February 27, 2007


The other day BBC World ran an interesting segment on China’s efforts to improve the quality of the English translations on their public signs in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The report cited examples of Chinglish – that peculiar mish-mash of Chinese and English – ranging from the offensive (“Deformed Man Toilette” instead of “Handicap Restroom”) to the sublime (“Show mercy to the slender grass” instead of “Keep off the grass!”).

Well, Ginglish (German + English, I don't knwo why it's spelled with an "i") may not be quiet as colorful, but it can still be a lot of fun. Take, for example, the synopsis for the German film Fushicato, which I found in the English language program of Würzburg’s international film festival (link):
In the very outskirts of the city, where the petty bourgeois live, where human life is barely possible therefore, for more than 20 years now, a househare has defied the hardships of its inhospitable surroundings. For some, for example Ranier, it’s not only a housing-, but a life project. You don’t let it get you down. Not by the state, not by the capital. Not by anybody. Here you live a self-determined and nonhierarchical life. But also a utopian dream must be organised. That’s why they have a set of rules: the 10 commandments. Ranier and his girl-friend have a baby now. Also the other revolutionists have grown older. Where is the brightness of the early years? All got dragged-in and Ranier has become the tyrant of the house. He is shooting over the top when he brings another woman along.

It’s grammatically correct – for the most part – but it sounds ridiculous. Passages like this make me despair over learning a foreign language. I mean, what’s the point if, after hundreds of hours of study, I’m still doomed to sound like this?

On the upside, though, I’ve realized that the skills of a native English speaker are still in high demand, even in a world where it increasingly seems that everyone speaks a little English. So, I’m contemplating starting my own translation business. I might not be able to translate German into English, but I can definitely translated Ginglish into regular old English. Bring me your tired press releases, your weary advertisements, your oppressed public service announcements … and I’ll turn them into something that makes sense to the average American.

Sure, it sounds easy enough, but then there are passages like this one from the Web site of Deutsche Post, the German postal service:
Franking of items with POSTAGE STAMPS is and remains the franking method that is most simpatico. It is more personal than any franking impression.

I open up the “comments” section to anyone who thinks they can make sense of that beautiful piece of Ginglish.

The billboard for this hair salon reads: “Hair Flate-Rate: Styling-Offensive Würzburg.” Don’t laugh. This is my new salon. And so far, I don’t find my new haircut particularly flat, or offensive.

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