Should we laugh at Chinglish?

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James Fallows has a nice post today on the puzzling proliferation of bizarre mistranslations in English versions of Chinese signs, menus and so on ("Uncle! Or let's make that, 叔叔!", 8/5/2008). He illustrates the post with the "Translate server error" sign that he found in a LL post ("Honest but unhelpful", 7/1/2008), due originally (as far as I know) to Samuel Osouf.

Fallows starts this way: "In response to widespread popular demand, I will admit: screwed-up translations of Chinese into English can be very funny!"

He agrees that some of the people laughing should probably think twice about their reactions:

When you're a native speaker of what has become the dominant international language, there's something undeniably Colonel Blimp-ish in making fun of the locals for their flawed command of your own mother tongue. Especially when this is happening in their own country, and all the more so when the people doing the chuckling can't do as well in Chinese as the Chinese are trying to do in English.

But beyond the humor, culpable or otherwise, the most important and interesting point is the systematic carelessness in official and formal contexts:

… it truly is bizarre that so many organizations in China are willing to chisel English translations into stone, paint them on signs, print them on business cards, and expose them permanently to the world without making any effort to check whether they are right. […]

Why does this happen? I wish I knew. In micro terms, it must come from rote reliance on dictionaries or translation software. For instance, the title of this post: the dictionary will tell us that 叔叔, shu shu, means an uncle. But of course it does not mean what "Uncle!" means in U.S. slang — as any Chinese speaker would point out if you asked him to check out the title. (For those who don't know, "Uncle!" means, "I give up! You win!") In the larger sense, why so many people would so carelessly waste money and — the real mystery, considering Chinese sensitivities — so brazenly expose themselves to ridicule is puzzle. Learning a language means being willing to make mistakes. That's different from presenting formal, error-filled material for outsiders to read.

And he quotes a letter from Gene Richards, "an American now based in Chengdu", who thinks that English-speakers shouldn't accept the bad translations as good enough, and that ridicule is an appropriate (because eventually useful) response:

I can't agree with your acceptance of the Chinglish that is so common here. I've been here for three years this trip, teaching at a private college in the suburbs of Chengdu, Sichuan (I've been coming to China since 1986). It's funny and deserves to be laughed at and criticized and the Chinese should be taken to task for the sheer volume of it, not to mention their unrepentant use of it. […]

But, what amazes me is that large public institutions and corporations, like your example of the wet wipes, don't bother to ask a foreigner to simply review their publications or postings or advertisements. It would take only a few minutes to sort out the inadequacy of the translation – almost always Chinglish – that is, the direct word for word translation from Chinese to English, along with some poor choice of vocabulary items.

Is it a matter of expense? I think not as their are many foreigners that would be happy to oblige for a pittance, both here in Sichuan and I'm sure in the larger, cosmopolitan centers around China.

Could it be too hard to find a foreigner? Impossible as all the Foreign Affairs Offices in all the large cities know where ALL the foreigners are and whether they're teaching English or doing business here.

So, what is it? That's what we should be talking about. Our criticism should be swift and embarrassing, otherwise it will continue ad infinitum.

In that spirit, here are some links to a sample of earlier LL posts on mistranslations of Chinese to English in formal contexts:

"Wet turban needless wash", 8/4/2008
"The Sichuan's hair blood is prosperous", 7/31/2008
"Bacteria, arsenic and other potentially hazardous delectables", 7/22/2008
"Braised enterovirus, anyone?", 7/16/2008
"Honest but unhelpful", 7/1/2008
"Forbidden to die", 6/9/2008
"Just the Queen invites irrigation", 4/8/2008
"Egg, penis, whatever", 2/14/2008
"A is for Apple…", 2/9/2008
"The etiology and elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation", 12/9/2007
"The finance is enclosedchief: fire exting wisher box", 10/3/2007
"For glue the sex rubber mat", 8/31/2007
"It's a time sex thing, baby", 8/8/2007
"Research and empoldering", 4/20/2007
"Racist park", 4/18/2007
"Needed: good editor for Chinese-English dictionaries", 4/13/2007
"Is it down cigar head can pull out necessary?", 1/10/2007
"And next, facial poo", 10/25/2006
"The shrimp did what to the cabbage?", 9/11/2006
"Further thoughts on the riddle of GAN", 6/30/2006
"GAN: whodunnit, and how, and why?", 5/31/2006
"A less grand Chinglish", 5/30/2006
"Regale in basilica", 5/18/2006
"A grander Chinglish", 5/15/2006
"Engrish explained", 3/11/2006

