Silly Euros

First of all, I want to apologize for posting two posts on December 11 – as if to make up for lost time! I did not mean to and had intended to space out their publication. Anyway, if you have not read these yet, please scroll down or click here and here.

Second of all, this post will be much less thoughtful and much more puerile than either of those. Mea culpa, obviously, since I’m the author. This post is my version of the all-but-obligatory post in expat blogs about the use of English in foreign countries and why, oh why, do so few people think or consider it valuable to hire a native English speaker before titling things or making signs.

Most everyone is, by now, familiar with Chingrish (a.k.a. Engrish), a contraction of “Chinese” and “English” referring specifically to the hilarious malapropisms and unintended innuendoes created by direct or improper translation from the former to the latter. Growing up in Hong Kong and then living in Beijing, I was of course surrounded by examples, and these were a common and consistent source of pleasure. A favorites that stands out in my memory is the Lee Kee Boot and Shoe Company, but there is at least one whole tumblr-style site dedicated to Chingrish.

Why Chingrish remains so prevalent throughout China and even Hong Kong (despite 100 years of British colonial rule) became more apparent to me prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which I covered as a blogger for Yale. In the lead-up to the event, touted as “Beijing’s Coming Out Party” or deb ball, the government wanted to burnish Beijing’s international image and therefore hired, according to news reports, no fewer than 10,000 locals to clean up the city’s Chingrish. However, they supposedly did not hire a single non-Chinese person (despite the many Americans living in Beijing itching for an extra dollar), and while some of those hired may have been native or near-native English speakers, not all of them were, and it showed. There was still plenty of hilarious Chingrish for Olympic spectators to enjoy while they waited in line for events.

But bad English, it turns out, is hardly the purview solely of the Chinese. Take, for instance, SCAT Air Company based in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan. My theory is that these types of mistakes happen because of a certain arrogance on the part of (at least) Chinese and Kazakhs about their English-language abilities. I’ve noticed a certain trend to over-confidence and over-estimation. This is hardly to say that my Russian is any good or that my Kazakh exists at all – but I would not dream of naming a company without checking with a native speaker first, and therein lies the difference.

EUNIC bookmark

The EUNIC bookmark

Despite all of the above, however, I’m willing to forgive the Chinese and the Kazakhs because 1, it may be harder than I imagine to find a competent English speaker, and I’m sure that even in situations where companies desire to check, many translators or “consultants” misrepresent their knowledge and abilities to their clients; and 2, it is amusing to me. I’m less willing, though, to forgive the Europeans. Europe, after all, include at least two native English-speaking countries and several countries, like Denmark, in which citizens speak better English than I do. How, then, did they end up naming an organization EUNIC – the European Union National Institutes for Culture? I realize this is not actually how one spells “eunuch,” but the homonym is unmissable even when one only sees the word in print. The organization’s full name, when written out, does not even flow well, suggesting they reordered words in order to make a handy acronym, and yet they still came up with EUNIC.

I discovered EUNIC while working in the Kasteev State Museum of the Arts here in Almaty because one of my co-workers there had a bookmark from there in which EUNIC was printed over and over. I was, needless to say, curious.

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4 comments
  1. Mom said:

    Flights to India and the Maldives also arrive in the middle of the night. You will
    not remember putt putting through the dark with the stars coming down to meet the sea
    when we arrived the Maldives. I believe the reason is that flights from major European and
    US cities are restricted in their take-offs and landing times so as not to disturb neighborhoods.
    Therefore they land in less regulated cities around the world when they get there…in the
    middle of the night! That’s my two bits. Love mom

  2. Nestor said:

    Last time I was.in Tokyo, I was amused to find that my friend, who speaks excellent conversational English, is all but regarded a genius by his colleagues and managers at his ad agency. To some extent he was humble but on the other hand he is not exactly keen on correcting them: in a job market where even physics majors finishing with honors are having a tough time getting a gig and applying to service industry jobs, good command of English makes you stand out while determining language skill is obviously tougher for non-native speakers to decipher. As you alluded to with Chinese, in the US, we get the same thing: I’ve seen people claim fluency without knowing what the word fluency means and they are attributed a super intelligence or strong nod of approval, nevermind the skill.level or the fact that language ability is mostly irrelevant to many of the scenarios where language ability as a litmus test arises. Ni hao!

    • Well, the English people and al those of the united kindom are mutilating their language almost beyond recognition.
      Watching the BBC nws is almost like tuning into another comedy channel as you attempt to decipher”What the hell did he/she say?”The frequent mispronunciation of aluminum, the inability to properly pronounce words ending in ary,ory.
      For example – “Conserve a tree” is the English person trying to pronounce “conservatory..
      “millitree” equals military thus accounting for the early assaults on Engla by foreign countries and the barbarians.heck, if the English consider their armed forces to be seedling or saplings, how tough can they be?
      “terrortree equals teritory
      “dormitree equals dormitory.
      secretree equals secretary
      lavatree equals lavatory
      etc
      etc.
      Overseas, people are beginning to ask “Do you speak English or American?” So the world is taking notice of the deficiencies in the words spoken by the UK inhabitants soon to be referred to as united- king-dummies Pardon, didn’t intend to grow offensive. it’s just that it is so annoying hear the language abused so freely and frequently. Remember what happened to the Spanish people of Spain? The king developed a lisp. Those seeking his favor began speaking with a lisp also and before you knew it, the entire country was speaking a new language- Castillian! To converse in proper Spanish now you have to travel outside of Spain. People from central and south america are learning to speak English and doing it better than the Brits,Aussies and Kiwis and Canadians.

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