Mar 14, 2011

Sanlitun Chinglish of the day

This Chinglish translation, seen in Sanlitun, is quite interesting:

I would translate "美甲" as "manicure". In this case, they did a character-by-character translation, so they came up with "American nails." Here's how I'd guess this mistake happened:
  • 美: they translated this as "American", because "美国" (America) often gets shortened to the first character for things American, for example "美籍华人" (Chinese person with American citizenship) or "美式" (American-style something)
  • 甲: nails, obviously
Put the two together, and you get "American nails".

This is an unusual mistranslation because there are plenty of other words where the first character is "美", yet Chinese speakers understand that the word has nothing to do with America.

For example:
  • 美妞: this means "hot broad" or "hot chick" in Beijing slang, and would not be misunderstood to mean "American chick"
Learners of Chinese as a second language quickly figure out that characters must be interpreted in context. It was surprising to see a translation, presumably by a native speaker of Chinese, that didn't take into account the context of the characters, but rather did the translation character by character.


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