Mistranslations - Crossing Railings

Chinese Sign Gets Mistranslated to Warn Against Crossing Railings Lest Suddenness Happens

The above Chinese sign cannot be translated from context. The English mistranslation does not help at all. “Please don’t cross any railings lest suddenness happens!” does not explain what will happen. The use of “suddenness” as a noun or a verb is something grammar school teachers should warn their students against using.

This is a prime example for studying a foreign language. Studying a second language gives a person a better understanding of the world, and an appreciation of another culture.

In the case of the sign above, it is a wonder what the word “suddenness” can be. There must be a reason why that word was used. In terms of possible context, the sign maker might have been thinking of the word “accident”. “Please don’t cross any railings lest accidents happen” is a more plausible warning than the original. “Accidents” do happen suddenly.

In translations and interpretations, the right word or phrase is necessary to convey the right meaning. Contextual meaning can be different from straight forward dictionary definitions. Contextual meaning of a phrase or a word takes into account the culture, as well as the instance when a word is used. Understanding Chinese context for words and sentences is hard to do for an English speaker who does not understand the culture.

In the world of diplomacy and finance, meanings can be construed from the context alone. There are some instances where the wording of a sentence can imply an inclination, which would add to the complexity of meaning. Diplomats are mindful of the use of the right word. The same is true of lawyers, and in business and finance. In the above image, “suddenness” may be perfectly acceptable to the Chinese speaker. An accident is a sudden event. If a suddenness event happens, then it may imply an accident, as much as any other surprise.

Image credit – via Pinterest

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