Zhonglish: a high-impact ride?

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Over the years, here at Language Log we've examined countless examples of Chinglish, that inimitable brand of English spewed out by bad translation software and incompetent human translators. The mirror of this phenomenon going in the other direction has been referred to as Zhonglish, which is defined in the Urban Dictionary as "The mangled, garbled, butchered, malapropriated or trashed Chinese spoken by native speakers of English."

I touched upon Zhonglish briefly last year ("Xinhua English and Zhonglish", 2/4/2009), but now (on a Chinese social networking site) I've come across a wonderful example of written Zhonglish that merits more extensive discussion — the multilingual warning sign at the entrance to the world-famous roller coaster known as the Coney Island Cyclone:

The English reads as follows:

Warning: The Cyclone Roller Coaster Is A High Impact Ride. Any Person With Back, Neck Or Heart Problems Should Not Ride This Ride. No Pregnant Person Should Ride. Hold On With Both Hands.

Though I can make out what they say, I am not able to judge well the quality of the Spanish and Russian translations. But the Chinese translation is definitely peculiar, so peculiar that almost every phrase includes an outright error or something grossly unidiomatic:

警告:旋风过山车是高的影响骑。背部,脖子的任何人或者心脏问题应该不骑这骑。没有怀孕的人应该骑马。拿着指针继续。

Jǐnggào: Xuànfēng guòshānchē shì gāo de yǐngxiǎng qí. Bèibù, bózi de rènhé rén huòzhě xīnzàng wèntí yīnggāi bù qí zhè qí. Méiyǒu huáiyùn de rén yīnggāi qímǎ. Ná zhe zhǐzhēn jìxù.

The most egregious problem with the Chinese translation on the sign at Coney Island, one that recurs several times, is the erroneous use of the word qí ("ride [astride, as on a horse]") for both the noun and verb "ride"; it should not be used for either. In the third instance, the Chinese translation on the sign explicitly says that pregnant women should [not] qímǎ ("ride a horse")! The correct translation of the English verb in this warning should be chéngzuò 乘坐 or just chéng 乘. The noun is more difficult to handle, because there is no standard rendering of English "ride" into Chinese in the sense of entertainment park attraction. Common renderings are (yóulè) shèshī (遊樂)設施 ("[recreation] facility"), this or that kind of chē 車 ("car, vehicle"), etc., and it might even be rendered as xiàngmù 项目 ("project, item, sports event, term, thing"). Because of the uncertainty over how to translate English "ride" in the sense of entertainment park attraction, I have often seen the English word "ride" mixed in with Chinese characters, e.g., “樂園 rides" ("amusement park rides").

Bendan O'Kane recently pointed out to me another example of a frequent type of English interference in Chinese. In listening to the World Cup broadcasts, he heard announcers "using utterly awkward calques, like '[such and such player] 阅读了the field.'" That's yuèdúle ("read"), as in "he read a book"!

The other major mistake in the Chinese warning on the Coney Island Cyclone sign is the rendering of "impact" as yǐngxiǎng 影响 ("affect, effect, influence") rather than chōngjí 冲击. No native speaker of Chinese who knows English fairly well would make this mistake.

Grammatically, the handling of the negatives is a disaster. Since the various machine translations of the English that I've consulted also make a mess of the negatives, it would seem that such aspects of translation — at the present time — can only be performed adequately by someone who is quite familiar with both the source language and the target language.

Overall, the impression one gains from the Chinese warning sign at the entrance to the Coney Island Cyclone is that it is the work of someone who knows a small amount of Chinese relying on an English-Chinese dictionary or translation software and piecing it together a word at a time. This is exactly analogous to the process that results in Chinglish translations, where someone who knows little or no English relies on a Chinese-English dictionary or translation software, often of inferior quality.

Just for fun, here are some machine and human translations of this sign, in both directions.

Translating the Chinese sign into English via Google Translate:

Warning: the impact of Cyclone roller coaster is riding high. Back, neck or heart problems, any person should not ride this ride. People who are not pregnant should be riding. Holding a pointer to [continue].

