Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Chinglish: Found in Translation

by Oliver Lutz Radtke
Gibbs Smith
Paperback, $7.95
112 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-4236-0335-1

Book Review by Kam Williams

“What is Chinglish, anyway? It depends on whom you ask. Chinese emigrants raising their children in English-speaking countries will probably answer: Chinglish is a useful mix of Mandarin or Cantonese terms with day-to-day English…
However, the English-speaking traveler more frequently encounters Chinglish in the form of public signs rather than spoken oddities. This book displays examples of the latter category, since oral Chinglish is difficult to visualize.
Chinglish is very often funny because of the sometimes scarily direct nature of the new meaning produced by the translation. A ‘deformed man toilet’ in Shanghai or an ‘anus hospital’ in Beijing is funny because it instantly destroys linguistic euphemisms we Westerners have carefully built up when talking about sensitive topics.
Chinglish annihilates these conventions right away. Chinglish is tight in your face.”
-- Excerpted from the Preface (pg. 6 & 8)

Unless it wants to be the laughingstock of the world, China had better get its act together before it hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics. No, I’m not talking about the country’s rash of product recalls arising from problems like lead paint in toys, poison in pet food, contaminated infant formula, defective automobile tires or cancer-causing chemicals in fish.
What I’m concerned with, here, are the public street signs, guidebooks and pamphlets that tourists will be relying upon during their stay in Beijing.
Judging by Chinglish: Found in Translation, foreign visitors are apt to find themselves either completely confused, laughing in stitches or both when seeking directions during their everyday travels around the Orient.
Author Oliver Lutz Radtke, who works as a TV news producer in Singapore, has compiled about a hundred examples of this widespread phenomenon in a comical photograph collection of cross-cultural faux pas. For instance, the sign in front of a handicapped toilet reads “Deformed Man Toilet” while another ostensibly refers to a medical practice specializing in proctology as an “Anus Hospital.”
Since it would be unfair to spoil more of the jokes contained in the book, allow me to instead address the question of whether exposing such examples of so-called “Engrish” might be considered racist. While it is undoubtedly embarrassing to the Asian community to see snapshots of so many inscrutable phrases posted alongside Chinese characters, this good-natured tome should be seen as doing a service if it causes China to correct the problem by the time the Olympic torch is lit.
That way, you won’t have thousands of clueless sports fans scratching their heads in wonder next year when they encounter signs saying things such as “Slaughter Pavilion,” “Please Don’t Touch Yourself,” or “Dying Right Here Is Strictly Prohibited.”


Unknown said...

This must be hilarious.

I am of Chinese descent myself although I do not look like it.

My mother was actually Cherokee. Our family had some Chinese added many years ago.

Although she was fluent in English, she sometimes missed the meaning of what is said.

Anonymous said...

Really like your fox logo! Who designed it anyway?