On Chinglish

Recently a member of H-ASIA, an academic online forum for which I'm currently an editor, posted an inquiry asking for examples of Chinglish.  This provoked a flurry of brief responses, some quoting horribly misspelled or otherwise ungrammatical English translations of Chinese signs, which in turn led a few members to write in stating that they found these postings offensive or unscholarly.  A series of somewhat more elaborate postings followed (including one by yours truly) in a collective effort to define Chinglish, understand the phenomenon, and also "make up" for the offense by citing examples of linguistic folly on the part of English speakers learning Chinese.  Altogether the discussion has been highly educational, even if it ruffled a few feathers along the way.  You can follow the discussion by going to the H-ASIA log site:


Since the discussion began in earnest, I've done a bit of online research and found some sites that focus on the phenomenon of Chinglish.  Most of these sites concentrate on mistranslated signs found frequently in China.  Here are some examples:




Wikipedia also has an entry on Chinglish that focuses on this phenomenon.  These signs often prove hilarious to native English speakers (or to people who know English well), but are they offensive to Chinese people?  Apparently so, since the Beijing government has begun a campaign to correct the city's signs in time for the upcoming Olympics.

Perhaps the best theory put forward by a poster on H-ASIA as to why these signs exist despite the presence of numerous English speakers in China is that it comes down to a matter of face and seniority.  Those who do the job of translating the signs are not always the best English speakers in the danwei, but may rather be the most senior--therefore, it is not in your best interest to correct them.  Another theory posted was that the signs were not for English speakers but rather were a kind of ornamentation (therefore who cares what they really say?)  I leave the reader to come up with his/her own theories for this phenom (which also happens in Japan and many other countries, not just China).  Is it a subtle rebellion against the current hegemony of English in international commerce and culture?  I'm sure an interesting doctoral thesis could be (and who knows maybe has been) written about this.

Here's one example from my own pictorial records of China, handily illustrated by my old friend, Mr. Armstrong: 

Trip to Shaoxing 190.jpg