A very literal back-translation by Jiajia Wang:

Warning: The Cyclone Roller Coaster is a high influence to ride. The back and neck’s any person or heart problems should no to ride this to ride. Those who are not pregnant should ride a horse. Holding hands (of a clock) to continue.

Machine translation of the original English into Chinese by Google Translate — much better than what is on the sign now:

警告:旋風過山車是一種高影響乘坐。任何人背部,頸部或心臟問題,不能坐這車程。沒有懷孕的人應該坐。就用雙手按住。

Jǐnggào: Xuànfēng guòshānchē shì yīzhǒng gāo yǐngxiǎng chéngzuò. Rènhé rén bèibù, jǐng bù huò xīnzàng wèntí, bùnéng zuò zhè chēchéng. Méiyǒu huáiyùn de rén yīnggāi zuò. Jiù yòng shuāng shǒu àn zhù.

Rendering that back into English (by Google Translate), we get:

Warning: Cyclone roller coaster is a high impact ride. Any back, neck or heart problems should not take this car. People who are not pregnant should take. On two hands.

A reasonable human translation of the original English sign into Chinese (by Ying Zhou):

警告:此飓风过山车有很强的冲击力。背部,颈部及心脏有疾患的人请不要乘坐。孕妇请不要乘坐。请双手扶好。

Jǐnggào: Cǐ jùfēng guòshānchē yǒu hěn qiáng de chōngjí lì. Bèibù, jǐngbù jí xīnzàng yǒu jíhuàn de rén qǐng bùyào chéngzuò. Yùnfù qǐng bùyào chéngzuò. Qǐng shuāng shǒu fú hǎo.

Rendering that back into English (by Google Translate), we get:

Warning: This hurricane roller coaster has a strong impact. Back, neck and heart disease who do not ride. Please do not take pregnant women. Please help good hands.

Here's another try at a translation of the original English sign in to Chinese, by Shen Jing:

旋风过山车是一种具有高冲击力的游乐项目。任何有背部、颈部或心脏问题的人以及孕妇都不可乘坐。乘坐过山车时请双手抓牢。

Xuànfēng guòshānchē shì yīzhǒng jùyǒu gāo chōngjí lì de yóulè xiàngmù. Rènhé yǒu bèibù, jǐngbù huò xīnzàng wèntí de rén yǐjí yùnfù dōu bùkě chéngzuò. Chéngzuò guòshānchē shí qǐng shuāng shǒu zhuā láo.

Rendering that back into English (by Google Translate), we get:

Cyclone roller coaster is a pleasure with a high impact project. Any back, neck or heart problems as well as pregnant women should not ride. Roller coaster ride, please hold on.

Here is Jiajia Wang's translation of the original English sign into Chinese:

警告: 乘坐旋风过山车是一项具有高强刺激性的活动。任何有颈部、背部或者心脏问题的人都不应该乘坐。孕妇也不应该乘坐此过山车。乘坐时请双手握紧扶手。

Jǐnggào: Chéngzuò xuànfēng guòshānchē shì yī xiàng jùyǒu gāoqiáng cìjī xìng de huódòng. Rènhé yǒu jǐngbù, bèibù huòzhě xīnzàng wèntí de rén dōu bù yìnggāi chéngzuò. Yùnfù yě bù yìnggāi chéngzuò cǐ guò shānchē. Chéngzuò shí qǐng shuāng shǒu wò jǐn fúshǒu.

Rendering this Chinese translation back into English (via Google Translate) yields the following:

Warning: Cyclone roller coaster ride is an activity with high-strength irritant. Any neck, back or heart problems who should not take. Pregnant women should not ride this roller coaster. Clenched hands when you take the arm.

[A tip of the hat to Jiajia Wang and Jonathan Smith.]

[Video of a ride on the Cyclone is here.]

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44 Comments »

  1. annieone said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    I can't say anything about the chinese translation, but the spanish translation is also weird.

    UN paseo alto del impacto.: what is this?

