Engagement Bridge

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Here is a mystifying sign directing passengers in a new Chiayi (Jiayi, in southwestern Taiwan) building that links a bus terminal with a railroad terminal:

The Chinese says:

xiánjiē qiáo 銜接橋

I would translate this as "connecting bridge."  So how did the makers of this sign come up with "engagement bridge"?

xiánjiē 銜接 usually means "connect; converge; link (up); join" and in some cases "hook (up)" or "articulate".

But xiánjiē 銜接 also has the specialized medical meaning of "engage(ment)", as in "the phase of parturition in which the fetal head passes into the cavity of the true pelvis" (from the American Heritage Dictionary).  Online Chinese dictionaries render this sense as 【医】衔接, i.e.,【Med.】xiánjiē 銜接.  Perhaps the software chose this sense because of the ordering precedence of "【" (before the beginning of the alphabet).  In any event, it was unfortunate that the person(s) responsible for making this sign chose the most specialized and least appropriate of all senses of xiánjiē 銜接, resulting in "Engagement Bridge", which will surely be baffling for speakers of English (for whom the sign is intended, after all).  They will probably think it signifies a bridge where people go to propose marriage!

For xiánjiē 衔接, nCiku.com gives "link up; join; connect".  That's pretty straightforward and wouldn't have caused a problem.

Most online dictionaries do not have an entry for xiánjiē qiáo 衔接桥; it seems that "engagement bridge" isn't a standard mistranslation.  One of the few online occurrences of "engagement bridge" for xiánjiē qiáo 銜接橋 I could find was in a blog about Taiwan (see below in the acknowledgements), and it is talking about the same sign that I am discussing here.

But cf. the fourth definition of the entry for xiánjiē 衔接 in iciba (which is the web interface for Jinshan/Kingsoft Ciba). Since Jinshan/Kingsoft Ciba is so widely used and was the source of what is undoubtedly the most colossal series of mistranslations in the annals of Chinglish, it is plausible that it is also culpable in this case.

Google Translate renders xiánjiē qiáo 銜接橋 as "convergence bridge", which would be just as puzzling for English speakers as "engagement bridge".

Curiously, there's a "Go Between Bridge" in Brisbane. This is suitably translated into Chinese as liánjiē qiáo 接橋, which is another (more common than xiánjiē qiáo 銜接橋) term for "connecting bridge".

"Go Between Bridge" is unidiomatic in American English, unless it were referring to a place where matchmakers ply their trade.  Speakers of Australian English can tell us whether it is idiomatic for them when they want to refer to what we call a "connecting bridge".

Incidentally, architects refer to such structures as "building to building pedestrian bridges". More colloquially, such a bridge may be styled a "skyway," "catwalk," "sky bridge," or "skywalk".

[With a tip of the hat to Brendan O'Kane, Rebecca Fu, Joel Martinsen, Cyndy Ning, and Dan Bloom, who sent me the photograph and expressed the wish that people putting up English signs in the Sinosphere should first check with native speakers to make sure they are right, or at least that they don't cause those who encounter them to guffaw or stare dumbfounded.]


  1. tom veil said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    From a design standpoint, the real problem is that the weary traveler does not care what sort of bridge he is on. The sign should read "to train station" on one side and "to bus station" on the other side.

  2. Leinad Moolb said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 9:13 am

    @ Tom Veil, re: "From a design standpoint, the real problem is that the weary traveler does not care what sort of bridge he is on. The sign should read "to train station" on one side and "to bus station" on the other side."

    This sign appears in the second floor of the bus station ticketing and waiting room area, in the rear building of the Chiayi train station, so travellers already know where they are, they are most probably exiting the train station proper and trying to find a bus to take them to their next stop in south or north Taiwan, Tom. The 20-yard bridge is on the second floor and it connects the main rear building of the rear RR station and bus ticketing station to a new bus waiting room area, so that people do not walk across the bus parking lot where they might get HIT by a bus or a taxi. So they already know where the RR station is, and they already know they are in the bus station. They are just in for a surprise when they see this sign. A local Chinese-language newspaper is set to write a feature story about this soon and I will post link when I see it. The reporter has lived in the UK before and knows English well. She told me today by email:

    "engagement bridge" , good word, it is romantic, I like it.
    I inquire this word on Google , found a lot of "engagement bridge" in diferent Country.
    What Do you think about?
    thanks photo, it is very well. Irma, Liberty Times reporter"

