Mistranslation - Civilization and Toilet

Civilizations Do Go to the Toilet, Thank You

The aim of a language school is not just to teach a language, but also to impart an appreciation of languages. This is especially important when the other language stems from a totally different culture and base of language. The Chinese has had a civilization for more than 3,000 years. Their cultural base of understanding is totally different from most of Western civilization. The Chinese characters evolved from pictograms, and their use of tonal sounds indicates a more mature and complex language system.

When the only thing that you can read in a sign is a garble message in English, like the one above, “Civilization go to the toilet thanks to everyone,” you can only shake your head. Even if you do not understand the original, you can still understand that the translation was botched. The English translation does not make sense. The truth is, if you were Chinese, there is still a chance that you would not understand what the sign said. There are more than 10 major classifications of Chinese, and more variants. This does not take into account regional dialects. A lot of the Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible. Due to these differences, the Chinese have created a simplified character set, which is supposed to be readable by a majority of Chinese speakers.

For someone who does not know how to read simplified Chinese, the only way to understand the sign above would be the translation to English. It just so happens that the translation is akin to a popular English expression that the country (or generation, or civilization in general) is going to the toilet (or to the dog pound).

When going to China, be aware that there are more Chinese speakers in the world, than there are English speakers, and that the majority of them do not understand other Chinese speakers, let alone English. If you are going to be interacting with the Chinese in China, it would be best to come prepared and learn the language, or at least one of them.

Image credit – via Pinterest

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