There are some similar things in the careless translation of other languages, and in other slavish interpretations of computer output, but they seem to be less frequent:

"Cloackroom", 7/3/2008
"Kettledrums and creaking ham", 5/14/2008
"Error message iced on cake", 1/21/2007
"Memory of qualities: armed structure and crystals", 5/26/2005

The main context for funny English-to-Chinese mistakes, these days, seems to be the tattoos catalogued at Hanzi Smatter, e.g. the one discussed here: "Semen, green rice and the rate of internet decay", 12/4/2004, or of course the famous case of 狂 瀉.  And the counterpart to the recommended campaign to reduce formal Chinglish by ridicule is Hanzi Smatter's campaign against incoherent or hilariously-mistaken tattoos, especially on celebrities.

This still leaves open the question of why so little effort is made to avoid or correct bad English translations of Chinese in formal and official contexts. Against Fallows' suggestion that it's excessive deference to the authority of dictionaries and translation software, Richards offers another possibility:

Could it be the super-nationalism that's rampant now? They just can't bring themselves to admit that their overall level of English is so bad that they need to ask a foreigner to help out?

Whatever the answer, it's not the lack of official willingness to acknowledge the existence of a problem, at least if we can believe reports over the years like this one: "Going crackers over Chinglish", Sidney Morning Herald, 12/18/2002:

Beijing has launched a campaign to wipe out "Chinglish", a version of English that results in weird and largely incomprehensible phrases.

The "language mandarins" of Beijing have decided that Chinglish is a blight on China's modernising pretensions and must be obliterated before the city hosts the Olympic Games in 2008.

And before we conclude that all this tells us something special about Chinese culture, let's recall what Geoff Pullum wrote in 2005 about a real estate brochure  hilariously mistranslated from Spanish to English:

When one has finished giggling …, one finds oneself wondering: who on earth could approve English this bafflingly dreadful for publication in a full-color brochure that must have cost thousands of euros, while knowing so little English that they could not see they were signing off on impenetrable gibberish? Why was no one who knew English from long acquaintance brought in to cast an eye over it? […]

Could it be pride, an unwillingness to admit to not being adequately fluent in the nascent global language of commerce and the most frequently encountered language spoken by visitors to Spain?

Another possibility is a naive belief that all languages are basically just a funny output mechanism for Spanish (or Chinese, or English), using a cipher that you can look up in a codebook called a bilingual dictionary — or, for convenience, leave to the tender mercies of a computer.

Anyhow, my current working hypothesis is that the Chinese are just like the Spanish, only farther away.


  1. bfwebster said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    As someone who lived for a few years outside the US (Central Amercia, 1972-74) and who was, for a while, quite fluent in another language (Spanish, naturally), I also remained puzzled by the resistance by Chinese (and to a lesser extent Japanese) businesses to simply find a native English speaker to check a translation. Given how much fluency I've lost over the past 35 years, I couldn't imagine translating a commercial document into Spanish and not running it past a native Spanish speaker — and a well-educated one at that — for errors and idiomatic issues.

    Face it: there are plenty of native Anglophones in China and Japan, and there's also the Internet. It shouldn't be that hard to get someone to check these translations.

    In the meantime, I think they're hilarious, every bit as much as the classic (if apocryphal) English errors such as marketing the Chevy Nova under that name in Latin America ("no va" = "doesn't go" in Spanish). ..bruce..

  2. Kate said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:14 am

    This is a really interesting issue, and I'm glad that people are posting about it.

    Bad English rage is a natural gut reaction that I can understand as an American expat. For most Americans especially, jaw-droppingly awkward English is just something we don't encounter at home. So our first reaction is often irrational annoyance at peoples' inability to be like us. The thing that set me off when I first got to Germany was the way people would pronounce Anglicisms with a German "r" sound. I could've easily written an email like Gene's about those mispronunciations, and I definitely thought that anyone who talked that way was stupid and deserved to be mocked.