  2. mike said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    I'm no expert, but the Spanish translation looks pretty wacky as well. Even the English, With All Of Its Words Capitalized, is somewhat strange.

  3. Robert Morris said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    I'm not a native speaker, but the Spanish translation looks wacky to me, too ("ninguna persona con espalda" — 'no person with [a] back'?).

    As for the Chinese, my favorite is "Those who are not pregnant should ride a horse."

  4. Peter Harvey said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    The Spanish says that no-one with a back, neck problems, or a heart should ride this walk. Well, paseo could mean a drive in a car for example, but it suggests relaxation and is wrong here. It also has cabalgar, which is to ride a horse.

    But then, ride in this context looks odd to British eyes. Americans can ride trains, we know, but we're not all John Waynes!

  5. Tom O'Brien said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    The Spanish translates the English phrase for phrase, but the translator (or software) parses it wrong. "No person with back, the problems of neck or heart should ride this ride." Since most persons have backs, that appears to exclude most of us. "Cabalgar" has a root meaning of riding a horse, and "paseo" is a walk or a drive in a car. I don't know how one would say "ride a roller-coaster" in Spanish, but I'm pretty sure this isn't it.

  6. Craig said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    Personally, I'm baffled by sign writers who think they need to capitalize each word.

    The Spanish could be roughly translated as:

    The Warning: The roller coaster of cyclone is a high ride of impact. No person with back, problems of neck nor heart should ride [as a horse] this ride. No pregnant person should ride [as a horse] this ride. Hold on [as in "endure"] with both hands.

    The major vocabulary problems:
    1. "cabalgar" is used for riding horses and other equines.

    2. "aguantar" means to endure, to withstand, to hold back, to wait (i.e. hold on). For "grip", a word like "aferrarse" or "agarrarse", using the infinitive as an impersonal command, should have been used.

    This is probably closer to what they wanted:

    Advertencia: La montaña rusa "Cyclone" es un juego de alto impacto. Ninguna persona con problemas de espalda, de cuello o de corazón debe subirse a este juego. Ninguna persona embarazada debe subirse a este juego. Agarrarse con ambas manos.

  7. Pavel Iosad said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    The Russian also seems to be a translation of the English, with about the expected quality. "Cyclone Roller Coaster" comes out as (very literally) a "Rolling device [roller] for the application of surfaces ["*coater" for "coaster"?] of cyclone".

  8. Kalaus said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    The Russian translation is wonderful too! Here's the (back translated) approximation of what it says: "Roller device for cyclone coating — high trip of impact. Every person with return, neck or cordial problems need not take a ride on this trip. Neither pregnant man need not take a ride."

  9. CIngram said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    The Spanish version is clearly a machine translation, with arbitrary capitals added by hand. 'Cabalgar' is, as Craig says, to ride a horse, and it's intransitive. But the correct verb here would be 'montar', and a fairground ride, that is 'ride', the noun, is 'atracción', not 'juego', at least not in my part of the world. Also I would prefer 'sujetarse' to 'agarrarse'.

    It says people with backs should not go on the ride, which seems poor marketing, as it limits it to protozoa and other amorphous life-forms which are not known for their sense of fun.

    "Those who are not pregnant should ride a horse." Some form of Zen, I imagine. Don't the Chinese do incomprehension so well?

  10. Jason F. Siegel said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    La Advertencia: La Montaña Rusa de Ciclón es UN Paseo Alto del Impacto. Ninguna persona con Espalda, los Problemas de Cuello ni Corazón no Deben Cabalgar este Paseo. Ninguna persona Embarazada Debe Cabalgar. Aguante Con Ambas Manos.

    Yields in Google

    Warning: The Cyclone roller coaster is a ride High Impact. No person with back, neck or heart problems should not Ride this Walk. No person should ride pregnant. Hold with both hands.

    Not too shabby in back-translation. Horrible in Spanish.

  11. Craig said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

    @CIngram, per the Pocket Oxford Spanish Dictionary © 2005 Oxford University Press as cited by wordreference.com, "juego" works in parts of Latin America for "fairground attraction, ride". "atracción" and "diversión" would also work, depending on where you are.

