Information Loss and Change of Appellative Effect in Chinese-English Public Sign Translation

July 20, 2017 | Author: rachmmm | Category: Translations, Idiom, Baggage, English Language, Multilingualism
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Information loss and change of appellative effect in Chinese-English public sign translation Leong Ko The University of Queensland, Australia

1. Introduction A 'public sign' or simply 'sign' generally refers to the type of sign posted in public places to alert readers to certain information, such as 'No Parking', 'No Entry' or 'Staff Only', Due to the fact that such signs are mostly placed in public places, they are also referred to as public signs by Chinese scholars (e,g. Ding 2006:42; Luo & Li 2006:66; Gu 2001). According to anthropologist Ashley Montagu, a sign is defined as a "concrete dénoter" possessing an inherent, specific meaning, similar to the sentence "This is it; do something about it!" (quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica). In marketing and advertising, a sign is referred to as "a device placed on or before a premise to identify its occupants and the nature of the business done there or to advertise a business or its products" {Encyclopaedia Britannica). According to the Macquarie Dictionary (1987), a sign is "an inscribed board, space, etc., serving for information, advertisement, warning, etc., on a building, along a street, or the like". In Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1977), a sign is defined as "a posted command, warning, or direction". According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1997), a sign is a piece of paper, metal, etc. in a public place, with words or drawings on it that give people information, warn them not to do something, and so on. Based on these definitions and explanations, a public sign can contain words and/or pictures/drawings. It generally serves the function of conveying information to readers, and has an appellative effect in alerting readers to certain things or requesting them to do or not do something. Public signs are used extensively in the community for various purposes. When a public sign is used in a place where there are likely to be readers of more than one language—e.g. Chinese and English—a translation is usually provided. However, for various reasons, a number of problems have been identified in the English translation of Chinese public signs. This study will deal with ChineseBabel 58:3 (2012), 309-326. © Fédération des Traducteurs (FIT) Revue Bahel DOI io,iO75/bahel,58.3,O4ko ISSN 0521-9744 E-ISSN 1569-9668


Leong Ko

English translation of public signs that contain text only. It will focus on a discussion of information loss and change of appellative effect in public sign translation, examining the causes of these problems and challenges they create.

2. An overview of problems in public sign translation In both Chinese and English, a public sign can consist of one word, e.g. ft (tui)/ Push; a few words, e.g. iRfflE (xiyanqu)/Smoking Area; a phrase, e.g. ^W^T (youqi weigan)/Wet Paint; a whole sentence, e.g. 2^/Èl^nB—¿fíiJ'SíS^iiR (ben dian shangpin yi jing chushou shubutuihuan)/Goods purchased are non-refundable; or even a few sentences, e.g. Jltrii|ÉI#aéASm'+'^L^(1=ïl)^Ka^frl$lAt So fíii^Xyfm^it^m'ñS'uBm^, U^mmmX (a guangchang you Xianggang huiyi zhanlan zhongxin (guanli) youxian gongsi fuze guanli. renheren buzhun zaici doushou shangpin huofuwu, yimian zirao youren)IThis square is managed by the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) Limited. Peddling goods or services is strictly prohibited to avoid disturbance to visitors. In some cases, a public sign can be a whole statement comprising a dozen or so items. For instance, a public sign aimed at travellers in Alishan Forest Creation Area in Taiwan contains nine points, and a sign for bus passengers in Hong Kong consists of seven points with 13 sub-headings. In a computer lab at the University of Queensland, in order to remind users of the important issue of copyright, a whole A4 page of information containing the Copyright Regulations 1969 of the Commonwealth of Australia is posted on the wall. In spite of the diversity of the text used in public signs, the great majority consist of only a few words or no more than one sentence. Of the 428 examples of public signs that I have collected from different places in Mainland China (or China), Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, 417 (97.4%) fall into this category. It has also been found that most translation problems occur in this category of sign. An analysis of the data I have collected and a review of publications on the Chinese-English translation of public signs (e.g. Ding 2006; Luo & Li 2006; Public Sign Research Centre of Beijing International Studies University 2007; Niu 2007; Qu 2007) indicate that there are various problems in Chinese-English translation of such signs. In general, the problems fall into the following categories: (1) Spelling errors Chinese: OSJSS (xiyanshi) Meaning: Smoking Room Translation: Smorking Room Sign found: Pudong Airport, Shanghai, China, 2004