    However, after a while, I stopped thinking of peoples' bad English as being "bad". It was just part of the foreign situation in which I'd chosen to immerse myself. Everything else was different, so why not English pronunciations too?

    So I figure Chinglish is something people need to accept in the same way. It's a weird cultural phenomenon in a foreign culture, not something that should be getting under our skin. It's certainly not something we should judge Chinese culture by, any more than Germans calling their mobile phones "Handys" although that's not a real English word. (God how I hated that!)

    However, none of this precludes us from thinking that "wet turban needless wash" is a hilarious sequence of words, and enjoying the unintentional humor that can come from human fallibility.

  3. gyokusai said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:34 am

    Kate sez:
    It's certainly not something we should judge Chinese culture by, any more than Germans calling their mobile phones "Handys" although that's not a real English word. (God how I hated that!)

    Yeah this German “Handy” business is awful indeed. But my personal all-time-favorite in this exercise of not asking a native speaker is one of their most widespread brands of toilet paper, which has been—quite aptly—named “Happy End.”

    But these examples are just, well, careless, or call it stupid. (And they’re not even translations, in that sense.) Chinglish is much more systematic than that, and there’s nothing wrong in questioning that. And, BTW, we’re in the questioning, not the judging mode here, are we not.


  4. Kate said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:55 am

    Oh – the post's been altered a bit now, which changes the context of my comment somewhat.

    I was trying to explain that the attitude toward foreign English exemplified by the sentence, "Our criticism should be swift and embarrassing, otherwise it will continue ad infinitum" is something I don't see as constructive, or the reason Chinglish is hilarious.

    But since we're now discussing why Chinglish is so systemic, that's not so important. Please disregard my comment, it's pretty much a tangent now.

    (But yes, gyokusai, I love Happy End and I use it daily!)

  5. Stephen Jones said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 11:04 am

    I think the reason is that the foreigner is just that – a foreigner.

    There's a tendency in Chinese schools and universities for the foreigner to be seen as a conversation teacher, a trained monkey designed to amuse. The serious teaching is done by Chinese English teachers.

  6. Philipp Angermeyer said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    On the topic of inaccurate use of foreign languages in print media, I would like to bring up a (somewhat) comparable case, that of the use of German in US publications. As a native speaker of German who has lived in North America for over 10 years, I have gotten used to the fact that German words and phrases that are used as quotations or to add "local color" almost always contain typos and very often grammatical mistakes as well. Just the other day I found three such errors in the 15-page preface of the 25th anniversary edition of Edward Said's "Orientalism", published by Vintage.

    To give an example available on the web, let me turn to the New Yorker magazine. The disappointing linguistic fact checking at the New Yorker has already been noted (, nevertheless the magazine is still believed by many to embody higher standards of editing (you'd think they want to get it right).
    As a long-time reader of the magazine, I challenge anyone to find me one article on a German topic that does NOT contain a typo or grammatical mistake in German.

    Here is a recent example of what I mean, from an article about new German-built buses that were tested in Manhattan, on which all the signs were in German to the surprise of bus riders and New Yorker columnists alike.

    The article contains various German words and phrases, including two whole sentences in this excerpt:

    "So: Was ist der Bus? Or, rather: Was für einen Bus ist das? New York City Transit has been subjecting the Citaro [bus model], which is big in Europe, to a forty-five-day test run to determine whether it can make it here."

    Both German sentences are problematic:

    (1) "Was ist der Bus?" is higly infelicitous, even if it is not ungrammatical (it could be translated as "What is the bus?").

    (2) "Was für einen Bus ist das?" is ungrammatical (it should be "Was für EIN Bus ist das?" — this would be a felicitous question in this context)

    Of course the Chinglish cases are more extreme, but an important parallel is that it would be very easy for the New Yorker, for Vintage, or for other publications (let's say the New York Times), to check the accuracy of German quotations by having a native speaker check them out.

    The point is that they don't care, and moreover, that they don't imagine that their readers could care. Most of all, they don't imagine that their readership could include Germans, or people who speak German. The "normal" anglophone person who makes up the imagined audience of American print media does not know German and wouldn't want to. (In my view this is related to some observations that Jane Hill has made about carelessness with rendering Spanish phrases in print.)

    Perhaps this can also help with interpreting Chinglish: on some level, it's not actually meant to be addressed to an audience that speaks English. It merely displays English-like features to a Chinese audience.