  3. Leinad Moolb said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    And some local college students who have heard of this sign have decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and turn the Engagement Bridge into a new romance bridge tourist site for students and young people where they will attach iron locks to the pedestrian walkway connecting bridge to affirm their love for each other, as there are already some other "lover's bridges" in Taiwan. Others plan to leave love letters and short messages on the bridge's side to affirm their love for each other. So this Chinglish sign might just turn into a new tourist site. Could happen. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Also if you look at the your BRIDGE closely, one local wag says, and you take out one letter, the G, you are left with the word BRIDE. so this ENGAGEMENT BRIDE just might have a long shelf life.

  4. Leinad Moolb said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    Romane Lock Bridge in Taichung, Taiwan:

  5. David said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 9:41 am

    …what we call a "connecting bridge".

    Is there any kind of bridge that isn't a connecting bridge? Isn't that what bridges do?

  6. Nick Lamb said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    Hang on though, isn't "Go Between" in "Go Between Bridge" a noun or something? So it's no more problematic than "Waterloo Bridge" (the bridge was there first, not the station, so when it was built it was in no sense a bridge to, from or over Waterloo).

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    @Leinad Moolb: I envy you, but take it from me, the fact that a certain room in a train station is logically designed and signed for people to get to certain places does not imply that travelers in that room will know where they are, where they're going, or where they should be going. Especially not foreigners, who the sign is presumably designed for.

    If I were a jet-lagged and culture-shocked visitor to Taiwan, I'm sure I'd appreciate a sign that said something like "pedestrian bridge to Chiayi bus station". As reassurance goes, that's nowhere near the excessive level. The use of bridge would reassure me that an exit from the second floor (which I might know I was on) was a bridge and not a drop into a pool full of Spiny-headed Sea Snakes for the entertainment of locals and more experienced travelers.

    I heartily agree with your suggestion about English-language signs, though. But heck, here in New Mexico I'd like to see whoever makes Spanish-language signs consult with a native speaker.

  8. DJ said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 10:46 am

    I'm with Tom. If I'm in a bus or train station in China (or anywhere else in the world) and I need to make a connection, I want the simplest possible sign to get me there—because no, I don't know if that bridge takes me to the bus station, and if I have to ask anyway, I probably don't need the sign. I just want it to say, "to x station."

  9. Matthew said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    From an Australian English speaker: the Go Between Bridge is named in honour of the Australian rock band the Go Betweens (people with very good eyesight could probably also work this out from the image linked to in the blog post).

    I guess the meaning of 'connecting' might be there as well, but that's just for the sake of being cute.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 11:21 am


    Hmmm…. That's interesting. But what sort of question are you asking? A philosophical one?

    "connecting bridge" yields 283,000 ghits, so a lot of people must feel the need to mention "connecting" when talking about certain types of bridges.

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    @Victor Mair: But does anybody feel a need to hear it mentioned when listening to someone? Or to see it when reading? If not, the word might be left off signs, which are presumably for the benefit of the reader.

    In linguistic terms, am I suggesting that connecting in connecting bridge belongs to what Jakobson called the emotive function, and that this function is inappropriate for official signs?

    In my post above, I said that I'd like signs to reassure me on various things I might be expected to know, but I'll add that reassuring me that a bridge connects places isn't one of them. Just speaking for myself.

  12. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 11:50 am

    Not to be pedantic, but I'm amending my suggested sign to read terminal rather than station. Also, I'm wondering whether Pedestrian bridge to bus terminal implies that one might equally well choose another way to get there, which might not be true. Maybe reassurance has a price.

  13. Bruce L said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

    As a mechanical engineer, the idea of 'engaging' as connection isn't so bizarre. A drive gear would engage with an idler gear, for example, and I don't think you have to be an obstetrician to get this meaning. Though I would be surprised to read the bridge sign!

  14. Craig said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    Since an engineer most likely designed this "engagement bridge," is it not then likely that the people in charge of ordering their signs may have been myopically misled as to the extent that engaging-connecting is an appropriate metaphor in English?

  15. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: A "connecting bridge" is normally a pedestrian bridge that connects two buildings. I'm sure that other bridges connect things, too, but they aren't usually called "connecting bridges". (See http://images.google.com/images?q=connecting-bridge for lots of examples — and lots of exceptions.)