The appellative effect in Chinese-English public sign translation

(2) Grammatical mistake Chinese: JX&^tM^ (huanyingnin zailai) Meaning: Looking forward to seeing you again Translation: Welcome Your Come Next Sign found: A restaurant in the City of Chengdu, China, 2006 (3) Meaning distorted, misleading information, information loss Chinese: A^'ù^^ {xiaoxin luhua) Meaning: Caution, Slippery Translation: Don't Fall Down/Caution sliding not to fall/Be careful of the landslide Sign found: Forbidden City, Beijing, 2006/Gushan Mountain, Fuzhou, China, 2005 Chinese: Meaning: Translation: Sign found:

Hi^'ftiiiÄ^FilÄ {menpiao shouchu gaibu tuihuan) Tickets sold are not refundable No return back is allowed after being sold A park in the City of Lijiang, China, 2006

The great majority of translation problems have been found to occur in the category of distorted meaning, misleading information or information loss. This paper will not discuss spelling and grammatical mistakes, because such problems are straightforward and can be easily corrected. Rather, it will analyse those public sign translations that are grammatically correct, but are problematic in terms of conveying meaning and achieving the same effect as the source text. It is worth noting here that the advances in multimedia technology make it possible to tamper with electronic images through clipping and other measures. For instance, about four years ago I received an email attachment about a bilingual public sign in a grocery store. The Chinese sign was T © {gan huo) (dry or preserved food), but the English translation on the sign was 'Fuck Goods'. T (gan) means 'dry' or 'do' in Chinese. It can also mean 'fuck' in colloquial language or slang. However, any Chinese or anyone else who has learned the term T ® (gan huo) would know that it refers to 'dry or preserved food or goods'. Furthermore, it is pronounced differently and constitutes a different part of speech. The character ^ in this term (as well as in the following cases) is pronounced 'gän' in the first tone and is an adjective, while ^ in the sense of 'fuck' is pronounced 'gàn' in the fourth tone and is a verb. Even an inexperienced translator would know that T does not refer to the colloquial English 'fuck' in this case. It is clear that someone has tampered with this sign by using electronic clipping. Similarly, ^^'È.ik (gan guo yutou) (cooking fish heads in a dry wok) translated as 'Fuck a fish head', and Tfí'ii''fJl"A (gan huo jijia chu) (checking point for dry or preserved food).



Leong Ko

translated as "Fuck the certain price of goods" (quoted in Luo & Li 2006:69), are also obvious examples of mischievous tampering with the text. The English expressions in these two signs are perfect grammatically. It is therefore highly doubtful that a translator with such a good command of English would not understand the meaning of T in this context. Therefore, when quoting examples of public sign translation for discussion, we need to refrain from using signs from unauthenticated sources. All ofthe public signs discussed in this paper are examples of actual signs collected by the author, unless otherwise indicated.

3. Research on public sign translation A review ofthe literature indicates that in the specific domain of Chinese-English public sign translation, although problems have been evident for some time, there was little research published before 2004 (e.g. Gu 2001; Ding 2004). It was not until 2005, when the first national conference on research on public sign translation was held in China, that these problems began to receive extensive attention and research in this area began to gain momentum (e.g. Huang 2005; Yang 2005; Dai & LÜ 2005; Luo & Li 2006; Ding 2006; Niu 2007; Qu 2007; Jin 2008; Shao 2009). The increase in this interest was partly due to major international events such as the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the World Expo in 2010 (e.g. Huang 2005). Much of this recent research has attempted to analyse the features of public signs, identify problems in public sign translation and propose translation strategies. For instance, in their discussion of public sign translation, Luo & Li (2006) believe that public signs have informative, instructional and referral functions and that the language used on public signs is generally concise, in common usage and standardised. They suggest that public sign translation is a practical issue and that researchers should try to identify concrete problems in public sign translation and propose practical solutions. Ding (2006) classifies the functions of public signs into four categories, i.e. providing information, instructions, notices and warnings, and argues that the language of public signs is typically concise, conventional, consistent, conspicuous and convenient. Ding suggests three strategies for public sign translation—namely, borrowing, adapting and creating. Niu (2007) argues that all public sign translation problems originate from a common source -the translators only pay attention to lexical and structural equivalence, and fail to convey the vocative function ofthe sign. Niu points out that the vocative function of public signs is manifested in a number of specific functions such as instructional, informative, warning, persuasive and promotional. Like Ding (2006), Niu proposes three strategies in translating public signs—borrowing, imitating and creating in translation.