  7. Sili said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 11:48 am

    I guess this is tangential, but I find words that I mispronounce every week – mostly by hearing them clearly enunciated on In Tune. This despite two years in Southern England.

    So my problem is that people (well, the English, at least) are too polite to correct mispronunciations.

    Could something similar be the case here? We snigger and have fun with the Chinglish, but does anyone ever actually contact the unfortunate companies to tell them politely that there're problems with their wrapping/menus/manuals/&c?

  8. Nathan said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

    On a nearly weekly basis I see stuff, usually short signs and posters, translated poorly from English into Spanish. A few weeks ago in a store restroom I saw a nice shiny brass plaque affixed to the wall that instructed employees to wash their hands before returning to work. The Spanish translation was totally incomprehensible; I knew what it was intended to say only because of the preceding English version. It included at least three nonexistent words and an incorrectly conjugated verb.

    Why can't Americans get a native Spanish speaker (or even a competent L2) to review their espanglés?

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

    Nathan: On a nearly weekly basis I see stuff, usually short signs and posters, translated poorly from English into Spanish.

    We need pictures! or at least quotations.

    To the chagrin of English First and similar folk, there are lots of bilingual or multilingual signs, labels, and instructions, all over the place in the U.S. I've certainly seen a few that have mistakes — and I recall seeing some criticized on line — but the proportion of problems seems to be relatively small, especially in more formal contexts.

  10. Roy G. Ovrebo said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

    Kate said: The thing that set me off when I first got to Germany was the way people would pronounce Anglicisms with a German "r" sound. I could've easily written an email like Gene's about those mispronunciations, and I definitely thought that anyone who talked that way was stupid and deserved to be mocked.

    And when have English-speakers ever got the pronunciation of loanwords right?

  11. Sarah said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    I'm a project manager for a translation agency, so laughing at bad translations is standard occupational humor. (As is forwarding the occasional Language Log post.) But this does point to a real need– this is precisely why the translation industry is growing by leaps and bounds, as companies suffer embarrassment and realize that they really need to hire professionals if they want useful translations. My boss is in China right now, so who knows– maybe he'll make some inroads in convincing Chinese companies to hire native English professionals for their translation needs.

  12. TootsNYC said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

    That perceived "supernationalism" is actually HISTORIC.

    The stereotype of China–established back in 1816 with the demand that the British ambassador to China kowtow, and give tributes, to the Chinese emperor–is that the Chinese have no respect for any other nation. That they are singularly selfish and insular.

    (at that time, and maybe even now, there was nothing any nation had that China needed, which resulted in the opium trade as a way to keep Europe's gold from entering China and never coming back out)

    Recent trade practices, and the current government's reactions to other countries' attempts to regulate the safety of products made in China, have reinforced this stereotype.

    And so Chinglish, and the fact that China's businesspeople who make signs in English don't bother to ask an English speaker to look at their work, also reinforces it.

    If this stereotype has any validity, then probably Gene Richards has a point–it would be to the world community's advantage to knock China down a peg or two.

    ( in fact, every nation probably could stand to be taken down a peg)

    But stereotype aside, Chinglish is funny. It just is. So are similar errors in other languages. And true "Chinglish" goes much further than most syntax and grammar errors–and even farther than "Handy" cell phones. It's MORE hysterically funny. And it goes WAY beyond "poorly translated," in the best examples.

  13. Randy said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    Sili: "So my problem is that people (well, the English, at least) are too polite to correct mispronunciations."

    My girlfriend is Chinese, though she's been in Canada for more than 10 years now. Her English is pretty good, but it's not perfect. There has never been a time, though, where her mistakes have been so bad that I couldn't understand her. At her prompting, I've begun to point out and correct some of her mistakes. Even knowing she wants me to, it's difficult. I would never dream of correcting someone's English without them asking. It could be considered rude, and if I can get their meaning, it's not worth the risk.

    Perhaps you could wear a button saying "Please Correct my English", or something with that meaning but more tactful. At Queen's University (Kingston, Canada), we have the Chat Program (my friend, a linguistics major, was co-president one year). People wear buttons bearing the names of languages they speak or are learning to speak as an invitation for others to speak to them in those languages.

