corruption and colonialism of the english language

I’ve had another idea for an article on China based on this observation today. Again, thoughts are very warmly welcome.

China has definitely been invaded by English, and may be the fastest growing English speaking population in the world. It’s becoming more difficult to learn the Chinese language here in China without running into English. English is a mandatory part of the education system, and students cannot get a bachellor’s or master’s degree without passing some English tests.

This rising popularity in English pops up everywhere, and riding around any city in China will show you translations ranging from very good to very off. Shanghai is a more global city, and more well-versed in foreign languages than any other part of China barring Hong Kong and Macao. In this city of international familiarity I saw the best restaurant subtitle this afternoon: Smarp Noshiry Make You Slobber. I had a smile on my face for the rest of my 20 minute ride thinking of that sign. The Chinese read ʳ, meaning American Food Restaurant. There was nothing in there about slobbering or any other notion of saliva. I imagine it should read “Smart, nourishing, make you slobber.”

Most likely someone’s friend who was supposed to be good at English was asked to translate. Some printing companies offer this service, relying on computer translation dictionaries.

Two years ago, while still living inland in Hefei, a western-style restaurant manager asked me to check the translation of his menu. I spent the better part of two hours correcting spelling errors, word order, and puzzling over “aeroamphibious food.” I can’t translate something I don’t know, so I had to track down a waitress and find out what is in “aeroamphibious food.” After much confusion and amusement I nailed it down: surf and turf.

Speaking English and keeping my eyes open always gives me a good laugh here in China. I remember the first time I had Hainan Coconut Milk and read: “No artificial colors, flavors, and essence.”Essence? Isn’t that something sucked out of gelflings in The Dark Crystal?

While I forgive most speaking errors, there are plenty resources in China to write correctly. The problem is that it’s usually an afterthought and done rushed with little attention to detail. Often there is little knowledge of whether the translator actually speaks English. This means I can even buy a cute purse that reads “Sonopy and Friends.”

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