    I would refer you to a discussion on the same site about the various forms in use for riding amusement park rides: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=62398

  12. CIngram said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    @Craig

    Thanks for the link. I've never heard 'juego' in that sense before. The things you learn at LL.

  13. mollymooly said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    'there is no standard rendering of English "ride" into Chinese in the sense of entertainment park attraction'.
    This sense of "ride" is not universal even in English; it may be misinterpreted by other anglophones.

  14. Peter Taylor said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    Why "No pregnant person should ride" (my emphasis)? Would "No pregnant woman should ride" be sexist?

  15. Wimbrel said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    My favorite part of the Russian inscription is, easily, "No Pregnant Man" ("Никакой Беременный Человек"). The Spanish version seems to have missed this roflcopter.

  16. fregimus said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

    The Russian text is, for its purpose, nonsense.

    ПРЕДУПРЕЖДЕНИЕ: Роликовое устройство для нанесения покрытий Циклона — Высокая Поездка Воздействия. Любой Человек С Обратным, Шея, Или Сердечные Проблемы Не должен Поехать на Этой Поездке. Никакой Беременный Человек Не должен Поехать. Держитесь Обеими Руками.

    First of all, it seems that word capitalization in the text reflects dictionary entries. For example, the word roller was translated as roller device for surface coat application (ostensibly, a paint roller) with only the first word of the phrase capitalized, as the phrase had been likely copied verbatim from a dictionary. Capitalization in Russian is restricted to proper names and sentence initial words, making the text look like the translator has been dumping his yearly supply of capitals.

    For what it worth, I'll try to translate the sample into English, trying to preserve all its sense and nonsense:

    WARNING: The roller device for surface coat application of Cyclone is a High Ride Of Influence. Any Human With A Reverse, Any Neck, or Any Heart Problems it should Not Begin to ride[1] this Trip. A Pregnant Man[2] of Any Quality should Not Begin to ride. Hold on with Both Hands.

    1. поехать: perfective form of to ride with inchoative semantics, thus the rendering begin to ride.

    2. беременный человек: человек in the modern language means human of any sex. But here the adjective беременный (pregnant) is used in masculine form, which never properly occurs in the language, although formally required to agree with the masculine noun человек. I preferred the word man to human to render it as a similarly grammatical but semantically improper phrase pregnant man.

  17. Dan T. said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    The style of capitalizing every word seems to be a favorite of certain sorts of ideologue activists; I've known people who write political rants that way.

  18. Ellen K. said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

    I agree that the Spanish is a machine translation. It makes errors that are standard for machine translations, but would be very odd from a person. I don't think there's any added capitalisation. I think it's the software carrying it over from the English. Thus "UN", translating "A"… a word in all caps in the English is all caps in the Spanish, the computer not smart enough to compare A to the other words and realize it's initial capitalization, not all caps.

  19. Leonardo Boiko said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

    @Peter: Well, with that they cover any FTM transgendered individuals who happen to be pregnant but identify as male and don’t want to be called a “woman”.

  20. ShadowFox said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

    fregimus is closer to the gist of the Russian text than Kalaus. I had my own translation before I read either of them. YMMV, but here's what I got {*}:

    WARNING: Roller mechanism{1} for spreading/making surface [covering] [called] Cyclone–High Trip [of] Influence Man with Reverse{2}, Neck{3} or Heart{4} Problems must Not to go on{5} This Trip{6}. None Pregnant Human [being]{7} must Not [take the] trip. Hold [on with] Both Hands.

    {*} Words in square brackets are implied by coordination in case, number, gender, etc., in a complete translation. Although they are not actually present in the Russian text, they are not necessary to convey the meaning, so these are not errors. There are plenty of actual errors without them.
    {1} or device–the point is, it's not in any way related to a roller coaster. In fact, it sounds more like something you reseal your driveway with than a roller coaster.
    {2} neither translation above quite communicates the confusion that reigns among these three words (reverse, neck, heart). The categorization of the first one is {ablative, plural, adjective}
    {3} {nominative, singular, noun}
    {4} {nominative, plural, adjective}
    {5} although it sounds correct in English, it is the wrong preposition in Russian–the verb is [to go on a trip] with the preposition implying the mode of transportation; the noun [trip/ride] can appear with the same preposition, but in a different meaning AND the noun case is not coordinated with the preposition
    {6} wrong case here, coordination is screwed up
    {7} fregimus got it exactly right–the meaning is genderless "man" or "human" and "pregnant" is masculine. This combination makes little sense.

