and Sara Davis]


  1. Bob Ladd said,

    January 4, 2016 @ 3:23 am

    The translation may be a bit unsteady, but anyone who drives in many parts of Western Europe will have no trouble understanding "Whole-City Monitor and Snapshot Punishment", especially with the camera icon next to it. Speed limits, traffic lights, bus-only lanes and the like are routinely monitored by CCTV in many countries, and violation notices are sent to the registered address of the owner of any car photographed doing something it shouldn't. In colloquial German, geblitzt werden means 'to have one's [car's] picture taken by an automatic traffic control camera'.

  2. julie lee said,

    January 4, 2016 @ 5:35 pm

    @Bob Ladd:
    Wow, the two German words _geblitzt werden_ translates into twelve English words here.

    (I first started the above sentence with "I find it interesting that" and then crossed it out and typed "Wow" instead.)

  3. markonsea said,

    January 4, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

    "Wow, the two German words _geblitzt werden_ translates into twelve English words here."

    Yeah, we'd normally say, "get caught on CCTV" – four words, as aganst 12 in the necessarily unwieldy explanation of the German – which, incidentally, doesn’t even cover the fact that _blitzen_ refers metonymically to the "flash" of a flashgun.

  4. Usually Dainichi said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 9:43 am

    The CCTV part is clear enough, but I'm curious about the syntax of 全城监控抓拍处罚. I mean, is it one long compound noun consisting of 4 2-character parts, and if so, are the 3 first parts modifying the 4th? (Is it still called syntax when it's word-internal, by the way?) That would imply that the punishment consists of "monitoring you and taking snapshots of you throughout the city". It makes more semantic sense that the 3 last parts are somehow parallel. "Throughout the city, we monitor you, then take snapshots of you, then punish you"! Just curious how the syntax allows for that. Or maybe there's some kind of headlinese in play, and usual syntax rules break down.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 7, 2016 @ 8:15 am

    From Khanan Sam Sao:

    I am very sorry for delay response. I am in Sipsong Panna and it is difficult fo visit here.

    Yes, the Tai translations are a little different from Chinese.

    The first sentence in Tai does not mean all freight vehicles, neither mention above 2 tons vehicle.

    The second sentence in Tai does not mention border crossing.

    The third sentence in Tai means the road set with monitor and snapshot punishment. It does not mean the whole city. The last Tai word of the sentence is not correct. It should be mai not pai.

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