Where Chinglish comes from

In a guest post at Language Log, Sinologist Victor Mair uncovers the source of many of the humorous Chinglish signs that can be found across the country.

Tracking down a forum post from 2003, Mair blames blind application of machine translators—in particular, outdated editions of Kingsoft's QuickTrans software—for rendering 干 ("dry" or "to do") as "fuck". The latest editions of the software eliminate the profanity.

Your correspondent happens to have a CD of QuickTrans 2002. Here's a screenshot of some dubious translations:

Bad translation

The translations ought to be "What do you want to do?" "dry goods," "dried shrimp fried with cabbage," "ginger ale," and "true understanding and effort."

The last line in the above image is from the title of an academic paper that was published in 2003 in the Economic Administrative Cadre Academy Bulletin of Gansu Province (see ESWN for more).

There are currently 12 Comments for Where Chinglish comes from.

Comments on Where Chinglish comes from

That Kingsoft software is still awful--and it is on damn near every computer in China. When someone puts in a Chinese word, the software always puts out an overly technical, five-syllable word that no normal English speaker has ever heard of.

Many curses upon Kingsoft.

That man has done a great service to humanity.

Mystery of why there are 1.3 billion Chinese solved.

I think I need a copy of this software for pure amusement purposes. I rather enjoy when companies use translations like this... it makes life in China a bit more fun.

lol, Kingsoft's quicktrans software is always the worst translation software I've ever seen. It's totally useless...I don't believe someone will pay money for buying this kind of thing...

I bought an old version of the Kingsoft software after seeing it on an internet cafe computer and not really testing it. I didn't really have time to get annoyed with its lack of accuracy, thanks to the frequent hard lockups it caused on multiple computers.

Electronic dictionaries really are almost worse than having nothing at all; last time I was roped into teaching English I strongly discouraged ever pulling them out, as very little good ever came of them.

Kingsoft's Chinglish is merely one amusing example of the peculiar Chinese quality of " Making a chariot behind closed doors " (闭门造车), i.e., carry out a project without seeking input/feedback from a third party.

Where else in the world would a major company create a widely circulated bilingual dictionary -- in hardcopy or software form -- WITHOUT hiring native speakers of BOTH languages?

"Where else in the world would a major company create a widely circulated bilingual dictionary -- in hardcopy or software form -- WITHOUT hiring native speakers of BOTH languages?"

Answer: Only in that country where the major company - a true product of its culture - had no respect or understanding for native speakers of the language, believing that only Chinese can translate Chinese into English, and that foreigners of any language cannot possibly understand the presumed nuances and profundity of Chinese. And so Chinglish not only blooms but spreads as fast as weeds yet protected as a specie because many Chinese insist on the "right" of speaking English as they choose. Well, of course its not a "right" but that's the defense and how dare anyone most especially foreigners presume otherwise?! Yet most of us who have studied Mandarin painfully remember the martinets who drilled us, denying any novel use of the language.

Kingsoft was also blamed for the "nigger brown" sofa incident, where a Chinese manufacturer used the software to translate its color scheme, with disastrous results!

this reminds me of an episode of Monty Python... Where a romanian tries to buy a pack of cigarettes with a kingsoft-similar dictionary...!
the episode is hilarious!
this as well!!

Yeah, I used kingsoft to compliment my new friend, but it ends me up being blocked from his facebook profile.

Completely agree with Anon. They should have just done what most American tourists would have done and communicated to the world in Chinese.

What do you mean there might be people who don't understand Chinese?

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