    Whichever way you interpret the text, it's a Russian version of Chinglish, which is actually fairly common. As bad a Chinglish coordination is in apparent English, in its Russian version is many times worse because there are many more cases, three genders and it's really easy to screw up declension and conjugation. I've discovered a rather large number of similar problems in all sorts of labels, particularly in toys (an infamous one involves alphabet blocks!) and, of course, cheap electronics.

  21. ShadowFox said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

    Oh, and I don't think this is a "machine translation"–i.e., it was not done as a whole text through something like Babelfish or GoogleTranslate. It looks more like someone with minimal knowledge of grammar trying to parse words that he does not fully understand, so he picks up wrong glosses from a dictionary.

  22. ShadowFox said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

    Here's Google Russian version, which is bad for entirely different reasons (it can't even translate "ride"):

    Циклон горки Есть большое влияние Ride
    Любое лицо, спины, шеи и сердца проблемы не должны Ride This Ride.
    Нет Беременные человек должен Ride. Hold On обеими руками.

    Babelfish is even more hilarious–note, in particular, the translation of "pregnant" (and "back", which is translated as "rear end"):

    Русские горки циклончика ударопрочная езда Любая персона с проблемами задней части, шеи или сердца не должна ехать эта езда. Никакая супоросая персона не должна ехать. Держите дальше с обеими руками.

  23. Scriptor Ignotior said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

    mangled, garbled, butchered, malapropriated or trashed

    I'm intrigued by malapropriated. OED has the verb malappropriate: "trans. To misapply (something)". The definition exhibits redundancy ("something", added in recent revision, after "trans.") and possibly also misapplication, supported by its sole citation which is from Wuthering Heights:

    She thrust the hearth-brush into the grates in mistake for the poker, and mal-appropriated several other articles of her craft.

    OED also has an adjective and a noun (malappropriate, malappropriation). Among these and the entries for associated words with appropr* at the start, there seems to be a muddling of two ideas: appropriation as conversion to one's own property or use (cf. misappropriation); and application as using to some purpose (applying a hearth-brush to clear the grates, or whatever).

    All that aside, how knowingly do those using malapropriate (with single p, not in OED) associate it with malapropism? They seem to be mixing two lexemes whose etymologies are different: the malaprop* forms are traceable to Latin propositum, proponere (via French mal à propos, and thence of course Sheridan's famous Mrs Malaprop); the malappropr* forms are ultimately from Latin proprius.

    So, if it's not an inappropriate, improper, or malapert question: is malapropriated a malapropism, a malappropriation, or both?

  24. GAC said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    Interesting, the Spanish has already been corrected better than I could have, though I probably would have left the English "Cyclone Roller Coaster" fully untranslated, since that seems pretty common for trademarked names in Spanish. It's pretty obvious that "UN" is from a computer translation misparsing the capitalized "A". Pretty much everything else is covered above

    I almost thought the English was not original until I read through and found nothing ungrammatical or semantically odd. Why they don't either follow capitalization conventions or simply go all-caps is beyond me — this Capitalization On Every Word reads janky for me. Maybe it grabs attention, but I have a feeling that it will cause people to read more slowly as well — not good in sign design.

  25. Syz said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    Great post and Zhonglish example, Victor. The commentary on the Spanish and Russian are amusing too.

    @Scriptor Ignotior: as the author of the Urban Dictionary entry, I have to confess total ignorance about the existence of "malappropriate". When I wrote "malapropriated" I had in mind only "malapropism" and Mrs. Malaprop, hence the single P. But to your point, yes, I was intentionally mixing the idea of appropriation with the original word: maybe the whole muddle ends up being apropos!