  16. Paul Zukowski said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    @Leinad Moolb — Absolutely love the "romance locks" pictures. Thanks. Here's another set of pics from Cologne.


  17. Rick Sprague said,

    July 15, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    Bridges undoubtedly connect one place to another, but that's not always what's salient. A connecting bridge is one the far end of which is itself a usual destination. A pedestrian walkway over a highway does connect the opposite sides, but since those are not typically destinations in themselves, it's not a connecting bridge; it's a crossing bridge.

    (Oddly, the opposite logic seems to hold with "connecting flight": where it terminates is definitely not one's ultimate destination.)

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 16, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    @Ran Ari-Gur and Rick Sprague: Okay, connecting bridge clearly conveys a meaning to some people, even though it doesn't (or didn't) to me.

  19. bryan said,

    July 16, 2011 @ 10:09 pm

    RE: "directional apparatus"
    I thought I had misused these English words in the wrong semantic way I really wanted, so I went online and searched for "directional apparatus" and guess what? I found a site which has a patent for coding Chinese, which is MORE COMPLEX than Hanyu Pinyin?!

    Check this out:

    With Pinyin already available with other forms of romanizations and Chinese inputting systems, I certainly think the method proposed will give you more blisters than necessarily needed. And what's worse? The English in describing it is horribly written.

    Look at when it was patented and when it'll expire on the very top. Interesting.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 16, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

    @Bryan: For me, it's a non-compositional idiom; the words connecting bridge don't convey to me the meaning of a footbridge between upper stories of buildings, or in general a bridge that connects places rather than roads. However, I accept that it means that to other people.

    There's plenty of English in simple words that I don't understand because it's in a dialect I don't know, or don't know well enough, so the words and phrases have meanings I haven't met.

  21. Leinad Moolb said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    UPDATE: the Engagement Bridge is not open to the travelling public yet. Signs are in place, one overheard dangling from the ceiling, and another by the elevator (lift) connecting the lobby with second floor which leads to long outdoor pedstrian walkway brudge that crosses the train tracks en plein air, a foot journey of about 5 minutes, and this long outdoor bridge has no name and is NOT the engagement bridge. the EB is short, about ten yards long at most, walking time, 10 seconds…. UPDATE 2: the local Liberty Times newspaper is preparing a major Chinese-language news story about the sign and its meaning(s)….

  22. Xenobio said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

    I tried to call my sister to tell her about this, but the phone was engaged.
    (I've had American friends laugh at me for this use of "engaged".)

  23. Jim Henry said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    Incidentally, architects refer to such structures as "building to building pedestrian bridges". More colloquially, such a bridge may be styled a "skyway," "catwalk," "sky bridge," or "skywalk".

    I've heard this type of structure (when it has glass walls and ceiling, as is common in Atlanta) referred to as "gerbil tunnels".

  24. Fluxor said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

    @bryan: 棟 can be a noun, it's not just a measure word. Although one can argue 前棟 is short for 前面的棟宇 (building at the front), typically, 前棟 is simply a two-character word meaning the front of the building. Correspondingly, there's also 後棟 for back of the building. In this usage, 棟 would correspond with its single character meaning of "main supporting beam of a house".

  25. Not My Leg said,

    September 8, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    Interesting mistranslation. I would have assumed it was some kind of misuse of the sense of engage used in "engage the clutch" or in relation to other mechanical devices. Just as the gears of a car "engage" through use of the clutch, so to does this bridge "engage" with the "front building."

    It isn't exactly idiomatic, but saying that the bridge engages with something else is understandable. Odd that it resulted from an unrelated mistranslation.

    Unfortunately, figuring that out that the bridge is connected to something called the "front building" is not particularly helpful.

  26. Leinad Moolb said,

    September 20, 2011 @ 6:36 am

    UPDATE: Sept.20…..the Engagement Bridge is not STILL NOT open to the travelling public yet as the two buildings have not yet been engaged. Everything is in place, but…..

  27. dan bloom said,

    March 3, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

    for some reason my update of 2013 is not getting in. why is this?

  28. dan bloom said,

    October 12, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

    UPDATE: in Chiayi City, a local couple got engaged in public at the Engagement Bridge in October 10, 2013 with big news article with photo in local newspaper in Chinese. SEE links:






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