Chinese Chelsea

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Janet Williams sent in this language selection panel from the official Sri Lanka Tourism website:

See also "Select Language" at top right of this home page, where the same mistranslation occurs.

There's something very strange here. The entry for what must be intended to represent "Chinese" is qiè'ěrxī 切尔西 ("Chelsea").

As Janet said in her covering note:

Anything goes: if 计生葯具室 ("contraceptives room") is a printing room, then Chinese is in Chelsea.


  1. biagio said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:29 am


  2. NW said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    And the non-Spanish for Spanish opens up dizzying possibilities.

  3. BlueLoom said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:37 am

    From the perspective of one who can read only the Roman and Cyrillic alphabets: The names of the languages using these alphabets all seem to be in the native language/alphabet ("Francais," "Deutsch," etc.), with the weird exception of Spanish, which (according to Google translate) is written in Norwegian (Spanska). Whatever happened to Espanol?

    (Apologies: I'm not skilled enough on my keyboard to put in all the diacritical marks.)

  4. Mark Meckes said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:38 am

    I have a guess about Spanska: type "Spanish" into Google translate, try to ask it to translate it into Spanish, but miss and accidentally select Swedish instead. Though that doesn't get the diacritic on the S, which apparently doesn't appear in Swedish at all, so this guess must not be exactly right.

  5. J said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:40 am

    Not to mention that 日本国 is "The country of Japan", not "Japanese".

  6. Anubhav Chattoraj said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 6:42 am

    Also, the Japanese says 日本国 (Nihon-koku, "Country of Japan") rather than 日本語 (Nihongo, "Japanese language").

    And the actual content turns out to be translated via Google Translate.

  7. reader_not_acedeme said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 7:02 am

    the š in španska looks definitely slavic, not scandinavian. the closest would be slovenian, where google translate returns "španski" – pretty much in line with mark's theory.

  8. David Morris said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 7:04 am

    I wonder how many North Koreans are currently planning holidays to Sri Lanka.
    (It also looks like 한국어 and 조선말 is one link to one page.)

  9. John Swindle said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 7:13 am

    Yes, "Španska" must mean "Spanish," but maybe not in Norwegian. Google Translate suggests Slovenian. Something Former Yugoslav, anyway, I suppose.

    Still not as strange as "Chelsea."

  10. Avinor said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    Ignoring the diacritic will of course not give you the right result. Španska" is emphatically not Swedish.

    That letter (Š) points toward west or south Slavic languages (Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, ex-Serbocroatian). I cannot find any language that calls the language Španska, but it seems to be an adjective in Slovenian, e.g., Spanish fly, Spanish Netherlands, Spanish flu:

  11. mollymooly said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 7:31 am

    Having checked the website, the links all just go to a Google translate of the English site….except Japanese.

  12. Matthew McIrvin said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 8:40 am

    I'm pretty sure I've seen isolated cases in which Google Translate translated the name of the language it was written in into the name of the target language (that is, "français" would become "English"). Presumably that happened because it was matching translated corpus texts that had the name of their language identified in them. But it doesn't do that consistently.

  13. Simon P said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    The Chelsea thing would perhaps result from phonetically translating something like "Chinese" (or its equivalent in another language) into Mandarin. My guess: The guy doing the GT misspelled "Chinese" as something like "Chirese" and GT assumed it was a name and tried to transcribe it phonetically.

  14. JS said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    More or less what Simon P says, only I don't think Google Translate, etc., attempt such spontaneous phonetic conversion. You have to start with a pretty serious misspelling (I used "Chelese"), but that does cause GT to offer a prompt ("Did you mean Chelsea?") that produces the result切尔西. So… something like that.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 10:47 am


    That's about what I was thinking too, so I'm glad you tried it out.

  16. ngage92 said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    "Španska" is definitely Serbian/Slovenian/Bosnian but it's the feminine form, which is not used to describe a language, so the correct version would be "Španski" (in Croatia, "Španjolski").

  17. Rodger C said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

    I rather like Mark Meckes' idea. Perhaps Slovenian for Spanish and Chelsea for Chinese are both the result of inaccurate clicking.

  18. Dave Robertson PhD said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    španska is Slovenian to me.

    Entertainingly in this context, "španska vas" (literally "a Spanish village") in Slovenian means "It's Greek to me."

  19. Kelley Cartwright said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

    Spanska is another Eskimo word for snow, of course.

  20. Xmun said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

    My son (who lives in Berlin) tells me the Germans have a similar saying: "Das sind für mich spanische Dörfer". However, I see from various websites that a variant, "böhmische Dörfer" (Bohemian villages), is also current, and may be the earlier expression.

  21. Peter Taylor said,

    June 25, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    @Matthew McIrvin, I once tested an example of that and used it in a talk about the dangers of Google Translate. The particular example was that "write in english" translated into Italian came out as "scrivere in italiano". It was very brittle: correctly capitalising English caused it to translate correctly. It had ceased to work as a demonstrable example when I tested it a year later.

  22. reader_not_academe said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 6:11 am

    Xmun: to complete the full circle, there's the German figure of speech "alter Schwede," literally old Swede, to express surprise. I was so, erm, suprised at it that I read up on its origin: it dates back to the thirty years' war when Swedish soldiers served in Frederick William's army.

    I though this was absolutely relevant for the original post.

  23. DG said,

    June 26, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    What's really surprising to me – why include Belarusian? It's also incorrectly spelled: Беларускія instead of Беларуская. As far as I know the weird spelling is not in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Serbian or Bulgarian which are basically the only major languages to use the Cyrillic script.


  24. John Swindle said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 2:32 am


    I don't know why they picked Belarusian either, but a Google search on "Беларускія" confirms it's that it is indeed a Belarusian spelling. It might be the wrong gender or number, though. . . .

  25. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 27, 2014 @ 8:36 am

    It's nice to see they are catering for the Czechs who want to read Spanish …

  26. dw said,

    July 2, 2014 @ 2:53 am

    It makes me sad that only one Indic language (Hindi) is listed here.

  27. Anubhav Chattoraj said,

    July 2, 2014 @ 3:41 am


    And that is one too many, from a practical point of view. Any Indian who's looking at another country's tourism website probably knows enough English to make use of that website.

    In India itself, websites of organizations are almost universally English-only.

    The only exceptions calling for the "almost" are: (i) websites dealing with multilingual stuff, such as translation companies, and (ii) government websites, which are usually available in English + the concerned government's official language.

  28. Anselm Lingnau said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 5:49 am

    We don't have the »spanische Dörfer« expression in German that I know of.

    You can say »das kommt mir spanisch vor« = »this sounds suspicious to me (I think there is something strange going on)«, or »das sind für mich böhmische Dörfer« = »this is all Greek to me (I don't understand the subject matter)«.

  29. Alon Lischinsky said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 8:21 am

    @Anselm Lingnau: you may be personally unacquainted with the expression, but it's well-attested.

    I remember learning from Hermann Hesse that Spanish was as exotic as Chinese for German-speakers:

    du bist zehn oder zwölf Jahre in der Schule gesessen und hast womöglich auch noch studiert und hast vielleicht sogar den Doktortitel und kannst Chinesisch oder Spanisch (Der Steppenwolf)

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