How do I get rid of Chinglish

"Chinglish": The Chinese speak such crooked English

Oliver Radtke's passion for “Chinglish” was awakened almost ten years ago. He was just about to get out of a taxi in Shanghai when he saw the sign on the passenger door: "Don't forget to carry your thing," it said: "Don't forget your thing."

Since then, the sinologist has published two books full of examples of English-language signs, notices and names in China - and has worked hard to document the sometimes bizarre use of the English language in the Middle Kingdom.

What Radtke calls “Chinglish” is “much more than just wrong English,” emphasizes the 32-year-old, who works as a multimedia producer in Beijing. “Many of the Chinglish signs express a certain Chinese attitude that enriches English. They make English more Chinese by adding the Chinese way of thinking. "

The Chinese authorities see it differently. They regard the creative mishmash of Chinese grammar and English dictionary as an embarrassing nuisance that they would like to banish from the public cityscape.

But Radtke wants to save the language. “There isn't just one standard English spoken around the world,” he says. Radtke is also convinced that the rapidly growing number of those who use English as a second foreign language will change the language. "Whether the native speakers want it or not."

“This is one of my favorites,” says Radtke, pointing to the photo in one of his books that shows the label on a public toilet: “After a cultivated urination, you can enjoy the fresh air,” it says in English. “In the West, one would never speak of urinating,” comments the sinologist. “One wonders why we avoid such words. The Chinese do not know these conventions, they proceed much more directly. "

Some of the signs that Radtke has documented are politically completely incorrect. The path for wheelchair users is called “Krüppelbahn”, the disabled toilet for men is called “Toilet for deformed men”. Other hints seem downright poetic: "Our lives will go out if you step hard," warns the sign on a meadow in the southwestern provincial capital of Kunming. On the Great Wall, a label warns of caution: “Do not forget that fire is heartless.” Other formulations make great promises. "Best love since 1996", says the advertisement for a photo studio specializing in wedding photos on the island of Hainan.

When Radtke began to publish the bizarre bits of text on the Internet four years ago, he initially met with rejection. "Many Chinese were initially against the project," says the German with the small round glasses. “They thought I wanted to make fun of them. That is also interesting: how difficult it is for a foreigner in China to write critically about certain social phenomena. "

Radtke's first book, Chinglish: Found in Translation, has sold 50,000 copies. Many Chinese are now on his side because they have recognized that he wants to preserve their use of English for posterity.