Multiscript sign in the Hong Kong subway

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Many's the time that we have encountered biscriptalism in the Sinosphere and elsewhere (see here, here, here, and here).

Now Jenny Chu has sent in this photograph of an interesting ad, currently in Hong Kong's MTR, which fuses Japanese- and Korean-appearing lettering with English, presumably in order to seem in touch with the latest trends.

One often encounters the Japanese kana "no の" mixed in with characters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but here we have it masquerading as a tilted and reversed English "e", together with "ra ら" standing in for "S".  Even more striking, the "A" of "CHRISTMAS" and the "-all-" of "Galleries" are made to look like Hangul, giving the effect of triscriptalism in two English words.

When I first showed this to a Korean colleague, she couldn't see the Korean at all, only the Japanese.  Then I asked her to take a closer look, and she wrote back:

You are right! Now I see the Korean vowels there:

ㅏ a (Revised Romanization) in -MAS

어ㅓ eo (Revised Romanization) in Gall-

No wonder I did not recognize them at first!  We have a vowel ㅣi (RR) and I wonder why they used ㅓ instead of ㅣfor English l.

A Japanese colleague observed that the kana and the hangul are meant to "serve as eye-catchers".

Comment by Nathan Hopson:

I'm not sure what to think.

There's nothing special about either of the characters.

Like the Hangul, the use of hiragana is just decorative and supposed to suggest the theme of English-Japanese-Korean fusion.

On the other hand, using の for "e" is a stretch; I think it's why I kept feeling like the word was "Cheerios," not "Galleries." But that's probably just me.

I did find it interesting that Hangul and hiragana were placed in the same "foreign alphabet" category, and starkly contrasted against "our" hanzi.

Whither the Sinosphere? And wasn't HK a British colony until recently…?

This is an advertisement for the following:

Yīng-Rì-Hán shèngdàn měishù zhǎn 英日韓聖誕美術展
("British, Japanese, and Korean Art Exhibition")

So one can understand why the graphic arts designers chose the triscriptal lettering they did, though there are bound to be different opinions on how successful they were

[Thanks to Hiroko Sherry and Haewon Cho]


  1. 번하드 said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 7:01 am

    >> On the other hand, using の for "e" is a stretch

    No, not really, IMHO.
    Out of the three languages, I'm only learning Korean, so I could be wrong.
    Isn't の the japanese genitive suffix?
    Well, Korean has such a thing, too, written 의 (eui in MCT2000) but usually pronounced as "e". tadaaa:)

    Here in Germany I once saw an advertisement for a bank ("Bank" in German) that showed both a garden bench (also "Bank" in German) and a Ginkgo tree.
    Made me think that the poster was designed by a Korean.
    There is the word 읜행 (Eunhaeng in MCT2000) that has two different sinokorean origins. One of them meaning "bank", the other "ginkgo tree".

  2. JB said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 7:41 am

    One sometimes across similar borrowings from the Russian or Greek alphabets in designs ostensibly in English.

    I think it's more than likely a case of a graphic designer playing around with similar-looking foreign characters for the hell of it rather than a well-planned statement on multilingualism, although in this instance, I suppose their use is somewhat justified.

  3. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 7:55 am

    "why they used ㅓ instead of ㅣ"

    The answer should be rather blatantly obvious: You WANT the replacements noticed, and using a letter which has the same shape (not very similar but virtually indistinguishable) as a latin lowercase L would defeat the point. Plus it emphasises the 어 next to it.

    I too kept reading the の as not-a-e. I kept reading it as an "a" or an "o".

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 9:12 am

    I keep trying to read the の overliterally as "no," and thus the whole thing as "Gallerinos." Which is certainly a reasonable potential English word from a phonotactics perspective, and could maybe be the name of a business or perhaps an actual loanword from Spanish or something.

  5. Stefan Reimers said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    Also, the "R" looks really weird. It looks like a "P" with something (し perhaps) added on. At least the lower part isn't the same font.

    Learning Japanese I also read "Gallerinos", but although I noticed the "ら", I read it as an "s".

  6. FM said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 9:57 am

    My first guess was also "Gallerinos".

    I also recently found this inexplicable bit of devanagarillic (at the top of the image):

  7. Vicki said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 10:46 am

    I also read の as "o" (I don't know any Hangul or hiragana, only the Latin and Greek alphabets, if that's relevant).

  8. Jongseong Park said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 2:52 pm

    This is not biscriptalism. It is an example of a sub-genre of mimicry typography that uses typographical elements from different writing systems to evoke certain cultural associations. This runs the gamut from vaguely brush-style fonts used for Chinese take-out food (which do not imitate the Chinese writing system very well at all) to the use of similar-looking letters from other writing systems such as Greek Σ for E or Cyrillic Я for R (in faux-Cyrillic, a very common form of mimicry typography).

    The foreign elements are chosen only based on their visual similarity and their sound value or meaning in the original script is completely irrelevant.

