Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Knowledge is powerless

I’ve always been uneasy with the notion of Chinglish, as so often it’s an excuse to laugh at the fact that some foreigners aren’t entirely fluent in English. Ha ha. Of course there is no real equivalent in Asian culture (amusing examples of idiot gweilo making clumsy mistakes in Chinese), not because of westerners’ faultless grasp of oriental languages, but because we so seldom even make the effort and thus risk failure.

That said, there is fun to be had with the collision of languages and cultures. Sometimes a text makes perfect sense in objective terms, but still seems ever so slightly weird; for example, when a packet of Japanese incense is described as:
A convenient item to carry with you when visiting a grave.
And then there are those moments when all pretence to meaning is abandoned and what seems to be a random selection of English words are thrown against a wall; take the following, which I saw on a Bangkok billboard a few days ago:
You’ll find original super supecial road, it’s so great future!
Or indeed those that really are slightly off-target attempts to say something special in English, like this:

from the protests that took place in Bangkok earlier this year. As Andrew Marshall of Reuters explains, the slogan expresses (or would, if these purportedly educated Thais had got to the page that covers verbal adjectives) the disdain that many within the anti-Thaksin middle classes have for their poorer compatriots in the provinces, where the former Premier’s support is concentrated. But, presumably unwittingly, “UNEDUCATE PEOPLE” also communicates the agenda that countless governments and businesses and media concerns seem to be following these days, although few would admit it.


LC said...

When people laugh at chinglish, I usually don't think they're sneering or looking down on the Chinese's less than perfect language skills. It's just that the outcome in itself is pretty funny.

I remember seeing on the list of rules by an historic monument near Beijing that visitors should refrain from "sexy service or feudal fetish".

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Unintentional hilarity is often the best kind.

GreatSheElephant said...

I'm not sure - get a tone wrong in Cantonese and isn't the reaction usually a blank stare followed by scornful laughter?

davidikus said...

I really like the first example : the sentence makes perfect sense but sounds clumsy. I guess in languages which are less pedantic than English, that would not really be an issue (in French for example, no one would mind; it would probably be seen as a cultural difference, but not a language problem).


Rog said...

The spirit of Alfred Hawthorne Hill lives on!

Tim F said...

I think an individual instance of wonky signage is often amusing, LC; it’s when you get whole sites devoted to the subject that the joke can wear thin.

The Laura-eate is right, of course - if Chinglish signs were specifically created to contain errors that gwailo might want to photograph, they’d be pointless.

GSE: Back to my point to LC; Chinese or Thais might laugh at such mistakes, but I don’t think they collate them and put them on websites for the delectation of their friends. (I did notice that Japanese people never laughed at my feeble attempts to ask for directions to second-hand record shops, but then Japanese isn’t a tonal language.)

The first one is odd, isn’t in Davidikus? It’s slightly wrong, but it’s very difficult to say why.

Grad it gave you preasure, Log.

expat@large said...

Andrew Marshall lives just up the street from me. Great friend of Izzy's. Way smart guy, brave guy, been in some really tight spots over the years.

garfer said...

we have toilet graffiti over here that (usually employing a cock and balls) excuses all unintended Asian signage silliness.