The appellative effect in Cbinese-English public sign translation

Qu (2007) presents a study of public sign translation from the perspective of crosscultural communication, and argues that public sign translations should endeavour to achieve maximum cultural equivalence. In their attempts to provide a satisfactory solution to public sign translation. Ding (2006) and Niu (2007) suggest borrowing or imitating existing public signs in English. Luo & Li (2006) also mention 'standard' language expressions in public signs. However, it is worth noting that there is no 'standard' or established rule for writing English public signs. Whenever and wherever there is a need to caution the public about something, a sign can be erected. In fact, any organisation or person can put up a sign for any purpose. For instance, the following signs were found in Australia: (4) English: No bombing in the swimming pool Sign found: A swimming pool in Melbourne, Australia, 1992 This sign is to warn children against jumping into the swimming pool and making a big splash. However, diving in the normal way is permitted. So far, I have not found a satisfactory Chinese translation for this. (5) English:

After tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board. Sign found: A staff room in the University of Queensland, Australia, 2008 Comment: I can empty the teapot, but standing upside down is a bit tricky.

There is a syntactical error in this sign, which prompted another staff member to add a facetious comment below the original wording. This suggests that there is no standard rule or practice in the preparation of English signs. However, there are certain common features such as being clear, concise and straightforward, as observed by Luo & Li (2006), Ding (2006) and many others. Niu (2007) notes the importance of the vocative function of public signs, which is similar to the appellative effect. However, a crucial point that is worth further exploration is how to ensure that the vocative function or the appellative effect of the source text is conveyed equally in the target text. The following discussion will concentrate on issues relating to information loss and change of appellative effect in public sign translation.



Leong Ko

4. Information loss and change of appellative effect in public sign translation Information loss means that certain necessary or essential information in the source text is not conveyed in the target text. According to the classification of text types proposed by Reiss, public signs can be classified as operative text because of their characteristics of "inducing behavioural responses", and therefore have an appellative effect, which is "to appeal to or persuade the reader or 'receiver' of the text to act in a certain way" (Reiss 1977/89). Strictly speaking, a public sign is intended to gain the attention of all readers and prompt them to make the same response. In the case of bilingual public signs, change of appellative effect refers to the scenario in which the content of the source language produces a certain effect on readers, but this effect becomes different in the target language after translation, and consequently readers of the two languages are likely to understand or respond differently. If readers of one language act differently from those of the other language, or if the source text requires its readers to do certain things and the target text requires its readers to do something else, the significance of the sign will be compromised, its purpose will be somehow lost, the messages conveyed could be confusing, and finally, it may even appear discriminatory in some cases. Loss of information and change of appellative effect are closely related in that information loss is likely to cause change of appellative effect, while the change in appellative effect is largely due to information loss. The following are case studies concerning information loss and change of appellative effect in the English translation of Chinese public signs. The meanings provided in the following examples are for the purposes of explanation only and should not be considered to be recommended translations, while the 'translation' is the wording that actually appears on the bilingual sign. (6) Case Study 1 Chinese: if 35?Í)S ^MM^ññMMMÜi P #fgÜ5§bS (qingyudongyuan dejiashu huo pengyou dao dongchukou denghou yudongyuan) Meaning: Family members or friends of the athletes, please wait for the athletes at the east exit Translation: Please wait for the athletes at the east exit Sign found: Water Cube in Beijing, China, 2008 This sign was found in the Water Cube building—a swimming venue for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The Chinese sign specifically mentions 'family members or friends of the athletes', but in the English version, the information about 'famüy members or friends' is omitted, resulting in information loss in the English translation. In other words, the Chinese sign particularly targets the family members

The appellative effect in Chinese-English public sign translation

and friends of the athletes, while tbe English sign targets everyone. It is common practice for the family members of atbletes to be granted special access to the athletes participating in the competition. The Cbinese sign accurately conveys this message. The absence of this message in the English version may prompt Englishspeaking family members to ask for more information about where they, as family members, can meet tbe athletes. It may also give everyone else tbe impression that tbey can meet the athletes in tbis spot. (7) Case Study 2



^ftAtJlíE pj ÏO^S f í , S ¥ ^ o (weile nin de shushi lüxingjijinei anquan, qing nin duizhao xialie biaoge, zaici queren nin dejinei xiedai xinglli de chicun ji jianshu. ru chaochu guiding fanwei, qing nin jiang xingli zai chengji guitai banli tuoyun shouxu.) Meaning: For your comfort and safety on the plane, please double cbeck the size and number of pieces of your carry-on baggage according to the following table. Please check in your luggage if it exceeds tbe specified limit. Translation: For your safe and comfortable journey, please be reminded that your carry-on baggage is limited as indicated below. Sign found: Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai, China, 2008 In the Englisb translation, tbe message about checking in the baggage if it exceeds the specified limit is omitted. Obviously, tbis is an important message, because it informs travellers about what to do if tbe size and amount of their carry-on baggage is over the limit. The loss of information in this case is likely to leave Englishspeaking travellers at a loss about wbat to do, and as a result, they may simply take their excess baggage on board. This could perhaps even be considered a case of discrimination against Englisb-speaking passengers. (8) Case Study 3 Cbinese: * . ll> m^ ^ ^ ¥ ^ ^ ^ -ítS^ffií^KlE f/ao, ruo, í>¿n^ can, yun, you, muying, zhuanyong houjiqu) Meaning: Special airplane waiting area for the aged, frail, sick, disabled, pregnant, cbildren, and motbers witb babies. Translation: Dedicated Lounge Sign found: Hong Kong Airport, 2009 This is a typical example of information loss in the English translation, especially as the sign does not contain any pictures. A 'dedicated' lounge is a lounge for special