    BTW: I probably thought I was coining "malapropriate" as a verb, but I see now in a Google search that plenty of others have beat me to it.

  26. Fluxor said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 12:44 am

    From the original post: In the third instance, the Chinese translation on the sign explicitly says that pregnant women should [not] qímǎ ("ride a horse")!

    I think the third sentence explicitly says those not pregnant should ride a horse.

    Thanks for the post. I got a good chuckle out of that.

  27. D.O. said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 2:32 am

    Никакая супоросая персона не должна ехать.

    is the laugh of the week for me. супоросая can refer only to a sow (well, I am not knowledgeable in animal husbandry, so maybe some more obscured animals are also allowed). персона can not refer to anything but a human being. супоросая персона may be used only as an extremely rude and insulting way to call a pregnant woman (it is not a standard idiom, but it's the only way such construction can be used in Russian).

  28. Alon Lischinsky said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 2:37 am

    @Craig, @CIngram: "juego" would be an odd choice for such a sign in my part of Latin America. Although it'd probably be the term used by patrons themselves, we are diglossic enough in that regard that the more formal "atracción" would be the most likely lexical choice for signage.

    The misused determiners would be enough to identify this as a machine translation, even if the errors in parsing the scope of N-N compounds didn't give it immediately away.

    @Victor: Have you tried Translation Party? It feeds a phrase of your choice to Google Translate, going back and forth from English to Japanese until it finds a version that will remain stable. It gives very interesting results, one of the most striking being the fact that numerals almost invariably prevent it from reaching a stable phase. Language Hat commented on it a while ago.

  29. unekdoud said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 4:34 am

    @Alon: Translation party rocks! "Translation software brand in the fight against bad English translation of the helpless people": http://translationparty.com/#7509650

    Back on topic: I'm amazed that none of the forward nor backward machine translations for Chinese work out at all. It seems that this passage is really unfamiliar to the translators in terms of sentence structure and common words. Especially annoying is Google Translate's inability to provide the phrase "people with back, neck or heart problems", instead insisting that it is the problems themselves which should not ride. The "people who are not pregnant should take" line is an excellent example of how not to handle negatives in Chinese translation. (Adding the "ride horse" part totally distorts the message: if all non-pregnant people go off to ride horses, then who's staying behind for the hurricane ride?)

  30. Elizabeth Braun said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 6:03 am

    Man! Even I could have done a better translation than that sign! And I would have had the good sense to get a native speaker to proof-read it before submission to the park authorities…

    What DO people think they're playing at? Any old rubbish will do? Well, that seems to be the order of the day here in Taiwan, so why not elsewhere, huh? A form of revenge, perhaps???

    (Yes, I know I shouldn't start a sentence with 'and'…)

    [(myl) But God wants you to!]

  31. AMM said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 10:55 am

    What I find most bizarre about this sign is that it's still there.

    I can see that if you're running a hotel or news agency in China or Japan, you might not have a huge number of native speakers of English to edit your signs.

    But Coney Island is in New York City, home to O( 1 million) native speakers of Spanish (including some of the people that work for the Cyclone) and I don't know how many native speakers of Chinese. Coney Island is also one or two subway stops from Brighton Beach, probably the biggest enclave of native speakers of Russian in the USA. And Coney Island is not some obscure corner of NYC, either: it's been the traditional place for working-class New Yorkers to go to the beach for the day.

    They must have thousands of native Spanish, Chinese, and Russian speakers getting on this ride every day.

    And nobody has pointed out to the people who run the Cyclone how bad the translations are?

  32. Dan T. said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    At least the Spanish version makes proper use of "embarazada" (pregnant); there are various urban legends around about the embarrassing consequences of mistaking it for the "false friend" "embarrassed" in English.

  33. John Brezinsky said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    I love it! I'm not qualified to comment on the Spanish or Chinese, but I enjoyed the discussion.

