Fully vaccinated or not in English, French, and Chinese

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Sign in Vancouver International Airport:

Segregated line-ups for vaccinated and unvaccinated international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport. Photo by Andrew Aziz. (Source)

The English and French versions are self-explanatory.

The Chinese notices are hyperexplicit:

wèi wánchéng xīnguān yìmiáo quánchéng jiēzhòng de lǚkè
Passengers who have not completed the full course of novel coronavirus vaccination

yǐ wánchéng xīnguān yìmiáo quánchéng jiēzhòng de lǚkè
Passengers who have already completed the full course of novel coronavirus vaccination

There must be some burning motivation or powerful explanation for the stark difference between the French and English versions on the one hand and the Chinese version on the other hand.  I think I have an idea of what the reason is, but would like to hear from LL readers first.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Nicholas Tursi]


  1. A1987dM said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 4:58 pm

    Writing that much detail in English or French would take up too much space on the signs?

  2. Bathrobe said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 5:21 pm

    I would argue that the English and French are insufficiently explicit. First, they assume readers know what vaccination is being referred to. This is reasonable as you would have to be living under a rock not to know about covid. The second is that English and French don’t mention the possibility of a third alternative: partially vaccinated. The two signs side by side imply that not having undergone the full course of vaccination (two shots) means you are “unvaccinated”, but that is actually not fully logical.

    The Chinese spells both of these out clearly. In addition there is the linguistic quirk that Chinese does not have recourse to past participles in cases like this. English uses “vaccinated “, French “vacciné”, allowing the use of an adverb (“fully”, “entièrement”). Chinese is forced to use the clumsy circumlocution “has completed the full course of vaccination”.

    There is probably a cultural factors behind this, too, i.e. an expectation that signage should be fully explicit to avoid misunderstanding. This applies to Japanese, too, which has been heavily influenced by Chinese. I suspect that if the airport had a sign in Japanese it would be similarly worded.

    I noticed this expectation many years ago with “Mind the gap”, which might work In English but needs to be fully spelt out in both Chinese and Japanese, specifically with relation to the question “What gap?” and why you should mind it.

  3. Y said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 5:30 pm

    Maybe they didn't want the physical length of the written message to be less than the French or English one, and so they packed it with filler. The Chinese and the French ones in the middle are about exactly the same length, which suggests more than a coincidence.

  4. Claw said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 6:44 pm

    > there is the linguistic quirk that Chinese does not have recourse to past participles in cases like this

    While the strategy may not be applicable generally, in this case it is possible to make use of Chinese's topic-comment construction to treat 疫苗 ("vaccine") as the topic introducing a relative clause in which the verb 接种 ("to inoculate") is the comment. A more concise translation that is faithful to the insufficiently explicit English and French versions could thus be:

    疫苗未接种的旅客 – unvaccinated passengers
    疫苗已全程接种的旅客 – fully-vaccinated passengers

    You could also leave out the topic altogether since 接种 already implies there being a vaccine:

    未接种的旅客 – unvaccinated passengers
    已全程接种的旅客 – fully-vaccinated passengers

    Or perhaps make it even more pithy by using the nominalizer 者 to replace 的旅客 ("the passengers who are …"):

    未接种者 – the unvaccinated
    已全程接种者 – the fully-vaccinated

  5. David C. said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 7:14 pm

    I think it's great that the task of translation appears to have gone through to a qualified translator who is given the leeway to provide a translation that contains more information than the original.

    For a very long period of time, the Toronto airport had a sign which was intended to direct passengers flying to Shanghai. The text was accompanied by the image of a flag, which was that was that of the Shanghai International Settlement. So more precision is definitely a plus.

    And the funny thing is – only COVID-19 vaccinations that have been approved for use in Canada are recognized, at least for now. This is detail not covered by the text of the sign. One can be "unvaccinated" having had two shots of an unrecognized vaccine.

    What struck me was actually that it would probably not be the formulation used in an airport where Chinese is dominant. The only difference in the whole phrase is 未 and 已 (roughly, not yet and already) at the beginning, which is difficult to read given the size of the text, which is set to be roughly the same size as the English and French text. I would imagine it would be something concise like what Claw has already suggested. Or perhaps 尚未接種疫苗/已接種兩劑疫苗 (not received vaccine; already received two shots of vaccine), patterned on "Something to declare/Nothing to declare" that travelers are now used to seeing.