Leong Ko

purposes—this can include the people mentioned in the Chinese sign, but could also include others. For instance, it could be a lounge for VIPs, or for other purposes such as conducting health checks or press conferences. The Chinese sign clearly specifies that it is a place for a particular group of people. It is lengthy, but very specific. It is perhaps because of the length of the Chinese sign that the translator considered it unnecessary to reproduce the full wording, and instead used a general term, resulting in information loss and change of appellative effect. (9) Case Study 4


#iP3ttl, i^^^-M(baohu wenwu, qingwu bianni)

Meaning: Protect cultural heritage, please do not urinate Translation: Commit No Nuisance Sign found: The Great Wall of Beijing, China, 2008 Without a specific context, committing a nuisance or committing a public nuisance refers to a number of behaviours that are generally considered unacceptable in public, such as getting drunk, calling someone names, making too much noise, spitting on the ground, showing one's bottom and urinating. For instance. (10) Chinese:

^à^: ^^mj^MS, flffi«?l»ffio (gonggao: wei mian zaocheng zirao, qing ba shenglang jiangdi) Translation: Notice: Please keep the noise level down to avoid causing nuisance. Sign found: A park in Hong Kong, 2008

Therefore, the wording 'Commit No Nuisance' in the public sign under discussion does not specifically convey the message of 'no urinating' to English readers as is the case for Chinese readers. Furthermore, 'protecting cultural heritage' is an important message in this context and should not be omitted. Perhaps the translator felt that urinating in a public place was an uncivilised act, which was unlikely to be committed by English-speaking people, and therefore tried to avoid this word when translating into English. It is worth noting that urinating in public places also occurs in English-speaking countries. And it makes sense to warn people against urinating on cultural heritage sites. As a result of the information loss in the English translation, the appellative effect on readers of English has changed. It has been found that in some cases the translation of public signs reflects an inadequate understanding of Western culture, resulting in information loss and/or change of appellative effect. (11) Case Study 5 Chinese: ^^i Sit^^ï&ii (jinggao: cidi you equan) Meaning: Warning: Dangerous Dogs

Tbe appellative effect in Cbinese-English public sign translation

Translation: Warning: bad dogs! Source: Luo & Li (2006:68-69) In giving this sign as an example, Luo & Li make the following comments: "In Western countries where pets are popular, dogs are a positive symbol. The use of 'bad dogs' would make an unpleasant impression on readers" (ibid) {author's translation). This is not necessarily the case. It is true that many people in Western countries like dogs, and that they are often considered 'man's best friend', but there are also reports at times about dogs attacking people and even mauhng little children to death. In order to ensure people's safety, it is important that the message about dangerous dogs be conveyed correctly. In Australia, for instance, the Brisbane City Council has passed a law requiring owners of dangerous dogs to display a sign saying "Beware ofthe Dangerous Dog" (sighted in Brisbane, Australia 2009) outside their premises to alert people. It is therefore important to convey the message about the dangerous dogs in the Chinese sign accurately, rather than ignoring the danger. The loss of information in this case might lead to real danger. Sometimes, if the readership of either the original sign or its English translation is unclear, it may result in a change in appellative effect. (12) Case Study 6 Chinese: f^SJS^TiÄ'nÄAI'lü (yanjin tiaoxia zhantai jinruguidao) Meaning: No jumping off the platform and walking onto the tracks Translation: No jumping off the platform and onto the track Sign found: A railway station in Shanghai, China, 2008 To begin with, the readership of this Chinese sign is unclear and its message is confusing. Who is likely to jump off the platform and walk onto the tracks, and why? This sign could have three possible purposes. Firstly, it could be intended to warn travellers against jumping onto the tracks to get to the neighbouring platform. However, this message is not conveyed clearly. Secondly, the sign could be aimed at railway staff. This seems unlikely, because railway staff would have permission to go onto the tracks if necessary. Thirdly, the sign could be intended to prevent suicides. It seems most likely that it is intended for the first purpose, but its message is not clear and the English translation is therefore equally confusing. (13) Case Study 7 Chinese: ^ A ^ J L A ± t t 1 ^ H Í S ^ ^ A fê 1^1 (laoren, ertong shang huti ski xu youjiaren peitong) Meaning: The aged and children should be accompanied by family members when using the escalator Translation: The aged and children should be accompanied by family members using the escalator Sign found: A lakeside park in the City of Hangzhou, China, 2008



Leong Ko

While there are no serious problems with the English translation of this sign, but it is unrealistic to expect overseas tourists to bring a family member along when visiting the park. Apparently, this sign is targeted at local people. More appropriate Enghsh wording would be "The aged and children should be accompanied when using the escalator". The difference in the target readership of the Chinese sign results in an inevitable change of appellative effect in the English translation. The above examples show that information loss and change of appellative effect do occur in public sign translation. Their consequences vary according to the context and purposes of the signs.

