2013年3月25日 星期一

Down-market untranslations


Department of Health warning: Chewing betel nuts causes jaw dysfunction and mouth cancer.

(If it were up to me I’d lead with the cancer, but it’s not.)

cancer balls

cancer up close

Nothing says cancer like a pretty girl with a boob window. Because if you’re going to die of cancer, shouldn’t we try to make your death as pleasant as possible?


It’s the little things like this that are just as important as all the ornamental “English” and all the Chinese-in-English/Zhonglish. Once you have one, it introduces a dichotomy that can’t be unseen. What was once just untranslated betel nut warnings, packaging and signage now becomes part of a larger narrative about what “native” means, how marketing creates prestige and how down-market is understood. There then emerges a race to keep up with the Jones’, which almost everyone feels required to play, even if they don’t actually play. The untranslated betel nut packaging company probably “feels” they should have “English” on there, y’know, “just because.”

I’d argue that this is most of what is going on with the personal naming situation, as well, though personal names are complicated by a few other factors: interaction with non-Chinese speakers, comfort with a non-broken romanization system and feelings about one’s nation/culture/history/language (both independent of and in comparison to others.) And probably other important factors I’m forgetting. In Taiwan, I’d say the far-and-away dominant factor affecting the personal naming system is the absence of a familiarity with a non-broken romanization system, but I’d imagine keeping up or un-specific feelings of inferiority (conscious or subconscious) are a strong number two.


Now obviously there’s some sort of feedback here. To what extent could chewing betel nuts be made unattractive by showering it in a sea of light and English translations, a la the Taibei MRT stations? Where would smokers run and hide to if they felt their product had somehow been co-opted by hipsters or was clearly marketed to young college age women in the city? Would guys still buy their betel nuts if they all came in pink and purple packages with glitter and doilies? I doubt the MRT ridership demographics would look like they do if the MRT felt more similar to the NYC subway.

So, there you go, I cured cancer, turning lemons into lemonade. You’re welcome.

2013年3月21日 星期四

Convenience store translationomics overdrive


So, what’s going on here?

First, let’s note that “juice” is not written anywhere in Chinese characters, which is another way of saying it is the Chinese. It may be written in roman letters, it may resemble a non-Chinese word you know well, but it is still Chinese.

Since anyone buying this product can immediately identify what it is without reading the word “juice,” what function does that word have there? We could say it’s a high-five and slap on the back of the public for being so hip and learning its ABCs as a kid. That it’s “hip” to use roman letters to show that you “get it” and that you’re with the times and modern and use all the cool new lingo and stuff. That it’s about giving those five year olds a big pat on the head for memorizing all those vocabulary words. Oh, boy, lucky big day, you go to the store and bam! Your favorite company is conspiring with you to produce packaging that makes you feel like you’re learning something and “connected” with the global, modern world and all that shit, with no overt comment about what they think about your actual, current surroundings, or how accurately their labeling resembles actual labeling.

So, we’ve got labeling here that’s clearly not targeted at someone who doesn’t know Chinese (in Chinese characters or roman letters.) But what else do we have? We have programmatic and systematic adding of Chinese in roman letters, which one could imagine is for non Chinese speakers, but is most likely there for Chinese speakers, or really anyone's best guess

This gives us Ponkan.




Could they just as easily have left off the word orange? Yes. Might I find their packaging changed in 6 months to just say “ponkan juice?” Yes.

You remember ponkan, right? It’s 椪柑, pènggān. Who does this matter to?

You know that time in the US when you were really super excited about learning what to call your favorite Kentucky Blue Cheese McBurger sandwich with kale-infused lettuce in Chinese? And then someone was like, “oh, you mean that burger. You can just call it a 漢堡. Your fancy blah blah blah means nothing to me in my language. We barely have the stomach to let people from Kazakhstan use their proper names in Chinese. You think we’re going to let you ramble on about some fucking kind of burger?”

Things about American (North American?) English. 1: Your name counts. You don’t have to be Sally. 2: Your fruit doesn’t count. They’re all oranges. There’s no end to the marketing and classification for things. They can be Michigan cherries or Michigan red cherries or sour currants or whatever anyone cares to call them, backed up by science or not. But it's the people that make the decisions about what things are actually called.

Moving on.

More fruit. Literally.


See those white Chinese characters against a red background? They say 木瓜. At least where I come from, 木瓜 usually means papaya. You're probably thinking, "they've put a picture, right? That's good enough. All fruits TOTALLY have distinctive shapes! No one ever confuses one spherical fruit with another, especially when it’s without any colors! That’s crazy!”

So, actual thing needing to be labeled, yet the result is the worse than nothing “fruit.” Again, what we have here is a nice pat on the head for 育良: look at you superstar! A totally bat-shit crazy labeling of a product you can totally see and buy has a word you fucking know and can pronounce, maybe! And it’s all fucking English! You’re the king of the world!

So, story here, again, is we have Chinese written in roman letters, for a Chinese speaking audience. Do you see a pattern? This might be getting boring for you. Sorry.

Moving on.

How about a delicious sandwich?

I know what you’re thinking: the “delicious x” is an incredibly rare structure and hard to use properly in English, so surely you’re not going to show me some packaging with that written on it that also tells me to start referring to everything as “tasty,” as well, are you?

