I confess that my inner twelve-year-old never gets tired of stories about Chinglish that mention “such delectables as ‘fried enema,’ ‘monolithic tree mushroom stem squid’ and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as ‘The Jew’s Ear Juice,” but I probably wouldn’t post the Andrew Jacobs story “Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish” in the NY Times if it were just the usual superficial collection of laugh lines. However, Jacobs has taken the trouble to interview actual experts like Victor H. Mair, whose occasional essays at the Log are always readable and enlightening. And I very much like the examples in this passage:
Among those getting paid to wrestle with Chinglish is Jeffrey Yao, an English translator and teacher at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University who is leading the sign exorcism. But even as he eradicates the most egregious examples by government fiat — businesses dare not ignore the commission’s suggested fixes — he has mixed feelings, noting that although some Chinglish phrases sound awkward to Western ears, they can be refreshingly lyrical. “Some of it tends to be expressive, even elegant,” he said, shuffling through an online catalog of signs that were submitted by the volunteers who prowled Shanghai with digital cameras. “They provide a window into how we Chinese think about language.”
He offered the following example: While park signs in the West exhort people to “Keep Off the Grass,” Chinese versions tend to anthropomorphize nature as a way to gently engage the stomping masses. Hence, such admonishments as “The Little Grass Is Sleeping. Please Don’t Disturb It” or “Don’t Hurt Me. I Am Afraid of Pain.”
Mr. Yao read off the Chinese equivalents as if savoring a Shakespearean sonnet. “How lovely,” he said with a sigh.
Ah well, such are the casualties of progress. Thanks for the link, Bonnie and Jill!