Chinglish







Cox News Service

Visitors to China's capital can stroll through "Racist Park," enjoy a plate of "Crap in the Grass" and stop by a Starbuck's franchise for a cup for "Christmas Bland" coffee.

Now the Beijing government is trying to clean up such mistranslations and sloppy editing (including the inversion of 'a' and 'r' in carp on menus) before an expected 500,000 foreigners arrive for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

"Some of the translations in China aren't clear or even polite," said Liu Yang, director general of the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages program. "The government realized that if they weren't changed, the city would lose face."

The campaign includes teaching 300 English phrases to 48,000 taxi drivers, helping private restaurants edit menus and standardizing public signs.

The English translations on signage range from charming mistakes to baffling renditions that spread anger and confusion.

A sign warning of a wet floor in a Beijing shopping center was recently translated as "The Slippery Are Very Crafty."

In Shanghai, which will host several Olympic soccer games, at least one public toilet equipped for handicapped use is emblazoned with the malapropism, "Deformed Man Toilet."

At a tourist site in Pingyao, a popular city for weekend trips from Beijing, visitors struggle to make sense of a sign stating, "Coming and going in turn, and don't stretch out your head to watch please."

There is such a plethora of entertaining "Chinglish" – the unusual and sometimes incomprehensible phrases that result when Chinese meets English — that several online communities are devoted entirely to sharing entertaining snippets.

A collection of photographs posted on the photo-sharing Web site flicker.com includes of a Chinese sign marking a loading zone but bearing the English message: "VEHICLE-TAKING SPOT."

Many of the funniest examples are found on packaging, such as instructions on a Chinese-made candle warning owners to "keep this candle out of children."

The fact that hundreds of thousands of English speakers will descend on China for the Olympics prompted a government-led campaign reminiscent of mass mobilizations of the 1960s and '70s.

In Beijing, several district governments offer citizens free English classes with the goal of boosting the number of foreign-language speakers from today's 3.2 million to 5 million by 2008, when they will be called on to help the city "host a most excellent ever Olympic Games," according to a poorly edited English version of Beijing's "Plan of Action for the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Program."

The city has also vowed to make menus comprehensible to English speakers and is compiling a standardized name list for more than 1,000 dishes, the China Daily reported last month.

"For a foreigner, eating in a Chinese restaurant can be daunting especially when you have a choice of dishes on the English menu ranging from 'Swallowing the Clouds' to 'Hot Crap'," the newspaper stated.

Director Liu said that deciding how to translate Chinese entrees like "Pockmarked Grandma Chen's Tofu," a spicy pork-and-tofu dish named after its creator, can be tricky.

"For some dishes we'll just have to explain what's in them and keep the original name," he said.

His office faced a similar problem when it translated Beijing place names.

"For example, there was a question about how we should translate 'hutong,'" the traditional alleyways that surround parts of the Forbidden City, he said.

"They aren't really lanes or alleys in the Western sense and they are important to our history, so we decided just to keep the word hutong. There wasn't anything better."

"Racist Park," the English name given to a theme park extolling China's minority cultures, on the other hand, was obviously a bad translation, Liu said, adding that an over-reliance on the dictionary can lead to the incorrect choice of synonyms and that the park would be renamed.

Not all of Beijing's English-language efforts are aimed at spreading harmony, however. A dialogue being studied by police officers requires stopping a foreign journalist reporting about Falun Gong, the quasi-religion Beijing banned in 1999 after thousands of adherents held a day-long protest in the city's downtown.

"As a foreign reporter in China, you should obey China law and do nothing against your status," the officer is required to say before taking the journalist to a local security bureau.

According to the government's "Plan of Action," 80 percent of police officers younger than 40 will "acquire a certain ability in listening and speaking" before the 2008 Games.

"The most important thing is that everything is clear and that visitors can understand," Liu said. "We don't want anyone to worry about miscommunication."

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