Settle down there, cowboy. It’s just a delicious sandwich.


delicious sandwich

Doesn't it just look delicious?

The best thing about this is that along with our “fruit” example above, there’s not even a pretend attempt to inform through the use of roman letters here. We’ve abandoned all pretense to use roman letters in a way that might not cause an English speaker to sneer (remember, it’s tough to criticize single words composed of roman letters that stand alone, are fully formed and are spelled correctly.) Here, delicious sandwich cannot be read as anything except 好吃的三明治, and that’s of course why you will not find any of that written anywhere on the labeling. Sure, there’s a 土司 here and there, but that’s about it.

Why do I find this interesting? Because it’s a weird kind of thing. It’s not like pig latin, where you kind of shift things a bit to the left or look at them a little funny till they make sense. It’s not like when Ataturk made everyone stop writing in the Perso-Arabic script either. And it’s not really like India where people kind of just switched to English, or used it as a different language. Here we have a kind of consumption of the skeleton of the language: it’s sounds and writing system, and also a lot of the basic mappings of a lot of the words to certain meanings. And after chewing up all these skeleton bits, it’s wrapped around the same culture and people as the old language, with it’s old ways of saying things and writing things and meanings that make sense to them.

Delicious sandwich isn’t English. It’s Chinese, written in roman letters, pronounced according to a phonetic rule system everyone learns as a kid, based on the meanings and mappings that are common and make sense to Chinese speakers, and are foreign (and often incoherent) to places where English is spoken as a native language.This is Chinese, it’s just got a new wrapper, and a new script that looks nearly identical to English and with new sounds that sounds that are nearly identical to English, and a grammar that picks and chooses parts of English grammar to hold fast to when it wants. I think it’s wrong to call this Chinese English, which should really be reserved for something like American English or British English or Indian English. I think the term Chinglish is best applied to a compromise of an attempt to communicate across languages, something closer to a pidgin or a creole. This distinction is subtle, but “Delicious sandwich” on labeling for native English speakers is Chinglish, but on labeling for Chinese speakers, I think it’s 英式中文, or Engwen. (But since that’s kind of a fail as either Yingwen or Engwen, I guess Zhonglish is where we end up.) Some see the distinction between instrumental vs. ornamental, but I think that’s beside the point. Zhonglish is sometimes ornamental, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it is instrumental and ornamental. And sometimes it is purely instrumental.

The question is, why? If you’ve got a perfectly good system to do all these things, why adopt a new one? One could argue it’s just a fashion thing: “English” today, “Hungarian” tomorrow, etc. Or one could argue it has to do with deeper power dynamics. I think you know where my vote is.

Moving on. Let’s move over to the magazine rack.


Whatcha reading guys?

Oh, the new issue of ELLL?  I LLLove that magazine! Or should I say I 心心心 that magazine?

What about you? COOKing? I fuck營 love suffixes that can be used to make gerunds too! Let’s be friends and be confused about verbs and how to translate 烹調 together!

The great thing about this shot is that everyone looks like they're reading "English," as if reading magazines in not-English is something only hooligans would do who just come into 7-11 to buy cigarettes, which IS TOTALLY NOT THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF THEIR OPERATION! DO NOT THINK THAT EVER! THEY SELL CUTE ANIMALS AND YOGURT DRINKS, NOT CANCER STICKS THAT WILL SHORTEN YOUR LIFE AND KILL YOUR RELATIVES WHILE SUCKING AWAY YOUR MONEY AND WILL TO LIVE!

Anyway, it’s the same thing going on here in the shot as in above. Just read that part over if you still don’t get it.

2013年3月10日 星期日

Drugs and Sex

A lot of people wonder what happened to all the old sites of the web. It seems you almost never find something from the early days anymore. There’s a good reason for that and it’s only partly because no one links to or reads old stuff. That good reason is that most of the early web was porn. And you can’t find it because those sites are all gone. Where you can find it, however, is in books, (yes, dead-tree books) that people wrote around that time and which serve as the only decent records of what happened back then. And since I mostly talk about pop music or other silly things here, instead of what’s really dominant on the internet (porn,) think of this as a corrective to that overlooking. But first, some fun with drugs since sex and drugs seem to go together like peas and carrots.

Note: More 7-11 fun is still in store. (Pun intended)




drugs mean never having to say youre sorry

A happy life is a drug-free life.

Love begins at the rejection of drugs. (And judging by the location of this wall, drugs apparently start in Banqiao.)




編著: 章道安 朱怡陶

Pornographic web sites

Editors: Zhāng Dàoān, Zhū Yítáo


Tokyo Topless


Last Update: Aug 28, 1996



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The toughest part of any language is surely its slang. But it often happens that this part of the language is what you come to use more than anything else day to day. And it's this part of the language that often is the most useful. Each term below can be thought of as a precious jewel. Take time to memorize each and every one. Only through repetition and practice can you attain perfection in their usage.  English is an international language. Your mastery of its particulars are a skill you can carry with you for all your days. But, first and foremost, you can use them to swim in vast sea of adult sites to your heart's content. After reading about each country's red light district, you're probably feeling the sudden urge to pay each one a visit, right? With this trusty phrasebook at your side you won't ever be stuck with a beautiful foreign lady at your side, completely unable to communicate. Nothing less than the prestige of our nation demands that you get these words right. Good luck.