Expats in China support Chinglish for its unintended humour

Published:  5 Jul at 6 PM
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Tagged: China, Teach Abroad
The mangled Chinese-English translations known as Chinglish have won a place in the hearts of the expat community in China for their unintentional humour.

Mistranslations from foreign languages to English of signs, slogans, directions and just about every other form of communication are common across the expat world, but none have gripped expats’ imaginations as has Chinglish. With its expressions ranging from hilarious to downright weird, Westerners working in China are now defending its use in everyday conversations.

One government publication complied ahead of the September G20 summit in Hangzhou was entitled ‘To Quickly Memorise 100 English Sentences’. An example of the translations in pinyin from Mandarin taught locals to say ‘Wai kan mu tu Hanzhou’ – Welcome to Hangzhou’ and caused a Beijing-based expat English teacher a deal of amusement. English teacher Frankie Bromage has enjoyed being amazed by the creativity and vitality of Chinglish for a while now, and is part of the cult following of appreciation for this highly original attempt to communicate with the English-speaking world’s visitors to China.

Its style and originality has spurred articles, Facebook groups and Flickr pages celebrating the use of Chinglish in road signs, menus and more. There’s even 'Chinglish Found in Translation', an insightful, humorous book dedicated to the phenomenon. With so much interest and affection for the often hysterically funny mangling of the English language, it’s no surprise that expats in China’s vast cities are defending its use.

The authorities, however, aren’t exactly thrilled by seeing their efforts to communicate being greeted with howls of laughter, and are constantly attempting to eradicate its use by changing official signs. Frankie believes many of the Chinglish translations are based on the unique Chinese way of thinking.

One of her favourites is found in Beijing’s public toilets and reads ‘Save water, you are the best’, rather than ‘Please save water, thank you’. How much more fun is being told ‘you are the best’ every time you visit the facility, she says.

Another of her favourites is the much-used expression, ‘sunshine boy’, conjuring up images of a young guy in shorts and a t-shirt lounging around on a sunny day. The actual meaning of the phrase, its Chinese concept, refers to a boy who delights in making others happy and is positive and energetic.

Surprisingly, several Chinglish words representing recent social phenomena are now to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary. For example, ‘tuhao’ (nouveau rich) and ‘dama’ (older ladies) are both words considered to bridge the language divide and encapsulate social changes.
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