5. Discussion An analysis of Chinese-English public sign translations indicates that there are a number of reasons for the loss of information and/or change in appellative effect. 5.1. Linguistic differences Chinese and English are two distinctly different languages embedded in different cultures and social backgrounds. Idioms are an essential component of the Chinese language. A Chinese idiom is usually more succinct, stylish and expressive than a full sentence with the same meaning. The proper use of idioms is therefore often more effective in gaining the attention of readers and creating the desired appellative effect. Most Chinese idioms have four characters. Accordingly, in modern Chinese many four-character phrases that use the structure of idioms are created to achieve more effective communication. A public sign is normally intended to have a certain communicative and appellative effect, and the use of four-character phrases has therefore become a common feature of many Chinese public signs. However, when creating a four-character phrase, additional or different characters sometimes have to be included. As a result, additional information may be added, and this could result in a loss of information or change of appellative effect in translation. For instance. (14) Chinese:

«JSgjtfêl SiliÄ-^, ^MñA (tielu weixian! Jinzhiyouke, panyue jinru) Meaning: Danger on rails! Tourists are not allowed to climb into the area. Translation: Be careful! No pedestrian allowed Sign found: A bridge in Taroko National Park, Taiwan, 2007

If this sign was in English only, it would probably use simple wording such as

The appellative effect in Chinese-English puhlic sign translation

'Danger, No Entry' or just 'No Entry'. The brief text in the original translation also reflects the practice of using concise words in English signs. However, the Chinese sign uses three four-character phrases, which contain additional information relating to the specific context—i.e. 'rails' and 'tourists'. The excessive use of fourcharacter phrases can lead Chinese public signs to carry many meanings. Failure to convey these in translation may result in a loss of information and/or change of appellative effect. Other examples are: (15) Chinese: Meaning: Translation: Sign found:

^Mff^i, ^MMA (weijingxuke, buzhun Jinru) No Entry without Permission No Admittance Hong Kong, 2008

Chinese: Meaning: Translation: Sign found:

fÂSïAJÉ, HA:fejl (sijia zhongdi, xianren mianjin) Important private premises, no admittance to idle persons No Unauthorized Entry Hong Kong, 2008

Chinese: Meaning: Translation: Sign found:

SJÍFSift, M AáOil (zhengfu zhongdi, xianren mianjin) Important government land, no admittance to idle persons Government Land, No Trespassing Hong Kong, 2008

In the first example, the sense of 'without permission' contained in the first fourcharacter phrase in Chinese may be considered superfluous, because 'no entry' implies that 'entry without permission is not allowed'. This four-character phrase may have been used merely to create a kind of balance in Chinese. However, in the third example, the information contained in both four-character phrases is translated, whereas in the second example the information about 'private premises' is omitted. From the perspective of communication of meaning, it is hard to see why 'government land' should be translated while 'private premises' is ignored. The above examples indicate that four-character phrases provide certain additional information, which may or may not be considered important by translators, who use their discretion to decide whether or not to translate it. As a result, some of the information in the original Chinese public signs may be lost in their English translations.

5.2. Inappropriate use of existing English public signs Information loss or change of appellative effect may result from the use of existing English signs that are considered to serve a similar purpose (cf. Case Study 4). A common feature of many English public signs, especially those with text that is



Leong Ko

sborter tban or equivalent to one sentence, is tbat the choice of words is straightforward, even blunt, often using words such as 'no', 'only' and 'don't'. It can be argued tbat since the message of a public sign is meant to be clear and generate a particular response from readers, it makes perfect sense for the wording to be straightforward and blunt. However, many Chinese public signs tend to use soft and friendly expressions to indicate appreciation or politeness, sometimes even employing small talk. If translators use existing English expressions to translate such Chinese signs, loss of information may occur. For example:

(16) Chinese:


i^M^itfí (weile nin he taren defang-

bian, qing kaoyou rangxing) Meaning: For tbe convenience of yourself and others, please keep to tbe right to give way to others. Translation: Keep right please Sign found: Beijing Airport, Cbina, 2008 Cbinese:

^ñ&iík¡1, i í l Í H Í A T ^ Í f i « 5 S (changbifanghuomen, ying suishi chuyu guanbi zhuangtai) Meaning: Tbis fire escape door sbould remain shut at all times. Translation: In case of fire, please don't use the lift. Sign found: Hangzbou Normal University, Hangzhou, China, 2008 In botb examples, existing Englisb expressions are used, but some information is lost in both cases. In tbe first example, the loss of information is minor. 'For tbe convenience of yourself and others' only serves as a polite way of softening the wording of the sign. However, in tbe second example, tbe meaning is distorted and the appellative effect is altered. Using existing Englisb public signs can also be seen in translations recommended by researcbers on public sign translation (e.g. Ding 2006; Niu 2007). For instance. (17) Chinese:

λ "P, i * ê : t g i g I # A ^ f è a o (youke bixu meiren chipiao runei, feipiao, weizaopiao bude runei. zai canguan guocheng zhong, qing zijue jieshou gongzuo renyuan jiancha) Meaning: Each tourist should enter with a ticket. Use of invalid or fake tickets is not allowed. During tbe visit, please accept checks by staff. Translation: Please hold your ticket in your own hands, when you enter in the scenery spot. Please note you will be rejected entering in the scenery spot, if you use invalidated ticket or imitative ticket. Please accept check-up of our missionary consciously. Recommended translation: Admission by valid tickets only. Source: Niu (2007:66)

The appellative effect in Cbinese-Englisb public sign translation

Niu argues that it is unnecessary to translate all the information in the Chinese sign and that the brief wording given above is sufficient (ibid.). The recommended translation is a sign commonly seen in English. Admittedly, the text of the Chinese sign is lengthy and may have to be reduced, but by adopting the brief and existing English sign suggested by Niu, a lot of information is lost. This includes important information such as the warning about fake tickets and, in particular, the request for tourists to retain their tickets for further inspection. Such information reflects the actual practice in this particular situation. If the information is not necessary, it should not have been included on the Chinese sign in the first place. In sum, because of the diverse purposes of public signs, the use of existing or similar English signs may result in information loss and/or change in appellative effect, sometimes to a significant extent. Therefore, translators should exercise appropriate caution when employing this strategy, to ensure that the English signs accurately reflect the purposes and content of the Chinese signs.

5.3. Space available on public signs The space available for English translation on a public sign may also be a factor that leads to information loss. The writing system of Chinese is characterised as logographic, using characters, while that of English is phonographic, using letters (Chen 1999:131-132). Because of this difference, English words will normally take up more horizontal space than Chinese words. A simple comparison of the length of the Chinese signs cited in this paper and that of their English meanings will confirm this. Therefore, unless a smaller font is used for the English text, English writing will take up more space than Chinese. However, many public signs, for example, traffic signs on the highways, are intended to be read from a distance. In order to create the same visual effect as the Chinese text, the translator or designer of a public sign may choose to reduce the number of English words at the expense of some information loss. The condensed translations of some of the Chinese signs in the examples above, such as Case Study 2, may also be related to the space that would have been required for the English text if a full translation had been provided. As a result, certain information is lost in the translations.

5.4. Inadequate understanding of culture and practices in English-speaking countries As illustrated in Case Studies 4 and 5, loss of information and/or change of appellative effect may result from translators' inadequate understanding of culture and practices in English-speaking countries. Such translators may believe that certain practices or events do not occur among English-speaking people and that it



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is therefore unnecessary, inappropriate or offensive to convey the message of the Chinese text in full. 5.5. Unclear target readership There may be some public signs that target a special group of people or Chinese readers only, such as the examples in Case Studies 6 and 7. In such cases, a full translation may be irrelevant to English readers, while selective translation may result in information loss. In Case Study 7—the request for the aged and children to be accompanied by family members when using the escalator—it is likely that a different translator would consider this part ofthe message irrelevant to foreign visitors and therefore omit the words 'family members' or somehow modify the wording. Although this makes good sense in practice, some information is still lost and the appellative effect is altered. Niu (2007) points out that some Chinese public signs are mainly aimed at Chinese people, and do not aim to generate the same response from people from other countries, and that such signs therefore do not need to be translated into English. Indeed, there are a number of public signs that are specifically aimed at Chinese people, or even people in a particular locality. For instance, the Chinese Government promotes a one child policy, and the following sign appears in many places throughout China: (18) Chinese: FtJoJ:ÈW, AA^^Qihua shengyu, renren youze) Meaning: Practising birth control/family planning is everybody's responsibility It is true that family planning is a Chinese national policy and its enforcement applies to Chinese people only. Such signs may therefore not need to be translated into English. However, the problem here relates more to the decision about whether or not a particular sign should be translated than to how it should be translated. When a sign is to be translated, its target readership must be made clear. The purpose of a public sign is to convey the same message to all readers. In cases where some information may be lost, different messages conveyed or a different appellative effect produced due to unclear target readership, it may be necessary to modify the text in the source language sign.

