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Friday, November 10, 2006

Chinglish

China has launched a fresh drive to clamp down on bad English in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Previous attempts to wipe out Chinglish - the mistranslated phrases often seen on Chinese street signs and product labels - have met with little success. Emergency exits at Beijing airport read "No entry on peacetime" and the Ethnic Minorities Park is named "Racist Park". Beijing city authorities will issue new translation guides by the end of the year, Xinhua news agency said.

The booklets would be handed out to hotels and shopping malls, on public transport and at tourist attractions. Chinglish has become a running joke among many foreigners in China, and several websites have been set up listing humorous examples of mistranslation. A road sign on Beijing's Avenue of Eternal Peace warns of a dangerous pavement with the words: "To Take Notice of Safe; The Slippery are Very Crafty". Menus frequently list items such as "Corrugated iron beef', "Government abuse chicken" and "Chop the strange fish".

"Me oil explodes the shrimp, pleasant aftertaste" has also been seen. A paragliding spot is known as "Site of jumping umbrella". A safety signs makes the request: "Keep fire in safe hands, we live in a safe world". The mistranslations arise because many Chinese words express concepts obliquely and can be interpreted in multiple ways, making translation a minefield for non-English speakers.

The municipal government in Beijing first tried to stamp out the problem just a month after being awarded the 2008 Olympics in 2001. A year later the Beijing Tourism Bureau set up a hotline for visitors and residents to tip off examples of bad English, and said results would be reviewed by a panel of English professors and expatriates.

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