East Asian language-English Mistranslation - Tender Fragrant Grass

Pity The Grass You are About to Walk Upon

It is almost poetic how the translation reads. Seriously, it is most probably the way it was written. Although this is East Asian in origin, the sentiments are simple to understand. It is not just a “Keep off the Grass” sign. It implies that the reader should respect the grass as part of the ecosystem that does not need to suffer in order for men to go about their business.

Even the French use such warnings, about keeping off the grass, picking flowers, or even about missing someone. The language is tight, almost poetic, and in this case, it seems to have been translated correctly. However, Westerners would be more familiar and would respond better to “Keep off the Grass.”

This is proof that there are many ways to send a message. It also shows the importance different countries and cultures put on objects, which foreigners would take for granted. The way the sign was written, was almost like a short poem. It tugged at the sensibilities of a cultured person who would not trample the grass because of the aesthetic benefits it would bring.

That the translation is poetic may be because it was written in a poetic manner. Man against nature, being a universal theme, this is a translation which would be hard to decide upon. Of course, Westerners would understand “Keep off the Grass.” However, would it not be better to explain why a person should keep off the grass? The translation did not deviate from the aims of the sign. Neither did it diminish the task. Instead, the sign elevated the concern for grass and greens in general.

When translating short phrases like these, there are times when it would be better to explain the original, and times when it would be better to use a more literal meaning. In a private area, or an office building, or campus, the short description might suffice. However, in a park, the warning becomes a soft and tender request to a civil person’s sensibilities.

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