  14. Theodore said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

    Nathan's comment about "Espanglés" may offer some insight into the Chinglish phenomenon: If you're only providing the translation in order to comply with the letter of the law or an organizational policy, and not because of a sincere desire to extend the reach of your message, you do the least you can get away with.

  15. Kate said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

    Ha, Roy, that was pretty much my point. Nobody should ever be arrogant enough to expect foreigners to use your language the same way you do. Saying that Chinglish "deserves to be mocked" or that people should pronounce loanwords correctly is arrogant as all get out.

    It's something people do in foreign-language environments do when they are unfamiliar with being around non-native speakers, and it is part of the reason some people make fun of Chinglish.

    And yes. It is completely inappropriate.

  16. Bruno van Wayenburg said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

    On yet another tangent: this reminds me of a Russian friend who saw signs for Russian tourists in Turkey, some comprehensible, some not, and some printed out unflinchingly in the wrong internet encoding, which comes out something like: Íèäåðëàíäû.

  17. Bruno van Wayenburg said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    @Kate: correcting the pronunciation of loan words is not arrogant, I'd say it's sort of daft. When I use the word 'computer' in Dutch, obviously originating from English, it's practically a Dutch word (after all, we borrowed it), with a Dutch pronunciation (maybe some geeks in the 70s used the English pronunciation). Likewise, I won't correct you when saying 'Van Gogh' or 'Schooner' without any throaty sounds.

    But this is an entirely different matter from ridiculously uncomprehensible word-to-word-translation as in Chinglish. That is just a bad job, and does deserve to be mocked.

  18. mollymooly said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    @Philipp Angermeyer: I think the infelicitousness of sentence (1) in your excerpt was deliberate; sentence (2) is intended as an improved version of (1), so its error is not intentional.

  19. JS Bangs said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

    @Phillip, very good points all. But who is the intended audience of Chinglish signage and restaurant menus, if not English-speaking tourists and businessmen? Shouldn't there be a pretty strong incentive to make menus and signs at least comprehensible? Because the errors of Chinglish go way beyond the sorts of German errors you pointed out, and into territory that's incomprehensible, offensive, or both.

  20. Lazar said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

    I agree with Bruno – I think that the Chinglish phenomenon is an entirely separate issue from pronouncing an English word according to your own language's phonology, or making up an English word or usage that doesn't exist (like "footing" or "Handy") – neither of which I have a problem with. Chinglish is different because it's an attempted translation, directed at foreigners.

  21. Lugubert said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

    There's no need to go for "foreign" languages to find examples of insufficient linguistic training or instincts. Too often, I find quotes in Swedish that try to look oldish by using the now totally obsolete verb plural forms – but applied to singular subjects.

    (Like "She have …" in an indicative sense.)

    BTW, Happy birthday to me! A few hours ago, I entered the cadres of OAP's (65 yo's in Sweden)!

  22. Philipp Angermeyer said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

    @mollymooly: Thanks, very interesting point about the infelicitousness of (1) being intentional; that didn't occur to me, I suppose because I can't turn off my native speaker knowledge. If it is intentional, it actually makes it a sort of Mock German, further supporting my point about the parallels to Jane Hill's work on Mock Spanish.

    @JS Bangs: I think Theodore's post describes a plausible scenario in which the Chinglish signs are not primarily intended for English-speaking readers; also, they could be intended to impress Chinese speakers with little or no knowledge of English by lending an apparent air of cosmopolitanism and modernity to the business in question. This use of English is not uncommon in continental Europe or in Russia. I can think of lots of examples in Germany (e.g."handy") including various oddities created by the German railway, such as calling information booths "info-points" (surely not intended for American tourists, especially since it stands alone, without a "German" synonym)

  23. Mark Liberman said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

    I'm still waiting for the flood of examples of bad Spanish (or French or Japanese or Chinese or Korean) from multilingual signs in the U.S., especially from large companies or government agencies.

    I don't mean things like "Was ist der Bus?" in a magazine article — and anyone who thinks of the New Yorker as meticulously edited in such matters is out of date, I'm afraid — but rather the equivalent of a major supermarket chain whose signs translate "Dried Food" as "Fuck Goods", or "Disposable Cups" as "A Time Sex Thing". Or maybe a government agency whose development plan title comes out — say, in Spanish — as something like "Expand Enterprising and Really Grasp Solid Fuck and Continuously Expand and Great the New Situation of Buildings of Western Region".

