Chinglish, Signese, Signology?Written by Uln on March 7th, 2009
Wow, there’s been some activity around here this week. For the first time, the old eyeballs are sore from the limelight in my screen, and I long to get back my status of internet chopped liver.
But no worries, I think I know just how to do that:
Everybody knows that serious China bloggers don’t do Chinglish. That’s for newbies, and we are past the “mamma, look what I got” stage. But before you leave, take a look at this a pic I took yesterday on my way to Ningbo . It is now part of my new classified collection of Signology. And there’s more here than meets the eye.
It all started when this inspiring picture recently published on the the 55 blog caught my attention. Something was wrong with it, it was funny, and in the same time completely at odds with the classic definition of Chinglish: it was entirely written in characters!
Sleepless nights followed, while I reflected on this important exception to the rule, until I saw what might prove to be a breakthrough in the field of Asian Studies. Working overtime, I have finally come up with the first attempt ever to develop a taxonomy of Chinese signs. Provisionally, I am calling it Signology, and it is composed of the following main branches:
- Chinglish: Discipline that studies faulty tanslations of Chinese signs.
- Signese: Discipline that studies untranslated or correctly translated signs that were already funny in the original Chinese version.
In its turn, Signese can be divided in a few subfamilies. For the moment I have found the following:
- Toilet Signese
- Tourist Spot Signese
- Commercial Copy Signese
- Communist heritage Signese.
Each of them has its own merits and deserves a special chapter, but they all have one characteristic in common. They are funny not because there is anything essentialy wrong with them, but because they originate from a Chinese mentality that is different from the commonly accepted Western standards of social behaviour. Just like grandpas walking birds or older ladies rehearsing their fan dances.
This is the reason why some sad, narrow-minded foreigners living in China spit all their venom against the poor Signese, mumbling weird comments about “lack of religion” and “5000 years of history” and what not.
For the sake of brevity, I will stick for today to the Toilet Signese.
Look at exhibit 1 above: have you ever thougth of what would happen if our toilets in the West were divided in 2 sections with clear signs indicating “defecate” and “urinate” ?
I can picture the embarrasment of some gentelmen, the giggling of prudish girls and the general chaos when some responsible citizen of the community would eventually send the picture to a newspaper, accusing the Council of improper signaling.A promising political career would be broken and hundreds of innocent users irreparably shocked.
But instead of pointing a finger at the Chinese, the sensitive China expat will turn his eyes round to himself. And he might want to ask the following questions: At which point in Western culture did we decide that “shit” had to be banished? At which point did we became so clean, so perfect, so sophisticated that we decided to socially ignore our own bodily functions? Did nobody realize at the time the enormous potential in jokes and funny signs that was lost in the process?
Will the West eventually change this abnormal behaviour when China becomes the first World power?
Look at the park picture below and ponder.
UPDATE: I just found out that I was re-inventing the wheel: signese already exists, and this website does a great job of it. So you can send your pictures there instead of here, and with their permission I will pick from their stock next time I want to continue developing my signese theories.
At least my classification system seems to be completely new. I am sending it to scientific journals to get it accepted officially.