Marcel chides The Rabbit for language abuse

16 May

I must admit I found Mister Rabbit’s post (no longer available) on Chinglish amusing, though some may find it supercilious. To quote from the Chinglish site:

The term Chinglish is a fusion of the “Chin” from Chinese and the “glish” from English. Chinglish is not a racist or bigoted term and should not be taken as such. If anything, The Chinglish Files are a way of poking fun at how difficult our flawed English language can be to translate at times. It is not intended as a dig at the intelligence or linguistic capabilities of other nations. Anyway, that’s enough “serious” discussion already… time for some fun…

I well remember M coming up with some good ones in his earlier days. “I have a steamed bum and big lunch” was one of the better ones, which being translated meant “I had quite a lot to eat for my midday meal, including a steamed bun” — but it did for a second there make us wonder where he had been.

Lisa See, whose excellent thriller The Interior (1999) I am currently reading, has a good one from a Chinese train.

Dear passengers, security, polite, and hospitality are the service aim of our crew. Please remember:
1. Never speak taboo words.
2. Keep the interior of the car clean and tidy. The environment must be graceful.
3. Our food dishes are meticulously prepared and have four features — colour, fragrance, taste and shape. Muslim food is also available.
4. When you are in the car, please use the complement gloves.

Mind you, having once in one of my rare ventures into Mandarin introduced myself thus: “I am Neil. I am a dumpling” I should not be too critical. I had meant to say I was a teacher.

Do read Lisa See, by the way. She has great insight into Chinese culture and a sharp sense of the politics of globalisation, as well as a gift for narrative.

Of course I would rather The Rabbit hadn’t chosen to revive the term “Chinky”, as such terms really ought to go the way of jackboots as a fashion statement. I really must try to write a sensible post on political (in)correctness at some stage; I find myself firmly in the middle on that. I fear the Uniting Church, much as I love it, severely gets its knickers in a knot on “inclusive language” (especially pronouns) on the one hand, but on the other hand I am not at all nostalgic for a less culturally and personally sensitive use of language either. There is nothing to be said for those obsolescent racist words, whether they are Chinese ones like “foreign devils” or English ones like, well, “Chinky” — which is comparatively mild after all compared with the rest of that unfortunate lexicon.

Such matters form Marcel’s subtext, I suspect, in his comment. I hope the comment stays, I must add, as that would be a positive sign. However, it is true the sentence he criticises is less than elegant, and I would suggest: “despite his being a semester short”. I do love gerunds.

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5 responses to “Marcel chides The Rabbit for language abuse

  1. Antony Shen

    May 16, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Dear Neil,

    I apologise this comment may sound bitter.

    You might want to check out site ( ). But before you visit there, I would like to add my humble opinion… a number of photos in site do not have any spelling or grammatical errors. It’s a site demonstrating native English speakers’ arrogance and shows no basic understanding towards English learners. In non-English speaking countries such as Japan (the country targets at), they kindly provide notices/signs in English for non-Japanese speakers, it is not hard to discover shows no appreciation at all.

    Native English speakers’ arrogance can sometimes be related to white supremacy, that’s my humble opinion again.

    Antony, who does not speak English.

  2. Owner

    May 16, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Antony does speak English; he has a whole blog to prove it — but it is not his first language, so occasionally he may need an editor 😉

    Only the ignorant would make a racist point about someone struggling in a foreign language, which is the point of my story about my unfortunate experience in Mandarin. As an ESL teacher I know quite well why English learners have problems with certain aspects of English, and I also know those problems can be overcome, and I am amazed at the skill of so many of the learners, both young people and adults, with whom I have worked.

    At the same time, anyone, whoever they are, who has the job of creating signs or instructions in another language really does need to get their work checked. That applies to documents in Chinese, or Russian, or Hindi, or whatever, coming from government departments and businesses in Australia. Those reponsible need to use qualified interpreters and really should run the document by native speakers to see that the document is correct in vocabulary, grammar and tone.

    The worst thing to do is to rely on a computer; most “language” programs like Babelfish are extremely unreliable. For starters, they have no “idea” of purpose and context in what they do.

    Ironically, I have had to come back to this comment to correct an error!

  3. Renegade Eye

    May 16, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Like Spanglish.

  4. Antony Shen

    May 17, 2006 at 12:36 am

    Those [responsible] need to use qualified interpreters and really should run the document by native speakers to see that the document is correct in vocabulary, grammar and tone.

    That’s a good point, however, I fail to see it could be easily achieved in reality at all times. Let’s not forget that native English speakers may not understand the exact meanings from Chinese, or Russian, or Hindi, or whatever.

    Poking fun at non-English speakers’ (broken) English may be entertaining to those who are proficient in English. Insulting is perhaps a better word to describe this. Sites like is a perfect venue for those to flaunt that they are native English speakers.

  5. Owner

    May 17, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    Just to clarify: I was meaning Australian businesses or government departments should get a native speaker of the target language — Korean, for example — to make sure the translation from English into that language is good Korean, or whatever.

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