  6. Phil H said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 8:04 pm

    First, yes, it’s nice to see a good translation that reads like Chinese! I think there are two factors that push to make the Chinese version “wordier,” neither of them necessarily decisive, but taken together they lead to this result.
    The first is a cultural habit: Chinese officialese tends to be wordy, even on signs.
    The second is the lack of a handy adjective. The English/French sign asks the question “are you vaccinated?” To which the answer is yes only when you’ve had both jabs. The Chinese sign asks, “Have you had a vaccine?” To which the answer is yes after just one. So the Chinese sign needs some extra explicitation.

  7. Rebecca said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 8:52 pm

    Maybe there’s more explanation elsewhere. At the very least, they need to say what they expect fully vaccinated adults to do who are traveling with unvaccinated children

  8. Bathrobe said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 8:53 pm

    @ Claw

    Excellent suggestions. Perhaps what prevented them from using this kind of structure was the process of translation itself, which led the translator to try to stick closely to the English (a kind of “translationese”, as it were).

  9. WGJ said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 10:17 pm


    疫苗未接种的旅客 is not valid Chinese, which generally doesn't allow object-verb structure. The correct order is verb-object, as in 未接种疫苗的旅客.

  10. Bathrobe said,

    July 26, 2021 @ 10:36 pm

    WGJ is correct that topic-comment isn't allowed in this structure. Nevertheless, this is still a far more succinct rendition than the airport's.

    David C.'s comment is really to the point. Unless Chinese passengers have been alerted beforehand to Canada's vaccine requirements (e.g., through notices distributed on the plane), there will be a lot of people lining up in the "fully vaccinated" queue who will have to be turned away and told to go to the back of the other queue. Sometimes it's overall coordination rather than individual translations that count.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 6:27 am

    Note that, in terms of syllables, the Chinese versions are nearly twice as long as the French and English versions. Furthermore, in terms of semantic carrying capacity, each Sinitic morphosyllable is much greater than an alphabetic syllable, much less an alphabetic letter. Finally, cybernetically speaking, alphabetic scripts have much greater redundancy than morphosyllabic / logographic scripts like Chinese. As my Mom would say, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    See "Character Amnesia" (7/22/10) — especially the last comment thereto


  12. KeithB said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 9:53 am

    Disney has a good way to create a "watch the gap" sign that does not require extra words.

    They have a picture of a giraffe straddling the boat and the dock.

    (Sorry, I can't find a good picture to link to)

  13. Bernard Moreland said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 1:14 pm

    We might be overthinking it.

    Many government leaders are ignorant of languages and so don't understand the difference between professional and amateur translation. They therefore have no awareness of translation defects. ("My son is taking Chinese in school this year; I'll ask him to do it.")

    I work in government and find that ignorance is far more common than clever malevolence. Ignorance is my default explanation for the mismatched translation.

  14. Howard said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 5:36 pm

    Context is everything. What vaccination popped into your mind BEFORE you read the blog? Frech and English cut to the chase. This is not a legal document.

  15. John Chew said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 6:13 pm

    Back when government notices were proofread, someone would have removed the erroneous hyphen after "fully".

  16. David C. said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 8:32 pm

    And now the sign is coming down anyway…


  17. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 9:35 pm

    The world has gone bezonkers.

  18. Bathrobe said,

    July 27, 2021 @ 10:51 pm

    Note the wording used at that article:

    Toronto Pearson, in collaboration with government and other partners, has determined that separation of vaccinated and non/partially-vaccinated travellers in customs lines results in minimal operational efficiencies.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    July 28, 2021 @ 2:27 am

    "results in minimal operational efficiencies" — what does this mean ? Results in almost no improvement to previous operational efficiencies, or results in almost no operational efficiencies at all (and therefore presumably far lower operational efficiencies than those that previously obtained) ?

  20. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2021 @ 6:13 am

    As I said, "The world has gone bezonkers" — has lost the power to think rationally and logically, now just mouths a lot of incoherent idiocies, and it's getting worse by the week.

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