    I'm sure there are some pretty bad translations out there in the U.S. But actually, despite the (largely deserved) criticism of American monolingualism, in fact I think the Chinglish phenomenon doesn't have any (significant) American counterpart. There are obvious reasons for this — but let's not pretend that the situation is the same everywhere.

  24. m said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 12:02 am

    I'm second-gen Chinese and I've been getting quite a few forwards about Chinglish, especially with the Chinese government flipping out about it because of the Olympics. The thing that I found interesting was that I have been getting these from my father, who is getting it from his cousins, who are getting it from their Chinese friends, all of who have been in the US for decades. It's an interesting mix of laughing at themselves (because they've all made similar mistakes at some point) and laughing at their poor uneducated brethren back in China (because they know better now, of course). I agree with Fallows that there's something rather colonial about laughing at Chinglish (for the most part), but it's certainly not just the native speakers doing it.

  25. Lazar said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 12:15 am

    @Lugubert: There's a similar phenomenon in English: People quite often misuse Early Modern English forms like "thou, thee, ye, -est, -eth" when they're trying to sound facetiously archaic. Just do a Google search for things like "thou goeth" or "ye speaketh". And happy birthday to thee! :)

  26. Stephen Jones said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 2:00 am

    On the subject of correcting people's mistakes twenty-five years back I had a Portuguese friend who complained I always walked shoulders hunched and looking at the ground. We came to a deal. Every time I walked like that he would slap me in the face, and every time he made a mistake in English I would slap him in the face and correct him. He was a black belt in Tae Kwon do. After a week I was walking with head held up high and shoulders straight (and still do so to this day) but his English had only marginally improved.

  27. Kate said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 3:22 am

    I'm now wondering if one of the reasons for Chinglish could be that English and Chinese are such extremely foreign languages to each other, with different written forms and practically no linguistic similarities.

    After all, we *do* know that terrible English-to-Chinese translations exist, and are documented by Hanzi Smatter.

    Could it be that we're willing to accept at some level that pretty Chinese characters must be correct Chinese, and the Chinese will accept that recognizable English words must be correct (or correct enough) English, just because the written languages are completely indecipherable?

    And do we have any LL readers in China who could hit up a shop with horrible Chinglish signs and ask them why they got them translated the way they did?

  28. Elena said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 3:54 am

    The (rather neglected) Spanish "team blog" from the blogging service Vox ( looks like it was machine-translated from the English version (, or at least translated from company memos by someone who thinks they're more fluent in Spanish than they are.

    The text is obviously an almost word-for-word translation from English, with "la St. Valentin" instead of "(la fiesta de/ el día de) San Valentín", wrong use of verbs ("¡Nunca te avergüences de querer!," "amar" should be more appropiate in this context), bad writing style ("Que estés enamorado o no, que ames o no, en pareja o no, igual te deseamos una muy buena fiesta del Amor y la Amistad", no native speaker would write that way: "estés enamorado o no… te deseamos igualmente" would be better) and bad choice of words ("Evoluciones importantes para tu plataforma Vox se han ido desarrollando estos últimos días del año en los camerinos" — Spanish speakers would say "trastienda"/shop backroom instead of "backstage"/ "camerinos", and the beginning of the sentence is plainly ungrammatical). Oh, and all those nice "Llévate un poco de Vox afuera" and "Vox a intentar."

    Does this count? :)

  29. Paul O'Brien said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 7:37 am

    I think people are being overly sensitive here. The comedy in Chinglish lies mainly in two things: the incongruity of putting so much effort into the sign and (apparently) so little into the translation; and the fact that botched Chinese translations tend to be not just wrong, but utterly surreal. I don't think there's necessarily anything colonial-minded about it; it's essentially the same joke as somebody having what they think is a Japanese haiku tattooed on their arm and then finding out that it's actually the directions to the metro station.

  30. TootsNYC said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 8:45 am

    I said this on another post–you can laugh at things, and find them funny, without mocking or censureship!

    And Chinglish is funny. So was it funny when, in German class, I asked "Wo ist Judy Garland?"

    And yes, i wonder sometimes if the syntax and structures of the two languages make this problem worse w/ Chinese-to-English.

