Progress in the war on Chinglish

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If you see the two big letters "GB" in the top right corner of an official publication from the Chinese government, you know it's serious.  Those letters stand for Guójiā Biāozhǔn 国家标准 ("National standard").

In the present instance, they have promulgated, as of December 1, 2017, "Guidelines for the use of English in public service areas — Part 9:  Accommodation and catering".  They also have issued similar guidelines for transportation, tourism, culture and entertainment, sports and athletics, education, medicine and sanitation / health / hygiene, communication, and commerce / business and finance.

Overall, I think they have done a decent job in coming up with acceptable English equivalents for hundreds of terms that foreign visitors to China are likely to encounter in public service areas.  There are still, however, a few items that could stand improvement.  For example, in the list of foods and drinks, "Daoxiao Noodles" will be less than transparent for "dāoxiāomiàn 刀削面" ("[knife] sliced / planed noodles").  Ditto for "Lamian Noodles", which they offer for "lāmiàn 拉面" ("hand-pulled / drawn / stretched noodles").  It would probably be better to avoid translating the latter term as "ramen", even though they are cognate, since that would undoubtedly make travellers think of the Japanese variety.

"Pulled noodles: Uyghur läghmän and Mandarin lāmiàn" (8/8/14)

"'And the greatest Japanese export to China is…'" (8/21/12)

For dòufu 豆腐 they give "Doufu or Bean Curd", but Westerners are familiar with "tofu", which has been naturalized in our languages and cuisines.

There are a few typos and misprints, e.g., "Youth Hosted" (i.e., "Youth Hostel") for qīngnián lǚshè 青年旅社 (the mistake comes from Baidu Fanyi [today at 11:57 a.m. EST]).

While this (signage for public service) is just the tip of the iceberg in dealing with the problem of Chinglish (it will be difficult to establish GB in many areas such as the media), still and all the government is to be commended for taking this giant step toward civilized language.

"Linguistic Advice in the Lavatory: Speaking Mandarin is a great convenience for everyone" (9/11/07)

"You aim too please" (6/20/16)

xiàng qián yī xiǎo bù, wénmíng yī dà bù 向前一小步,文明一大步
("one small step forward; one big step for civilization")

Among many other Language Log posts about progress toward civilization.

[h.t. Liwei Jiao]


  1. Jon Lennox said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

    I understand why they don't want "ramen", but what's wrong with "lo mein"? Yes, it's from the Cantonese pronunciation, but that's how it's entered English.

  2. Colin McLarty said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

    I don't think it would help at all for menus to describe刀削面 as sliced or planed noodles. For one thing many noodles in the west are sliced, but they are not 刀削面. And on the other hand I think it is a fine enough product, and distinctive enough, that it is a good idea to urge "Daoxiao Noodles" as a new name westerners can get to know.

  3. Matt said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 7:21 pm

    Yeah, one goal is clearly to influence how non-Chinese people think about these items—not as generic “pulled noodles,” but a specific identifiably Chinese kind. Not “tofu” like from Japan, “doufu” from China. (And fair enough, of course — every country would prefer its cultural products to be thought of by others as uniquely theirs, rather than a variation on what people already know from elsewhere.)

  4. B.Ma said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 2:29 am

    @Jon Lennox

    Lo mein (撈麵) is not the "Cantonese pronunciation" of ramen / lamian / ramyeon. The Cantonese pronunciation is laai1min6.

    Wikipedia can help:

  5. John Rohsenow said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 4:05 am

    As I may have mentioned before, some years back the owner of a local
    Chinese restaurant in Chicago's Chinatown came to me and my wife while we were eating dinner and asked me how to translate 空心菜 "kongxin cai".
    (This was before the days of smart phones, with instant look-up, etc.)
    After some thought we came up with "hollow core spinach" as a good
    compromise which would probably convey to the non-Chinese speaking
    customer what s/he was ordering.

  6. GALESL said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 10:51 am

    The very transparent translation "Patriotism Education Base" shows that while the war on Chinglish may be making progress, the war on Party-ish is far from over.

  7. Jared B said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 6:55 pm

    I accept the Chinese government's prerogative to be its own lexicographer when translating Chinese concepts in to English, but I do think they've missed the mark on the English concepts of grill versus barbecue.

    The provided translations for 烧烤 as "grill" for "在平底锅里烤 (on a griddle or pan)" and "barbecue" for "直接在火上烤 (directly on the fire)" is non-standard from an American English standpoint. The may be some difference between the grill/barbecue distinction in general use, but the grill/barbecue distinction in the culinary world is about cooking temperature and speed. Grilling tends to be quick searing at a high temperature while barbecuing is "low and slow." I don't think I ever seen the two terms distinguished but on a griddle versus over a fire.

    Rather than providing a misleading translation, they would have been better off to allow grill or barbecue as acceptable alternatives to the word 烧烤.

  8. John Thacker said,

    December 14, 2017 @ 7:37 am

    The funny thing about the tofu pronunciation is that it's a long o in the Japanese as well (toufu instead of tofu) and it is pronounced doufu in Japanese as well in compound words through rendaku (voicing the initial consonant of non-initial characters in compound words.)

    Hence 豆腐 とうふ (tōfu) but 麻婆豆腐 (mābō dōfu) and in Japanese reading). In general English is pretty resistant to long vowel markings, so I doubt that any effort to change would be successful.

    It's not exactly true that the spelling "comes from the Japanese pronunciation." The Spanish Dominican missionary Domingo Fernández Navarrete used the spelling "Teu Fu" when encountering it in China and publishing the first known European articles on — but he was in Fujian province and Fujian/Hokkien/Taiwanese would indeed pronounce and romanize it more as a "T" sound. (You can see this by looking at POJ/Pe̍h-ōe-jī romanization.) Other writers who encountered it in China mostly used t- based romanizations, as you can see from Wikipedia (

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