Saturday, 20 April 2013

The mystery letter

Anyone who has ever been to Japan will resonate with the following - found on notices dotted around the country.

“Building asks a smoked visitor in the outside smoking section that you cannot smoke in” - be warned smokers.

When crossing the road  remember - “When crossing, be careful of the footing sufficiently.
“Understand beforehand because the responsibility can not be assumed about the incident in case and so on.”

This one, a notice on a public toilet, is a bit more obvious: “Prohibit to go into with foreign ladies who are waiting on the road”.

And weary travellers beware: “Sit on the stone step above this, it lies down, or eating and drinking and smoking are forbidden”.

These are all classic examples of what lovingly is known to English speakers living in the land of the rising sun as ‘Japlish’.

A valiant attempt by the always eager-to-please Japanese to translate their language into English and coming up with a stream of gobbledegook.

The Japanese are usually quite light-hearted when alerted to it, they are often pleased to have their English corrected - not that they should feel obliged.

After all, surely it is the duty of anyone visiting their country to pick up a bit of the native language.

Kind though it is that they should provide English translations.

Japlish is very common in Japan, it’s on train stations, emblazoned on t-shirts, placed on food products, in magazines and on road signs.

A  laugh is always achieved at the frequent mis-placing of the words ‘colon’, ‘breast’ and ‘knockers’.

Having taught English there, the cause of this language merriment was clear to me.

It results from taking Japanese and directly changing it into English using a dictionary.

The languages are so different in structure, intonation and vocabulary that translating from one to the other always ends in disaster.

This is why teachers and schools insist on English-only environments with no translation allowed in the classroom.

It is far more accurate to convey language using visuals and concepts rather than translating sentences - that is how I learnt Japanese.

I felt sorry for my diligent students who often presented homework, after being  given the express instruction not to use a dictionary, came up with pages and pages of nonsense.

Most Japanese have a good sense of humour, however, and are more than happy to reciprocate with a bit (a lot) of gentle ribbing of their 'gaijin' - foreign - guests.

I was taken back to my days of working out whether I was buying a box of chocolates or booking a colonic irrigation this week when a letter arrived in the office.

We get many, but this one stood out.

It contained a pamphlet with three bizarre, arty sort of pictures and some even stranger wording.

“I know I must do something so I begin to miss you!”  it proclaimed.

Another line read: “This morning I have no time to wash my face.”

There was nothing with it other than the pictures and brief, very odd, words.

So if anyone has any idea what they could mean, and where it could have come from - I would be most grateful to know.

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