    I have the impression that Chinese strings concept-words (characters) together and leaves the reader to figure out the connections between them; that's essentially what Chinglish does.

    (Japanese has similarly funny goofs)

  31. I don’t know if it’s right, but I know that I like it | Popehat said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    […] likes to call the best blog ever — has a post chock-full of both thought and humor about whether it's nice for native English speakers to make fun of hilarious mistranslations into En… and why such mistakes happen even in formal contexts, when some sort of proofreading might […]

  32. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 10:33 am

    I will take some pics of the bilingual signs I see around here. One of the worst offenders is Taco Bell, of all places.

  33. bfwebster said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

    By the way, while I was in Central America (72-74), one of my favorite pastimes was going to see Chinese kung-fu movies — still in Chinese, but with Spanish subtitles. The subtitles, while not surreal as some of the Chinglish menu and sign translations, were still bad enough to be quite noticeable even to a non-native Spanish speaker such as myself. So claiming a 'colonial mindset' to native English speakers regarding Chinglish seems way off base. ..bruce..

  34. Mark P said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

    OK, so now I'm thinking about "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" and wondering whether Chinglish is all a big joke on someone.

  35. dr pepper said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

    > I don't mean things like "Was ist der Bus?" in a magazine article

    Well there is a long tradition of faking german by rewriting text in katzenjammer.

  36. Joel said,

    August 8, 2008 @ 1:30 am

    I think we should distinguish between Chinglish on signage, brochures, etc. and Chinglish as spoken (or written) by people who are actually using the language for communication. It seems to me pretty harmless to laugh at "fried wikipedia," but I don't laugh when my students tell me that taking the bus home will "cost one hour." The signage seems like a case of "display English" (I don't know who coined the term , but it's in Tom McArthur's World Englishes book); I think we could say that the Chinglish that is actually used in real life is a separate "thing."

  37. KYL said,

    August 8, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

    There's this weird concept that the Chinese deserve to be mocked so that the problem will be corrected quickly. But I'm not sure what the problem is. If the problem is that there's a lack of clarity in communication, then there are quicker ways to bring about change than mocking them. If the problem is that the Chinese are allegedly "arrogant," then mocking them hardly seems to do any good. (Btw, if you want to go for history, I'd say that the better view is that West always treated the Chinese with contempt, and that explains everything from the Opium Wars to extraterritoriality, and the modern Chinese responses to criticism from the West).

    I don't think there's a problem with finding Chinglish funny, but I do find it troubling when people take the joke one extra step, and begin to describe Chinglish as evidence of some essential defect in the Chinese character, culture, or language. It's perfectly valid to say, "We find this translation hilarious and we speculate that it's because of reason X…"

    It's racism, however, when X turns out to be, "the Chinese are an inferior people, and Chinglish is the result of their funny toy language and because they are a singularly insular and superstitious people with their exotic oriental features that we Westerners thankfully are blessed without."

  38. Logging Language Attitudes « Disparate said,

    August 11, 2008 @ 8:38 am

    […] Should we laugh at Chinglish? […]

  39. jabir said,

    August 31, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

    On the other hand, it could lead to a new language called Chinglish, if Chinese speakers learning English can all understand and even start communicating in the language of these predictably 'corrupt' translations. It could be their own kind of 'English'. Probably not very useful to native English speakers, but unique and interesting, I suppose. On a post-colonial slant, it could be their way of reclaiming national agency against their (semi-)colonialist past and the incursion of Westernization, especially if online presence/usage of Chinglish by the Chinese gets high enough that everyone else would have to get familiar with it–not impossible given their numbers and nationalism.

    At the very least, doesn't this make for good sociolinguistic science fiction?

  40. bob said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 12:23 am

    I do not think the Chinglish should be laughed at.
    The Chinese are making great effort to be more westernized by learning and practising English. People learn a new language from mistakes and practise.
    In China, you can even see some small shops have their name translated in to English or even other language, however these attempts should not be laughed at, especially when you know that these shop owners do not know any English.
    At Shenzhen University, there is a clobberer who repairs shoes, repair bicycles, clothes mainly for students, he also has put up a small board saying that"please coming". His workshop is just among several trees, made of some shabby paper and plastic stuff.

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