Shanghai targeted in non-standard usage of language on the street

World Today

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Shanghai’s government stepped forward in the battle against signs with poor translations. After enacting the first government regulation in the country for appropriate use of foreign languages in public on Jan 1, authorities opened a hotline and an online service to encourage residents to report non-standard translations.

In Shanghai, the international metropolis, foreign visitors are sometimes confused by hilarious translations on signs in public. Such translations include “Small by” which refers to a grocery store and, “to male business”, seen in several banks, which actually means, “service for corporate businesses”.

Since the build-up to the Shanghai World Expo, Shanghai’s government paid much attention to the informal use of foreign languages on signs and advertisements in public. According to experts at the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use, the main mistakes on public signs include incorrect grammar, misspellings, “Chinglish” which means a poor translation of Chinese into English,inappropriate wording and foreign language without a Chinese translation.

In the regulation, in development since 2012, all shopsigns, warningsigns and billboards and advertisements in public cannot use only a foreign language. The meaning of words in a foreign language should be the same as the Chinese words, in accordance with national guidelines on translation. Foreign translations on public signs should follow international custom without ambiguity to foreigners.

According to the regulation, using foreign signs indiscriminately may lead to a fine or penalty from the industrial and commercial administration.

“The fine is not mean to us. All we want is to boost the standard guideline for appropriate usage of foreign language in public,” said a member in Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use.

In recent months, Pudong’s district government waged a campaign in main shopping districts and streets to correct poor usage of foreign language in public. Officials planned to set up an assessment system on the standardization of language on the street.

In Huangpu district, volunteers from universities in Shanghai went to famous sites, such as Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road, the Bund of Shanghai and Yu Garden, as well as other shopping districts, and checked 733 street signs. They took notes about all kinds of non-standard usage of language for future research and analysis.

Meanwhile, Shanghai Municipal Committee formed a Municipal Expert Committee on Translation Service to provide a standard translation for guidance. Residents can read Guidelines for English translation on Public Signs on, and report the poor translations to the website.

“The international image of a country always lies in the details. In order to improve the level of translations on the street, we must strengthen the guidance and enable more citizens to join the fight against bad usage of language,” said Ling Xiaofeng, deputy of the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use.

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