February 21, 2007

Signs, Signs, Everwhere There's Signs

Technically, nothing wrong here.
However, no native English
speaker I know would speak quite like this.

OK, here is a little bit of a rant from me. Now, I have lived in Asia for coming up on six years now and have done a fair bit of traveling through both the highly developed Asia as well as the developing area of the continent. This observation is of something that can be cute and endearing in the developing world, but which I find inexcusably lazy and careless when I encounter it in downtown Taipei, Seoul, Hong Kong, etc.

Heaven forbid one should be scarred.
Being killed might be more of a concern.

What I am speaking of is the butchering of the language on English signs. I realize fully that not everyone speaks English as a first language and I do applaud those that have learned to speak it even at a basic conversational level. What I do not applaud though is those who speak/write English at a good, yet imperfect, level but who will not ask others for verification on the work they have done in English. I saw a set of very good examples yesterday at a railway station in Pingtung. Four safety banners were hanging at the station and all four were written in English which ranged from awkward to poor. Now, most certainly it was written in English many, many levels above my Chinese, but every sign needed some tweaking.

The worst of the bunch...
Words that don't exist,
fragments masquerading as sentences,
missing modifiers,
this one needs a lot of help.

Personally, if I am in a small restaurant and I see a menu or a sign with awkward English, I do nothing but appreciate the effort someone has put in. I appreciate this whether I am at a tiny noodle stall in Bagan, Myanmar or at a mom and pop lunch box in downtown Taipei. However, I am not near as forgiving when I see the same errors at a McDonald's, KFC, MosBurger or any other big business franchise. I am constantly surprised at the number of signs that I come across from big organizations where the English is just totally butchered. For me, the government and government subsidized or controlled businesses are the biggest culprit. Why on Earth would an organization with a cash flow of billions of dollars be so careless when an answer is so easily found? There are literally thousands of native English speakers living and working in Taiwan, most either as teachers or translators. Almost any of these would be happy to give something the once over before it goes to press to ensure the language works as intended. The costs would be a pittance in comparison to just the costs of printing the signs, menus, posters or whatever other format is to be used.

While only a few grammatical
slip ups, this is still pretty

These four banners would not have been super cheap to produce and I am sure that the same banners are visible at a number of stations. I am sure that those in charge could have found someone to proofread and adjust for the price of a single meal at a mid level restaurant. Why they wouldn't bother is totally beyond me.

1 comment:

JanneM said...

I live in Asia too (Japan) and see the same kind of language you do. But I do have a greater tolerance for this, perhaps because I'm not a native English speaker myself. I too first found this exotic, then silly and a little careless.

I've come to realize that the intended recipient is not you or me or any other good English speaker. The intended recipients are other Japanese, or Chinese or Taiwanese people, people standing on very shaky linguistic ground when it comes to English. Many of the mistakes we find humorous are simply not seen by the intended audience.

The intention behind using English instead of the local language is to impart a sense of the exotic, perhaps sound vaguely cool and international, and to grab your attention. And for that, mangled English is, if anything, better than proper US, British or Australian English.