Chinglish fun: transliteration disasters

You realize just how related the Chinese and English languages aren’t when you come across transliterated words. Using Chinese syllables to pronounce English words often results in something completely unrecognizable and counterintuitive to native English speakers; we could never guess what the original English word was, and, if we’ve studied any Chinese ourselves, we often feel we could come up with alternative transliterations that make much more sense.

“Qiáo ěr” (乔尔) is “Joel”, for example, but “zhōu ōu” is one of a couple alternatives that sound closer to me. “Obama” is “ào bā mǎ” (奥巴马, like “ow! bama”) even though in Chinese you could easily transliterate the vowels almost exactly (“ōu bā mǎ” / 欧巴马). The other day one of my students did this in reverse as a joke. He held up a sign for me to read that said: “Pieces war found.” To a Chinese ear it sounds like “pì shì wǒ fàngde” (屁是我放的), which basically means, “I’m the one who farted.” They thought it was funny and so did I, but only because it requires a really bad Chinese accent to make the connection between those English words and that Chinese sentence. I doubt that a native English speaker who’s never studied Chinese would be able to connect those dots.

Last night a Chinese friend showed me Chinese blog post of unintentionally funny English translations on Chinese signage that included this worksheet of a naughty elementary student. Apparently someone’s harbouring some negative feelings toward his or her English homework:

Not only are they trying to pronounce English with Chinese syllables, but rather than just use meaningless rough phonetic equivalents they deliberately chose certain characters to turn the English words into a Chinese joke (or at least vent some homework frustrations?):

  1. bus (bà sǐ / 爸死 / “dad is dead”)
  2. yes (yé sǐ / 爷死 / “grandpa is dead”)
  3. girls (gē sǐ / 哥死 / “older brother is dead”)
  4. miss (mèi sǐ / 妹死 / “little sister is dead”)
  5. school (sǐ guāng / 死光 / “dead completely / die off”)
  6. pea (pì / 屁 / “fart”)
  7. yesterday (yē sǐ tā diē / 噎死他爹 / “Choke to death, his dad”)
  8. guess (gāi sǐ / 该死 / “should die” [This is how they usually translate swear words like “darn!” (but stronger) in movie subtitles.])
  9. dangerous (dān jiǎo lā shǐ / 单脚拉屎 / “stand on one foot, poop”)
  10. five (fèi wù / 废物 / “rubbish / useless (person)”)
  1. Hands,hands,two hands. I have two hands (hàn zǐ hàn zǐ, tōu hàn zǐ, ǎn hái lái tōu hàn zǐ / 汉子汉子偷汉子俺还来偷汉子 / “guy guy steal a guy [cheat on your husband], I’m still stealing a guy”)
  2. How are you. What is you name (hào ā yóu. wǒ sǐ yòu nèn / 耗啊油,我死又嫩)

The Chinese isn’t all correct and some is totally meaningless; he’s just cramming the characters into the English sounds. But you can see what he’s going for. Someone needs to give these kids a break, or a spanking…

Other Chinese education system stuff:

One thought on “Chinglish fun: transliteration disasters”

Comments are closed.