Some Numb & Spicy Chinglish

"Carefully bang head!"Just like mushrooms popping up after spring rainfall (at least as they do here in Northern European climes) comes a new journalistic phenomenon: some pre-planned world-scale event occurs in China (e.g. the 2008 Olympics, the recent opening of the Shanghai World Expo) and is immediately followed by articles in the American press taking a bemused look at the stumbles of the Chinese as they try to come to grips with the English language, efforts that produce something usually termed “Chinglish.” The latest instance of this is a recent article in the NYT together with the almost-indispensable accompanying slide-show displaying some prime Chinglish examples (e.g. “Slip and fall down carefully”).

It’s often pretty funny stuff. Then again, another thought may come to anyone inclined to think about such things a bit more deeply. (And/or to those quick to take offense – or are these two cohorts actually one-and-the-same?) Could it be that the “paper of record” of one great civilization is, in effect, mocking the citizens of yet another for their well-intentioned struggles in navigating the former’s language? When, in fact, relations between these two great civilizations are of possibly the most crucial importance to world peace as well as progress on most other global-scale problems (e.g. environment, trade, financial regulation)?

Maybe, but maybe not. As esteemed as the NYT is, it still needs to attract paying readers and satisfy them with informative, entertaining articles and (on its website, of course) slide-shows, so it could hardly have turned these articles down. Anyway, “Chinglish” is not some new discovery – there are websites devoted to the subject, after all. And finally, here’s some fresh proof that this sort of sly mutual rib-digging among insiders (that is, native-speakers) at others’ mistakes is just a natural human inclination: the Germans do it too! Bitte sehr, I give you a new on-line article-with-embedded slide-show from Die Welt featuring comic attempts at translation into German, with often some really wise-ass accompanying commentary, much worse than the Times. On the other hand, these mostly have nothing to do with the Chinese – and sometimes they have nothing to do with German, or indeed any language, but are simply funny signs. Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining diversion, especially for, but not only for, German-speakers.

(Oh yes, and this post’s title is of course derived from Chinglish, specifically from an entry within this Flickr photo-stream – yet another permanent Chinglish site – where a bag of Lay’s potato-chips is labeled in Chinese and in English with the tag “Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavor”!)

UPDATE: And now the NYT has another Chinglish slideshow made up of reader submissions!

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