5.6. Qualifications and experience of translators The poor qualifications and inadequate experience of translators are one fundamental reason why there are so many problematic, wrong and even nonsensical English translations of Chinese public signs. On a visit to a local shop that sells

The appellative effect in Cbinese-Englisb public sign translation

public signs in Fuzhou, China, in 2008,1 found the following bilingual signs:

(19) Chinese: 'ÍÍM^U: (zhuyi anquan) Meaning: Caution/Safety warning Translation: Attention Safety Chinese: M'ù-'X^ (danxin huozai) Meaning: Fire hazard warning Translation: Mind the Fire


Sífí A # (yanjin huozhong)

Meaning: No open fire/No kindling material Translation: Forbid to take kindling material I asked the owner of the shop who did the translations for these signs. She told me that she sometimes asked university students of English to translate signs, or purchased ready-made bilingual signs from a factory. She said that these were very simple signs consisting of only a few words, which even a secondary school student could translate. While it is not known what kind of translators work in such factories or are involved in translating these public signs, the quality of translation is certainly a cause of concern. Even though the translation of public signs has now gained the attention of senior language experts, researchers and even foreign language experts (e.g. N-Concept International Communications; Beijing International Studies University; China Daily; Organizing Committee of Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Programme), the actual translation of public signs may still be in the hands of junior or inexperienced translators. In order to prevent the use of problematic or misleading bilingual public signs, it is imperative that the preparation and translation of signs be under the control of an authority that includes language experts.

6. Conclusion We have observed that public signs constitute a special genre that has unique lexical, phrasal and textual features in both English and Chinese. The translation of signs is therefore different from that of other text. We have noted that the fundamental purpose of a public sign is to convey a message, and therefore its function is compromised if its message is not conveyed in full or its meaning is distorted in translation. It is not appropriate for the text in one language to say something and the text in the other language to say something different, prompting different responses from readers of the two languages. We have also examined a number of reasons for information loss and/or change of appellative effect. It seems that


324 Leong Ko

there are no straightforward solutions to all problems encountered in public sign translation. From the perspective of communicating the same message and maintaining a consistent appellative effect, it seems that the problems may be tackled at the grassroots level by monitoring the design of bilingual signs. In other words, when a Chinese sign is intended to be bilingual, consideration should be given during the initial design process to its appropriate English translation. If the message cannot be conveyed equally effectively or the same appellative effect cannot be achieved in both languages, the wording of the source text should be modified or edited. This would at least solve the problem of information loss and/or inconsistent appellative effect. Nevertheless, according to the findings of this article, the wording of public signs has some unique features in both Chinese and English. If we use the common wording for English signs in the design of Chinese public signs or adapt the English wording to suit the expressions in Chinese signs, it may result in the Chinese signs appearing unnatural, boring or less effective to Chinese readers, or in the English translation sounding unnatural or irrelevant. This is an issue that certainly warrants further research.

References Beijing International Studies University. An On-line Corpus of Chinese-English Signs. Retrieved April 3, 2009 from Chen, Ping. 1999, Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics. Camhridge University Press, 229 pp, China Daily. Use Accurate English to Welcome the Olympics, Retrieved April 3, 2009 from http://language,chinadaily,com,cn/herewego/ Dai, Zongxian, and Hefa Lii, 2005. "On Chinese-English Translation of Public Signs." Chinese Translators Journal 26 (6): 38-42. Ding, Hengqi. 2006, "Endeavour to Improve Public Signs and Gradually Develop Reference Translations." Chinese Translators Journal 27 (6): 42-46. Ding, Wenlei. 2004. Lost in Translation. Beijing Review47 (36): 18-23, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from Gu, Jianxin, 2001. "Translating Chinese Puhlic Signs into English." Journal of Zhejiang Normal University (Social Science Edition) 26 (2): 65-67, Huang, Youyi, 2005, "From the Right of Translators to Foreign Promotion Translation." Chinese Translators Journal 26 (6): 31-33. Jin, Qihin. 2008. "Survey and Analysis of English Translation of Puhlic Signs in the Medical and Health Field." Chinese Translators Journal 29 (3): 72-76, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. 1997. London: Longman Group Ltd. Luo, Xuanmin, and Tuwang Li, 2006. "Translating Puhlic Signs: Some Observations." Chinese Translators Journal 27(4): 66-69. Macquarie Dictionary, 2nd Revised Edition, 1987, Macquarie Lihrary Pty Ltd,, 2009 pp.

