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Chinglish by Justin Mitchell

 One of the joys of turning Chinglish into English as a "foreign native English speaking polisher expert" are the times when the material's garble mystically morphs into prose that could be passed off as quasi-Bob Dylan or James Joyce genius.

Often its just a soundalike vocabulary or grammar slip as in a story about a ferryboat "collusion" rather than collision Or "from a distance the village looks like a piece of silver as many stoned houses makes the village look shining far away." The writer meant "stone houses," of course.

"Cold and worm dishes offer various specialties." Although, worm vs warm may not be such a stretch given the stereotype of (particularly southern Chinese) eating everything but the table legs at a banquet. Or "the colorful cultures of ethnic groups also add lust to the city." I think the writer meant "luster." Or maybe not.

And there are the times when the writer reaches for her or his trusty Chinese-English dictionary that was last updated in the 1970s by Russian editors. Overwriting is common as in this description of a charity fundraiser, not an orgy. "The evening was characterized by vibrant atmosphere ventilating godlike excitement as guests enjoy the coming together of friends."

Some may be awkwardly phrased but, you get the point and it’s almost better than when it’s “polished.” “Some netizens hold a similar understanding that ‘Happiness is the feeling a cat gets when it is eating a fish; it is the feeling a dog has when it is enjoying meat, and it is the thing Ultraman feels when beating monsters!’”

And this, which is from a description of an ethnic minority dance that could pass as American square dance calling with a little tweaking. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven – crash your neighbor's crotch and then going on to the music: one two three four five six seven!

"The more hard a guest of Primi minority was crashed on his crotch, the more warm welcome he received in our village. Three Primi young people dancing with their five Yi ethnic counterparts in the last program Dance of Crotch Crashing for the special performances of Guarding the Forest.”

Outdated or terms so obscure that I can't tell if they are real or not often pop up as in "Venezuela has been declared territory free of analphabetism." I looked up analphabetism and found it has nothing to do with unusual sexual practices but is a real word that means illiteracy. How analphabetic did I feel then?
Bob Dylan and Chinglish will come together in Beijing on April 4th. Photo courtesy of
A colleague of mine, James Palmer and I were discussing this recently and he came up with the "Is it James Joyce or Chinglish?" test. Here's a sample. Pick Joyce or Chinglish for each selection. No Googling allowed.

A. The creating cabin called as time tunnel. B. He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders. C. He is easily taken apart from his hometown fellows when he makes some utterance. D. Wonder what kind is swanmeat.

A and C are Chinglish. B and D are Joyce.

In that spirit I offer the Dylan (who will bestow Beijing with his Bobness on April 4, thank you!) or Chinglish? quiz.

A. With 100 eyes of 100 Hamlets, the mountain crawls under the paintbrush of 100 artists. B. His hindbrain hit by electricity as he orders four treasures. C. The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face. D. With his businesslike anger and his bloodhounds that kneel, if he needs a third eye he just grows it.

A and B are Chinglish. C and D are Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan). 

Them sometimes it becomes near-poetry, or perhaps inspiration for a children's book. "Now the Changsha Zoo is selling tiger's whispers which raises citizens’ curiosity. Some Chinese characters written with chalk on a blackboard in the zoo says, ‘There are some tiger’s whispers for sale, and ’specially for drivers and children.’”

The writer meant “tiger whiskers” but I think tiger whispers is infinitely better, even sublime – ’specially for drivers and children. I'll take two boxes, please.

From: Original         Author: Justin Mitchell         Time: 2/5/2010 4:19:12 PM

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