    In this case, you have 'R' written with 'P' plus 'し' , 'S' written with 'ら', 'A' written with 'ㅏ' forming the left side, 'a' written with a rotated 'ㅇ' (the serif form of this letter has an in-stroke on the top, which is now in the bottom right-hand corner to be a more successful stand-in for 'a'), a pair of awkwardly proportioned 'ㅓ' standing in for the double 'l' (the horizontal stroke would not be that low in any text typeface, so it looks more like 'ㅕ' with the upper stroke deleted), and 'の' standing in for 'e'.

    The book cover for the recent 콩글리시 찬가 Konggeullisi chan'ga has an example of the word 'Konglish' written only with elements from hangul, the Korean alphabet.

    @번하드: The connection between 'の' and 'e' that you suggest would never be made by a Korean speaker. Recognizing の as the particle that most often corresponds to Korean 의 is one thing, but Koreans (unlike the Japanese with their kun'yomi) are not used to the idea of reading a letter by appealing to the meaning it represents. And then making the connection between the spelling 의 and the sound [에] ([e]) is another tenuous step; even though Koreans recognize that 의 is pronounced as [에] ([e]) in this sense, the spelling is enough of a barrier to make it non-obvious. And then to make a connection between the sound [에] ([e]) to the letter 'e', which Koreans pronounce as [이] ([i]) in imitation of the English name for the letter, is also not a given.

    You are thinking of 은행 eunhaeng, not 읜행 uinhaeng. This can be 銀行 'bank' or 銀杏 'ginkgo'. 銀行 'bank' ‎is ginkō in Japanese, which is rather similar to the word 'ginkgo'. 銀杏 'ginkgo' is actually read ichō for the tree or ginnan for the nut in Japanese, but it looks like it could be read ginkyō, which is the basis for the Western form 'ginkgo'. So the designer of the poster could also be familiar with Japanese.

  9. Andreas Johansson said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

    Nathan Hopson wrote:

    I kept feeling like the word was "Cheerios," not "Galleries." But that's probably just me.

    Not just him – I also read it at first as "Cheerios".

  10. Jonathan D said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

    I'm with J. W. Brewer. Ican't avoid reading it as Gallerinos. The ら manages to work as an S, though.

  11. 번하드 said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

    Jongseong Park@:

    Thank you very much for your thorough analysis of the first point!
    Maybe I should have added that I didn't really mean that seriously:)
    For some reason I like to make stupid puns like, say, ah, Hongkong, that must be red bean.

    Sorry for submitting the comment with the stupid typo in 은행.
    Special thanks for *that* explanation, I had always been wondering if that word play could also work in Chinese or Japanese.

    P.S.: I'm learning Korean (and nowadays painstakingly following a few news sources) because I have a family over there that feels like my own. And now, of course, I'm oscillating between hope and fear about what will happen there over the next few months.

  12. MikeA said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    @ 번하드

    I wonder if the "Ginkgo Tree" meaning is related to the "bank" meaning by the use of Ginkgo-based paper for currency, at least in Japan at one point and possibly in other countries.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 11, 2016 @ 11:27 pm


  14. Mike said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 6:54 am

    To me the の looks like the "α" style of lowercase "a", so I read it as "Gallerias", not an unusual name for a place to shop.

  15. Simon P said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 7:25 am

    Yeah, it's hard to read the の as an 'e', even after you realize you're supposed to.

    Also, reagring this:

    "This is an advertisement for the following:

    Yīng-Rì-Hán shèngdàn měishù zhǎn 英日韓聖誕美術展
    ("British, Japanese, and Korean Art Exhibition")"

    First of all, I think you missed the 聖誕 (Christmas) in that translation.
    Second, for anyone interested, here's the Cantonese readings, seeing as it's a HK ad:

    jing1 jat6 hon4 sing3 daan3 mei5 seot6 zin2
    (I want to lump it as jing1jat6hon4 sing3daan3 mei5seot6zin2)

  16. Ellen Kozisek said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 7:30 am

    I saw the の as an "o", but we can tell from looking elsewhere on the sign that "Galleries" is what's intended.

  17. Johan P said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 8:42 am

    Here's a nice Flickr photopool of letterforms mimicking other scriptual systems. Like Jongseong says, it's not really biscriptualism, but an interesting phenomenon nonetheless:

  18. Jongseong Park said,

    December 12, 2016 @ 10:26 am


    I had a feeling you weren't completely serious, but wanted to spell it out for those who are not familiar with Korean. I feel like I've had the exact same train of thought linking 'の' and 'e' before, but it's one of those things that only make sense in your head and need too much explanation.

    As a Korean, I would group it as 英日韓 聖誕 美術展 (영일한 성탄 미술전). Of course, in Korean it would be 韓英日 聖誕 美術展 (한영일 성탄 미술전) or 韓日英 聖誕 美術展 (한일영 성탄 미술전) because we put 韓 'Korea' first in such lists.

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