The rich variety of languages on our planet is one of the most fascinating aspects of human communication, with the study of languages providing an unparalleled insight into other cultures.
However, all too often the finer nuances of language get tangled up in translation; making for some alarming – and often rib-tickling – linguistic stink bombs.
Beijing’s foreign affairs office has been clamping down on woefully mistranslated signs over the past year in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Determined to rid the capital of bilingual balderdash, a new English translation standard came into effect on December 1, 2017. A website was then established in April 2018 which encouraged residents to report any gaff-worthy signs.
After all, who wants to visit a city where ‘explosive dogs’ roam the streets and where toilet cubicles are ‘for weak only’?
Despite the chuckles these daft signs bring tourists, Beijing’s foreign affairs office are seriously concerned with how they could tarnish China’s image when they find themselves on the world stage during the 2022 Winter Olympics.
This new standard has been implemented by China’s Standardization Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, improving English translations within 13 public arenas, such as entertainment, medicine, transportation, and financial services.
According to the People’s Daily, modern English translations will prioritise correct grammar, steering away from using rare turns of phrase and unusual vocabulary.
There has also been a clamp down on words which could be read as discriminatory or offensive. For example, one sign for the Park of Ethnic Minorities was wrongly translated as ‘Racist Park’, bringing extremely negative connotations for the park.
Today’s #Chinglish 🤦🏻♂️
They mean basil 🌱 pic.twitter.com/EzG2EC3ZEQ
— James Hill (@jameshilltaiwan) April 12, 2018
— Sumeet Nag (@sumeetnag) September 4, 2017
— fi (@suchfun4) July 21, 2017
— GreatHopForward 中国精酿 (@GreatHopForward) June 3, 2018
— Gabriele Neher (@GabrieleNeher) June 19, 2017
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) March 25, 2017
The new standard has cut down on English being overused in the public sector, with sample translations given for reference. Direct translation has been warned against, as have translations which could damages the image of China or of other countries.
Of course, visitors to Beijing could well be surprised at a sign which enthusiastically proclaims ‘No clean environment, no beautiful view!’ Or indeed, a rather disquieting sign which begs, ‘Don’t hurt me for your pretty!’
Since the new translation came into effect, Beijing’s foreign affairs office claim they have screened over two million Chinese characters on bilingual signs; ensuring a much more accurate English translation.
As reported by Sixth Tone, director of the Standardization Administration Tian Shihong spoke about how higher quality translations could improve China’s image within the international community:
Through developing and implementing this language standard, we want to boost our cultural soft power and international image.
Linguistics professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told Sixth Tone:
When terms are used widely enough, they are gradually accepted,
The [new] standards regulate language with inaccurate connotations, and such regulations facilitate international communication and exchange.
All eyes will be on Beijing in 2022, but I can’t help but think some people will miss the cheeky character these signs once brought to the city.
Thank you for the memories, poorly translated signs. You will always have a place in the hearts of those of us with a silly sense of humour.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.