    The best parts of the Russian translation have already been covered, but I'd like to add my amusement at "Никакой Беременный Человек Не должен Поехать". (I'll avoid discussion of the rest, and just focus on the first word)

    Using "Никакой" here makes it sound like "Not any" or "Not a single" pregnant person should ride. As if there is a long line of pregnant people trying to get on and they are setting a "no exceptions" policy. I picture the following…

    Cyclone employee: Hey, what are you trying to pull here? No pregnant people allowed!

    Pregnant Person: Oh come on, I saw 2 pregnant people ride just an hour ago. Can't you let me on too? I'm just a few months' pregnant.

    Cyclone employee: Никакой means Никакой. I'll get in a lot of trouble if I let you on. I don't know who else you saw, but they didn't ride on my shift.

  34. pj said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

    Oooh, Translation Party. I had met it before but it's nice to be reminded. I just gave it a small bit of Shakespeare (I know, not really fair) to chew on:

    'Now entertain conjecture of a time when creeping murmur and the poring dark fills the wide vessel of the universe'

    It stabilised at

    'Botosurippubakkuguraundonoizu vote is to fill the space where you can enjoy the'

    where 'Botosurippubakkuguraundonoizu' represents 'boat slip background noise', which appeared about halfway down the sequence and stuck around.

  35. bkd69 said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 7:19 am

    @AMM: More like they're equally amused and non-caring. It's given everyone here hours of fun, certainly, and that's before you've even gotten on the coaster!

    But in looking at this, I can't help but wonder if the Rosetta Stone is similarly affected with Greegyptian.

  36. Boris said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 12:57 pm

    Pregnant person sounds wrong to me even in English. Why would anyone ever say that?

  37. Ellen said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    Boris, I think, in the case of the sign, it's to be impersonal. "Pregnant Woman" would not fit in as well with the tone as "pregnant person" does.

  38. un malpaso said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:32 am

    There's also a problem with the Russian translation in "back, neck, heart problems"… it seems to me the modifier nouns should be rendered as adjectives in Russian, instead of the word-salad of noun endings in this translation.
    To me, it reads more like "Any person from back/heart problems, or with a neck, does not need to go on this little train."

  39. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:34 am

    I know some people think all words need to be capitalized for signs or posters, but could the writer of the notice be someone whose first language uses more capitals than English does, such as German?

    Are there any patterns in the sign that might suggest that the writer is a native speaker of a language other than English, and if so, which language?

    Are there other signs nearby on Coney Island that are equally fractured?

    Could the signs be machine translations from 10 years ago, for instance, when earlier translation software might not have been as effective? (Because the whole sign screams "low budget" to me, as though OSHA came through, demanded a warning sign, and the next day the sign went up.)

  40. chris said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

    In listening to the World Cup broadcasts, he heard announcers "using utterly awkward calques, like '[such and such player] 阅读了the field.'" That's yuèdúle ("read"), as in "he read a book"!

    Isn't reading a book the origin of the metaphor in "read the field"? Is there some native idiom that would work better?

  41. lareina said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 5:18 am

    zhonglish…the name kills me …. I have been laughing so hard.
    the Chinese version was so bizzare – I thought they were telling preganant ones to ride a horse or somthing.
    Reminds me of a Chinese restaurent picture I once saw on Google, the Chinese name was alright but English one reads 'Translation Error'…..
    XDXDXDXD
    PS: I was actually surprised that I could still access your blog from China, prof.=)

  42. Nick said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    "Brendan O'Kane" instead of "Bendan". If you change the spelling, he might appear (a little like Cao Cao).

  43. Brendan said,

    June 19, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    @Nick: You called?

    And yes, it's "Brendan" rather than "Bendan," which I can't read as anything but the Pinyin for 笨蛋.

  44. Haun said,

    June 27, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

    Victor, you suggested that translation of negatives "can only be performed adequately by someone who is quite familiar with both the source language and the target language." How about further specifying that that "someone" should be a human being? Intuitive sorting for nonsense in cases like this is one of the few things we meat-based subjects are still better at. I'm not saying that non-humans are not capable of it, but neither am I saying that they are not incapable, either.

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