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The disappearance of Chinglish?


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I ride my ebike all over town, all the time.  This is usually where I see Chinglish: on the backs of people's shirts as I pass them (I learned to ebike in China by copying the locals, so I'm super aggressive).  There have always been Chinglish, from the nonsensical to the amusing.  I've seen everything from SS lightning bolt runes to a fellow wearing an AVG (Flying Tigers) jacket from WWII, complete with blood chit asking the finder to assist the shot-down pilot to get back to his squadron.  


But lately, that's diminished.  Now, the slogans and phrases are...better, shall we say?  They might be banal or meaningless, but they lack the essential features of Chinglish: poor grammar, made-up words, distorted meanings, pure gibberish.  They'll use correct grammar and spelling.  I even get a smile once in a while.  People still have no idea what they're buying, just a shirt with cool-looking English on it, but whomever is making those shirts has obviously gotten better at English as time has passed.  


To me, it's just yet another sign of China's modernization (as if we need any more).  I like to compare it to a ratchet, which can only go one way, and which clicks slowly over time, always increasing.  We've had decent pizza for a few years now, and art hotels are common even down here in this proverbial third-tier city. We have not one but two live houses that host traveling acts.  There are so many western restaurants I can't keep track of them all, and just today I was the very first customer at a new coffee shop that served a good latte, just outside my apartment.  Chinglish going the way of the dodo seems yet another click of the ratchet.  

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I think the internet has changed a lot of things with language learning. Not [necessarily] just Chinese<>English. It's far easier to get resources now, and in particularly listening/visual resources. And since mobile phones with video capabilities... any language in the world is pretty much on tap! 





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It almost seems like people relied on internet translation tools, back when they were really really awful. I forgot about this topic until you brought it up just now. Back around 2005-2010, I used to enjoy blogs filled with all sorts of humorous pictures of bilingual Chinese/English signs. That was back when I had zero knowledge of the Chinese language. But looking back at those signs now, having actually learned Chinese, it's a fascinating experience. Not only is the English funny, but I can also tell what the original Chinese is trying to say.


For what it's worth, I've also heard that Beijing has embarked on a campaign to eliminate Chinglish from its signs before the arrival of the 2022 Winter Olympics. But I'm sure there's less and less of it these days, anyway.

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I was referring to slogans on shirts, not public signs specifically.  


Chinglish is the perfect example of doing translation the wrong way.  You use a native speaker of the TARGET language to translate the SOURCE material.  But in China, there were tons of Chinese people who had learned English in school.  Give it to them, they'll translate it.  What do you mean, we should get a native speaker to translate?  First of all, we don't have one, and second of all, why the hell do we employ Xiao Ying if it's not to translate?  


It almost seems like people relied on internet translation tools


I think it was native Chinese speakers doing the translations.  I'm familiar with computer translators and they don't make those kinds of errors.  I'm talking about a word that starts fine, but falls apart. Bizarre grammar, word order out of whack, spellings that go off the rails.  Computer translators just make awkward sentences and perhaps choose wrong synonyms, but Chinese do that as well.  I get the idea the translator didn't know how to translate, just diddled the keyboard for a while, and published it.  After all, who would ever know?  Besides, if anyone found out that she was unqualified to do translations, she'd be out of a job.  This outcome must be avoided at all costs.


My favorite contra-example was a shop called LAVIPEDITUM.  Yes that is a very accurate word, probably the most accurate word that could be used in that situation. It was a sign not a shirt so it kind of steals my thunder from the above points, but I always liked that shop.

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Its true chinglish has decreased as well as just poor choices of words. When i moved to Shanghai, there was a fancy coffee chain called "fanny face". I felt really embarrassed / sorry for them as they did a lot of promotion but ultimately went out of business.


However, gibberish still seems to be common. Just as in the West some people are happy to have shirts with random kanji / hanzi that they like the look of, as it is with many Chinese, who don't particularly care that "STMZTCO" or whatever doesn't mean anything.

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I've been curious about this for a long time... Is there a more specific term (or even an accepted Chinese one) than "Chinglish"?


"Chinglish" to me suggests a combination of spoken Chinese + English, similar to Franglais (French + English) or Singlish (Singaporean English). 


Gibberish doesn't quite sum it up either... I presume we're talking about things like this, in written text, and usually on clothing...


Some of which are inaccurate 山寨...


image.thumb.png.7bdd236d6c827a1906052ce1395de6de.png image.thumb.png.5cfe1c51b2bb2d495b05bd3332f0a363.png image.thumb.png.a1cdabe1a07b06192a0d2eea054cdc3b.png


Not sure about this one... maybe just trying seem like something "designery"?




And then there's a similar category of technically-accurate English but which makes no sense, or is inappropriate:


image.thumb.png.f782395ece48ee4ffff97b04033f7ea0.png image.thumb.png.20724b842077ce6f5fe42c13f7f6a3c7.png


(I've seen "Camel Toe" on a shirt twice recently... is it trying to be a brand? That photo is one of my students and she didn't have a clue what it referred to.)


As @Mijin points out, it happens the other way in the west too, although perhaps not quite the same... there's no way that the garbled English text above could result from poor automated translation.  Whereas Superdry — a very popular pseudo-Japanese brand started by two guys in England — has been quite open about them just using Google translate to create random Japanese text for their clothing.


As an aside: I was walking through Tunxi (Anhui province) today on the last day of the national week holiday and saw a little grey-haired 奶奶 climbing onto her e-scooter wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt bearing the slogan: "She's lost control". Joy Division fans rejoice. Traffic police maybe not so much.





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Well superdry is a big brand with expensive (overpriced) t-shirts.


To compare like for like we'd have to look at the no-name t-shirts. Thinking about it, I've owned 3 t-shirts with Kanji on them that when I showed Chinese friends told me they were gibberish, not merely a mistranslation (I know Kanji is not Hanzi, but they are usually close enough to tell whether something is meaningful or not).

It was during the early days of being in China; I don't think I have those t-shirts any more, but I can try to find photos of them on facebook if anyone is particularly curious.

I bought them at places like Burtons and Primark. That's how I roll :D

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On 10/7/2021 at 7:19 PM, mungouk said:

Whereas Superdry — a very popular pseudo-Japanese brand started by two guys in England — has been quite open about them just using Google translate to create random Japanese text for their clothing

That explains the 極度乾燥(しなさい)thing. I’ve been wondering what’s up with that. It really is comparable with any of the gibberish above.

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