The appellative effect in Chinese-English public sign translation


Montagu, Asbley. "Sign." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved August 12, 2009 from bttp://www. N-Concept International Communications. Cbinese-Englisb Expressions on Signs Service and Researcb Online. Retrieved April 3, 2009 from bttp:// Niu, Xinsheng. 2007. "How to Transmit Vocative Function in C-E Translation of Chinese Public Signs." Chinese Translators Journal 28 (2): 63-67. Organizing Conunittee of Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Programme. "Standard Englisb Signs in Public Places in Beijing." Retrieved April 3, 2009 from bttp:// cn/specialreports/englisb/ Public Sign Translation Researcb Centre of Beijing International Studies University. 2007. Investigation and Analysis of tbe Current Status of Public Sign Translation across the Nation. Chinese Translators Journal 5:62-67. Qu, Qianqian. "A study on Englisb Translation of Public signs: From a Cross-Cultural Perspective." 2007. MA thesis (unpublished). 56 pp. Reiss, Katbarina. 1977. Text Types, Translation Types and Translation Assessment, tran. by Andrew Chesterman, 105-115. Readings in Translation Theory. Helsinki: Finn Lectura. Sbao, Youxue. 2009. "Retbinking Public Sign Translation." Chinese Science & Technology Translator Journal 22 (2): 48-51. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. 1977. Massacbusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company. 1536 pp. Yang, Quanbong. 2005. "On Englisb Translation of Public Signs in Chinese." Chinese Translatorsjournal 26 (6): 43-46.

Abstract Public signs refer to tbe type of sign posted in public places to alert readers to certain information. They constitute a special genre in terms of language use, communicative functions and cultural features. The translation of public signs from Cbinese into Englisb presents a number of unique challenges. This article concentrates on issues relating to information loss and cbange of appellative effect in Cbinese-Englisb public sign translation based on actual examples collected in Mainland Cbina, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It discusses the problems in Chinese-English public sign translation and presents a number of case studies, followed by a detailed analysis of tbe possible reasons for these problems. Sucb reasons include linguistic differences, inappropriate use of existing Englisb public signs, inadequate understanding of culture and practices in Englisb-speaking countries, unclear target readership, and the qualifications and experience of translators. Satisfactory solutions to these problems are yet to be sougbt. As one possible solution, the article proposes changes to tbe design process for bilingual public signs—i.e. when a sign is intended to be bilingual, consideration sbould be given from the beginning to its appropriate Englisb translation. However, tbis strategy may compromise tbe features of public signs in tbe language concerned. The article concludes with a call for more researcb in tbis field. Keywords: public sign, sign, bilingual sign, information loss, appellative effect


Leong Ko

Résumé Les panneaux publics se réfèrent à un type de panneaux installés dans des lieux publics pour attirer l'attention des lecteurs sur certaines informations. Ils constituent un genre particulier sur le plan de l'utilisation de la langue, des fonctions communicatives et des caractéristiques culturelles. La traduction des panneaux publics du chinois en anglais présente un certain nombre de difficultés particulières. Cet article se concentre sur des problèmes liés à une perte d'information et à un changement d'effet appellatif dans la traduction des panneaux publics cbinois, basés sur des exemples réels recueillis en Chine continentale, à Taiwan et Hong Kong. Il examine les problèmes de traduction des panneaux publics chinois et anglais et présente un certain nombre d'études de cas, suivies par une analyse détaillée des raisons possibles de ces problèmes. Ces raisons incluent des différences linguistiques, une utilisation inappropriée des panneaux publics anglais existants, une compréhension inadéquate de la culture et des pratiques dans les pays anglophones, un lectorat cible mal défini et les qualifications et l'expérience des traducteurs. Il faut encore chercher des solutions satisfaisantes à ces problèmes. Une solution possible proposée dans l'article consiste à modifier le processus de conception des panneaux publics bilingues. Lorsqu'un panneau est destiné à être bilingue, il faut envisager dès le départ sa traduction anglaise appropriée. Cependant, cette stratégie pourrait compromettre les particularités des panneaux publics dans la langue concernée. L'article conclut en demandant d'intensifier la recherche dans ce domaine. Mots clés : traduction des panneaux publics - panneau bilingue - perte d'information - effet appellatif

About the author Leong Ko is Senior Lecturer of Translation and Interpreting in the University of Queensland, Australia. He holds a PhD in translation and interpreting studies. He is also a freelance translator and interpreter. His research interests include translation and interpreting studies, translation and interpreting pedagogies, and distance education. Address: School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia 4072 E-mail: [email protected]

CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES 100864 Add: 52 Sanlihe Rd., Beijing, China 100864

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